Don Gayton, Kokanee

I've now finally read Don Gayton's Kokanee: The Redfish and the Kootenay Bioregion, after giving an autographed copy to my father and somehow picking up an autographed copy for someone named Pam, after having Don speak to one of my classes when he was the Haig-Brown Writer in Residence at my university, and after I'd managed to put it onto the book club's fall rotation for November. Well past time to get on it, in other words, and I'm glad to have spent time with it while camping for the first week of July.

Now, as another volume in the excellent Transmontanus series edited by Terry Glavin, Kokanee is short, non-technical, and genre-bending, but still rigorous and careful in its detail. If you're the kind of person who thinks this means it's likely to fall between stools, well, I can't help you with that, but that's never been my experience with Transmontanus. These books are about wonderfully diverse topics (ancient clam fisheries, historic and idiosyncratic uses of explosives, the Vancouver histories of punk and beach nakedness, basking sharks, etc); they're written from a position of relative expertise, mostly by talented writers; and they're edited and designed beautifully. I continue to ponder ways to organize courses around them, to be honest.

Gayton's books isn't my favourite in the series (Theresa Kishkan's Red Laredo Boots is still that, so far), and this isn't Gayton's best work (Landscapes of the Interior holds that distinction, at least until I reread The Wheatgrass Mechanism one of these days to see if I get it now). Still, I appreciated the light touch of including his father's end-of-life story, even if I wanted more of that thread than you end up getting, and Gayton's always really good at flicking effectively between subjects without leaving you feeling dislocated. The beginnings and endings of his chapters (titled sections?) are often wonderful, too, but I'm not going to spoil those for you.

On the informational side, I came away knowing a lot more than I'd known previously about the non-oceangoing kokanee salmon. In my teens I fished for them regularly in the Deadman Valley between Cache Creek and Savona, a terrific little part of the province of BC, but that's about the extent of my intimacy with them. Just textbook stuff, otherwise, so I'm grateful to Don for sharing some knowledge with me.

And I learned more about Kootenay landforms, too. It's a part of the province I barely know at all, so it's fun just to bring it into my thinking for a change. It feels kind of like home (like both the Shuswap, or at least the wetter North Shuswap, and like northern Vancouver Island), but the topography's still somehow mostly wrong for my sense of space. Very odd feeling to be there, though it's aesthetically beautiful and ecologically interesting.

If you want to live in BC, and feel like you know the place, this is the kind of book you need to spend some time with. You don't need to study it, or tattoo its lessons on your wrists for easy reference, but it'll save you SO much time as you try to figure out how the Kootenays are different from the rest of the province; how the assorted fish species fit together; what the deal is with provincial, federal, and volunteer fisheries workers; why hydroelectric dams are more like the devil than you might thnk; and so on. Plus it's really good writing (sometimes scientific, sometimes memoir-ish, sometimes travel), in a lovely little package suitable for framing. Buy three today.


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