Last week the theme on my favourite radio program, This American Life, was libraries. The second of three documentary pieces was about the Brautigan Library, which originated in Burlington, Vermont but is now housed in Vancouver, Washington.
My interest was piqued immediately because I was a fan of Brautigan’s quirky novels and poems in the early 1970s. In one of his novels, Brautigan wrote about a peculiar library whose collection was compiled solely of one-of-a-kind books. Each had been donated by their author in manuscript form and none had been published elsewhere.
A fan of Brautigan was spurred to create such a library in real life after seeing the movie Field of Dreams, in which the lead character heard the admonition, “If you build it, they will come.” A small one-room space opened in 1990 and manuscripts trickled in. Eventually the collection grew to more than 300 books of all sorts before the money petered out and the creator eventually found a new home for the manuscripts in Washington.
That radio piece (I listen to This American Life on podcast but it also can be heard late Sunday nights on CBC Radio) stimulated me to download some of Brautigan’s works to reacquaint myself with an author who was influenced by the likes of Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski, a couple of other oddball characters. No one I have talked to since has even heard of Brautigan, but reading his works came at a particularly fertile point of my education and it has been a delight to be reintroduced to a fellow who could write about a town whose key building material was watermelon sugar.
One of the visitors to the Brautigan Library was, aptly, the Alberta writer W.P. Kinsella, who wrote Shoeless Joe, upon which Field of Dreams was based. Kinsella said he was inspired to become a writer by Brautigan, and eventually he chose his idol’s (estimated) date of death to commit medically assisted suicide.
In the days since listening to the podcast, not one has passed that I haven’t failed to have a memory that was connected to Brautigan, or Kinsella, of whom I am also a great fan.
On Sunday we ventured out into the trails around the Wildlife Centre for a walk on snow-covered paths. It was a 12 or 13-kilometre trek that took us on trails we had not previously trod, and I couldn’t help but notice that none were not well used. In remoter areas where there was perhaps six inches of snow we still walked easily, the snow having been packed down by cross country skiers and other walkers (in my mind, a walk only becomes a hike if it includes slopes).
Not so long ago, I thought, those paths might not have been so well used. My working theory is that the massive renovations to our old Rec Centre and the addition of an aquatic centre and fitness facilities has dramatically changed the lifestyle of many. From the sofa in our living room I have a view of 16th Avenue North and, from early morning to late in the evening, it is rarely more than a few minutes before one or more pedestrians walks by, often in the company of dogs. Fifteen years ago that was a much more rare occurrence. But there is a clear increase of general physical activity in town, in my eyes at least. In my experience people of my baby boomer generation are much more active later in life than our parents and grandparents. And we have benefitted not only from what we now call the Community Complex, but from the addition of trails and paths around town and on close by mountains. Being more fit and active has become easier, and we have embraced the opportunities with enthusiasm.
That Field of Dreams that voters chose to support with their tax dollars not so many years ago has made our community immeasurably better.