Maxed Out 

Sustainability in practice, Cariboo-style

By G.D. Maxwell

In his own way, Stan Pickles probably represents a whole neglected front in the Search for Sustainability. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know what sustainability is exactly and I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to guess what the word will come to mean once it’s been danced through the Consultant Chachacha and thoroughly Whistlerized. But for my money, Stan is a study in sustainability.

Stan lives next door to Smilin’ Dog Manner which is to say next door to me. He is the full-time neighbour, having lived along the lifegiving waters of Sulfuric Lake for some 28 years or so. He was the less despised neighbour – single strand of barbed wire – in the Firehall Feud I referred to, without naming, last week. He was kind enough to explain the feud to me.

Like most small communities carved out of the numbing, repetitive, yet achingly beautiful hinterland of B.C.’s lakes, forests and mountains, lots of folks around here go with what’s plentiful and decide to warm their souls and homes by burning wood. Sometimes, through sloth, ignorance, over-exuberance or a bit too much to drink, their hearth gets out of hand and the next thing you know, their homes are on fire.

When you live alone in the wilderness and your house catches fire, you run around like crazy to save what you can and try your mightiest to put the fire out. Generally the fire wins and you end up standing by helplessly watching your castle burn to the ground. In nascent communities, your neighbours join in the hopeless battle and at least you wind up having company with you to watch your house burn. Once the communities get large enough, you and your neighbours form a volunteer fire department.

So it is on Sulfuric Lake. If your home catches fire ’round these parts, the alarm bells sound and the volunteers rush to the fire hall, jump in the fire truck, drive madly to your burning house and watch it burn with you. "We don’t kid ourselves about being able to save a burning house," as one volunteer explained it. "We just try and keep it from spreading to the next house."

Fair enough. After all, this isn’t some professional group of firefighters who train regularly, form unions and keep their shiny new equipment in "green" firehalls that cost one and a half million bucks to build. Although it sits in what could pass for an energy-efficient building – largely unheated all year – I could have sworn I saw a "Buy War Bonds" sticker on the local fire truck.

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