By Sage Birchwater —
Shortly before Christmas, 2014, Van Andruss released the latest volume of his annual literary magazine, Lived Experience Number Fourteen, Stories and Poety from BC and Beyond.
When the journal had its beginnings in 2001, it was only 28 pages and contained the prose and poetry of 11 writers. Fourteen years later, LE14 has mushroomed to 156 pages, heralding the work of 25 writers.
The annual journal published in Yalakom Valley near Lillooet has come a long way since Van and his poet neighbour Jonathan “Swamp” Kerslake brought the first volume to print.
“We wanted to give voice to people’s firsthand, tangible, somatic, personal experience,” Van wrote in the introduction. “To provide reading that grabbed you and got down to the heart of things.”
A journal may be expected to reflect the tastes and preference of its editors. “We live in a bush hippy’s paradise in the mountains of BC,” he continued. “The wild beauty of this region exerts a primary influence on us.”
In his introduction to the magazine, Swamp described how people left mainstream society to live off the beaten path because they were sickened by the speed at which thought and culture were being corporatized. “People started making their own words to describe what was happening in their lives,” he said. “Collecting and publishing their words is like fishing. You bait your hook, throw it overboard, and wait. If you’re lucky you drag up something you had nothing to do with until that moment. It’s an act of culture.”
Van said the journal is like a boat waiting at dock the entire year for its cargo to come aboard.
“Passengers become familiar to us,” he said. “There are matters to work out, opinions to exchange, and collaboration that must occur. At a certain point we are ready and we sail from the bay into the wider world where anything can happen.”
After they published the second volume of Lived Experience (LE2), Swamp left the community for a while and Van soldiered on alone—not completely alone, mind you. He had the support and expertise of his partner, Eleanor Wright, who took an active role as assistant editor, and together they continued to publish the magazine each year without fail.
Fourteen volumes later, a broad swath has been carved in BC’s literary landscape. More than 100 writers have had their work published in Lived Experience, preserving a valuable cultural record.
As the magazine evolved, the focus expanded beyond the bioregion of the BC interior. Readers were invited into such diverse landscapes as Hei Tse Shan in Tibet where writer Rachel Reimer went bouldering (LE12) and across the Sahara desert where Caterina Geuer explored in 1974. (LE13).
One of the gems of the magazine is the artwork of Luther Brigman who graced several covers with his spectacular drawings and provided stunning illustrations for specific themes or subject matter.
I first learned of Lived Experience 10 years ago when Eleanor Wright handed me a copy of LE4 at Jerry LeBourdais’ funeral at Lone Butte. It was January, 2005, and Eleanor encouraged me to contact Van and submit an article for consideration.
I had known Van and the folks from Yalakom for more than 20 years, from the Hat Creek Survival Gatherings of the early 1980s, when people came from far and wide to strategize against a gigantic coal-fired power plant planned for Upper Hat Creek Valley. The ill-fated project was eventually scrapped by government, but the gatherings continued and we intermittently stayed in touch.
I was impressed with Lived Experience, and Van was delighted when I sent him my tribute to Jerry LeBourdais, who had been our mutual friend from the early back-to-the-land days.
Van seemed pleased to have one more writer in his stable, and from my point it was exciting to have the unique opportunity to share matters of the heart. Then Van convinced me to start telling details of my life journey in the magazine.
More important, Van, Eleanor, and I grew to become close friends as well as writing associates. Soon I took an active role in promoting the magazine and encouraging other writers like Gloria Atamanenko, John Schreiber, Sally Bland, Barb Coupe, and Christine Peters to come on board. Each year my composition for Lived Experience became a pinnacle of my writing focus.
One of the joys of Lived Experience is following various writers throughout the different volumes. Only Van Andruss and Swamp have contributed to every issue, but others like Lorne Dufour, Doug Dobyns, Alan Twigg, Brian Hayden, Bob Sarti, Tim McNulty, Lisa Enquist, Edye Hayden, David Bouvier, John Schreiber, Joram Piatigorsky, Caterina Geuer, and Julie Andres have their work in multiple volumes.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing my work in 10 issues. The seed idea for my LE14 article came from a short encounter at the Belfrey Theatre in Victoria one Saturday morning last fall. My family had gathered to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday, and I wandered off to check out my old haunts where a group of us in 1971 converted Emmanuel Baptist Church into a youth hostel. My story leapfrogs to the Cariboo, where I lived communally on the Borland Meadow near Miocene, before fleeing to my trapline in the West Chilcotin.
John Schreiber, who is published in seven volumes of the magazine, shares a delightful tribute in LE14 to his dad, Pat Schreiber with The Legacy of a Woodsman.
Joram Piatigorsky grew up with Van Andruss in Los Angeles. They lost touch for many years but reconnected through the Internet. Joram, the son of world-renowned cellist, Gregor Piatigorsky, had a successful career as a research scientist before retiring to take up writing. In LE14 he tells how his father escaped the pogroms (Jewish persecution) in the Ukraine, then supported his family with his cello by playing in silent movies and restaurants in Moscow, before making his way to the west and coming to America.
Likely poet, Sally Bland, made her foray into Lived Experience with a tribute to her sister, Linda Ellen Bland in LE8. Three-Penny Opera still sends tingles up my spine. After a brief hiatus Sally returns with a short essay and three poems in LE14.
JoAnne Kimmel has lived a long time on Chilko Lake near Nemiah Valley. She told an intriguing story in LE2 about traveling by horseback across southern British Columbia with her family. In LE14, she lends her poetic voice in telling “The Mystery of a Heart.”
Lisa Enquist lived at the Borland Meadow when I was there, and for a time was Jerry LeBourdais’ partner. Now a nurse in North Vancouver, her two poems in LE14 convey profound thoughts, simply and directly.
New to Lived Experience is Doug Saba. A farrier by trade, he is an old friend of Lorne Dufour from the Caravan Stage Company. In LE14 he tells about his apprenticeship as a cowboy at the Flying U Guest Ranch on Green Lake.
Lorne Dufour has published both prose and poetry in 12 different issues of Lived Experience. He consistently takes you to the edge with his verse. A proofreader for LE14 commented how Lornie’s poetry makes the hair stand up on her arms. “What higher compliment can a poet hope for?” Van states.
Lornie says the magazine gives him optimism. “It’s difficult to express deep feelings, but all these voices coming together in Lived Experience signify positive change—proof that evolution is taking place.”
You’ll have to see for yourself.
All volumes of Lived Experience are available at the Open Book or Station House Gallery in Williams Lake, or KC Health & Gifts in Lillooet. They can also be borrowed from the library. Ask your librarian.
Sage Birchwater arrived in the Cariboo as a back-to-the-lander in 1973. After 24 years in the Chilcotin he returned to Williams Lake as a freelancer and author of books. He enjoys his time with Caterina, gardening and participating in the rich cultural life of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Coast.