Living in Nakusp means being able to enjoy the benefits of a sparse population as well as suffering the drawbacks. Unlike the busy Okanagan, there are rarely too many boats on the lake, too many skiers on the hill, too many people anywhere. Space is a luxury we have in abundance.
Sometimes, the extra space afforded by fewer people is suffocating: local businesses try to stay afloat with fewer people spending fewer dollars. No line ups at the till can be deadly for the owner, although convenient for the shopper.
The space here that is scantily occupied is beautiful and rare, and that beauty draws people to it. Whether or not they stay is another matter. For the people who live in the area, its natural splendour is usually why they’re still here, so for most it’s a resource to be enjoyed and preserved.
People have a tendency to mess the pristine wilderness up, building houses or trying to extract some kind of living from the land that will give them the money they need to live. Understandably, then, people are wary of other people, not wanting to expose their hidden treasures to people who could be thieves rather than guardians.
Take mushroom picking. If it’s a sport, then mushroom hunting is a competitive one. Ask any regular picker where they pick and you’ll get a squint like you should know better than to ask or vague directions encompassing one entire side of the lake.
But someone must be sharing. Generation after generation there are mushrooms being picked, by both the hard currency-bent and amateur fungophile alike. Mushroom hunting is a search for nearly-buried treasure, and wandering through a picked out area is very frustrating.
I’ve also felt the lust for mushrooms, and the disappointment when the first mushroom of a trip out is found by someone else. That first fungus seems like it could be the only one to be found, and that thrill of discovery has fallen to someone else. That’s the competitive side.
I very much appreciate that someone was generous enough to show me how to look for mushrooms, taking me to their patches. Of course, I’m sure I didn’t go to their prime picking territory, at least right away, but it gave me some exposure to the sport and the area, allowing me to fall in love with both.
And it’s rare to find no mushrooms at all. Sometimes the abundance is overwhelming; there just isn’t enough time in a day or a life, it seems, to collect them all. Other times, the sheer variety and oddity of fungi and other life in the forest is enough joy, or just being out in the fresh air hiking over branches and through trees.
It’s a tough balance to strike, but sharing some of the better-known riches with “strangers,” maybe with the assumption that they may be just like us and love and cherish it and want to protect it, could be the key to equilibrium.
And who knows? Maybe the sharing could grow into opportunities for guiding, or money for maintenance, or protection of land once the value of the sport is discovered. Sharing could open doors to more, not less.
Like Pep Fuja told the students at NSS, it’s a matter of seeing opportunities to make a life that you love. Having a strong and functioning community of people who want to build and enjoy the same kind of life requires sharing and learning how to work together. But, you never know who your next friend will be, and what can be accomplished until you try it.