Monday, 20 October 2014

Remembering Coyote. Peter Roulston got out of town.

An old friend just died unexpectedly at the Silverton Lookout, where this picture was taken. A local poet wrote a poem in his memory comparing him to Coyote, most apt.

Peter Roulston was known to many in the region for his knowledge of the great outdoors. Through his column "Get outta town", maps of trails, and personal advice and assistance he encouraged one and all to get off the couch and explore the splendour that surrounds us.

What follows is my memories of the man.

Before he moved to New Denver Peter Roulston was part of our rural neighbourhood above Nakusp for many years. We met in the seventies when we were first getting settled on our respective acreages.  
Peter lived in a camper and was cutting down the trees that he would later turn into a sturdy house. I have fond memories of tea and cookies at the tiny table in the camper, that was dry and solid compared to our drippy camp.
From the very beginning there was order in the clearing. The logs were stacked neatly on one side, brush piled properly somewhere else. Peter liked "A place for everything, and everything in its place." Those were his own words, spoken when I admired the orderly bicycle workshop in his basement, years later. He was an amazingly competent person, good at everything he put his hand to.

Peter was a self made man. Like Mark Twain he did not let school interfere with his education. School had been ditched at the earliest opportunity and Peter took a job. He found his niche when a relative suggested a forestry technician course. 

Peter's ideal was to live a simple life in the country with as much self determination as possible. B.C. still had homesteading options back then. That may have been how a man in  his early twenties got hold of 5 acres, dry and rocky as they were. It is also possible he had purchased his land outright with savings from hard work. Back then wages in the bush were good, land was cheap and Peter knew how to save.
"A penny saved is a penny earned." was one of his quoted mottos. Yes, he actually said that. He always looked natty and groomed, but his clothes came from the thrift store. He once told me shampoo was a waste of money. Good old Ivory soap could wash hair as well as skin.

His freedom loving nature craved the wide outdoors rather than putzing around in a garden. At some point he had the peasant stuff down to 3 components: chickens for eggs, potatoes and kale. A man could live on that if he had to, and the set up was such that the chickens did most of the work. The Crescent Bay ridge is notorious for water problems. Peter solved his by building an ingenious system for catching rain water to supplement the shallow well. A hand pump on the counter delivered water for washing up and such. Nature's calls were mainly answered in an outhouse, and when indoor comfort finally arrived it was a composting system. The man was a practical genius.

Although he was one of the greenest people around qua life style, Peter refused to be put in any ideological or political box. As far as I know he got involved in politics only once: in 198(4, 5, 6)?, he and I paired up to canvas for the NDP in provincial elections. We actually did the door to door thing together a few times. It was an interesting experience. Some people were relieved we were not Jehovah's Witnesses.

The famous Bicycle Hospital was born when Peter got tired of jumping out of helicopters to fight forest fires and other strenuous work. He built his business with his usual competence. The hospital/doctor theme was maintained throughout the site. The ads he made up for the Arrow Lakes News, milking the theme for all it was worth, were hilarious.

Peter was smart and witty. He loved irony and had no patience for political correctness. He enjoyed playing devil's advocate and going against the grain, whatever the grain might be. His letters to the Valley Voice were rather refreshing. Like many people gifted with energy, practical aptitude and organisational talent he did not suffer fools gladly. When it came to sharing his passions for cycling, skiing and the great outdoors Peter was generous with time and advice. When it came to money, not so much. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" was his answer when I asked him to be part of a small loan for a mutual friend in an emergency. The man liked his quotes. He had made it all by himself, thank you very much, and refused to get entangled in other people's problems.

And speaking of entanglements......No account of Peter's life would be complete without mentioning the many women he loved and left. As far as I know he was a serial monogamist rather than a player, with emphasis on serial. He once admitted over a neighbourly cuppa that no matter how perfectly compatible and nice his partner was, after about two years he would get restless. He recognised it was not the fault of the woman in question, that's just how it was. Peter was handsome, charming, fun to be with and he genuinely enjoyed the company of women. My impression, which may be mistaken, was that most women were no worse off for having spent time with him, as long as they did not build up expectations of permanence.

Peter, wherever you are, I suspect you would have enjoyed the acerbic wit of the Tom Lehrer song. 
"When you are old and grey". Click on link for the Youtube.
The final words are:
"So please do remember,
If I leave in December
I told you so in May".

Goodbye old neighbour. You may not have left a family, but you will be remembered fondly by many.
PS. I just got home from the memorial gathering in New Denver. My friend Karen Moody Ballard took the picture of the stage. The hall was packed.  Speaker after speaker remembered Peter Roulston as someone who was always first to help in any community effort. He was part of many organisations but also took personal initiatives, for instance ferrying vulnerable people to a warm place during power outages. In Nakusp Peter lived on a rural acreage, but in New Denver his home was right in town. The town became his family. He was deeply loved.

PPS. My daughter wrote some blog posts about her semi hippie childhood. One is about outhouses. This one was Peter's.

The Swinging Bachelor- I used to visit this neighbor just so I could use his outhouse. This thing was built on a cement foundation, with a staircase leading up to the throne. It had a a door with a big wooden latch (outhouse doors are not ubiquitous), a heater, a Persian style carpet, a window for natural light and a real toilet seat that somehow didn't get cold. There were usually witty and urbane publications of a liberal political bent carefully placed in a special magazine holder. This man had no children. He had time to make his outhouse nice.


  1. Thank you so much for this, Ien. It is so well written and beautifully describes the wonderful and special Peter.
    Love to you,

  2. Well-remembered, beautifully written, insightful and kind. Thank you Ien


  3. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man!

    Pattie Adam

  4. Beautiful Tribute Ien! Thank you for sharing.

    Angie Bone & Dano Levesque

  5. Beautiful. Between this and the poem you linked to, I can see he was quite a character.

  6. Hello Ien. We met at the memorial and I wanted to thank you for your beautiful memoir of my brother. We shared it with my father yesterday. I will not forget about sending you Bicycle Hospital ads when possible. Best, Kathy Roulston

  7. Thanks Kathy. I am looking forward to illustrating this blog with some of those ads! I made a few changes here after the memorial. It was nice meeting you and your husband.

  8. I have to pause and tell you that this was on of the nicest tributes I have ever read! Not sure how I managed to stumble onto it... down here South of the Border. So thankful that I did! We have a place by Nemo Creek on the West side of Slocan Lake. I crossed paths, either on the lake, or in our New Denver marina several times a week.

    We LOVED TO BANTER politics, weather, his weird boat tops, fish, and the list would never end. He was the backbone of our marina, alway picking up and piling stuff here and there. I was so thankful that on our last work bee there both of my sons and I got to spend that last one working with Peter. I loved the guy!

  9. Dear Ien,
    I just came across this very kind and moving tribute to your neighbour and friend, Peter. What lovely memories you've left for us all. I never knew Peter except to enjoy his biweekly Valley Voice columns. Now, thanks to you, I feel we know him better. All best, Caroline

  10. We were saddened to find out about Peter just this year in Sept. 2016. We saw a bench memorial today while walking the new path by Bigelow bay. I remember getting Peter to fix my bike at the Bicycle Hospital many times over the years. We also hired Peter to rake for a boat ride tour across Slocan Lake. He would always give a cheerful wave and toot if the horn when he passed my cycling in the area. We missed you, Peter the last few years and miss you even more today.


Comments have been set to anyone, un-moderated, and no captcha. So if you were here, wave to me? Spammers will be deleted and acquire bad karma to boot.