LITERARY LOCATION: Moha, closest community to the birthplaces of both New Catalyst and Lived Experience.

DIRECTIONS: Moha had a post office in the Yalakom Valley from 1912 to 1947 when gold was being extracted from Bridge River. The cabin in which Chris and Judith Plant starting publishing The New Catalyst newspaper, forerunner to their New Society book publishing imprint, was located near the bottom of a trail leading to their 1980s commune on Antoine Creek near the Yalakom Valley (near the confluence of the Yalakom and Bridge Rivers).

The Plants published The New Catalyst magazine, a quarterly bioregional journal, from 1985 until 1992. Tneir close friend Van Andruss remained in the commune up the hill, where the Plants had been living, and later started his Lived Experience magazine, with his partner Eleanor Wright, in 2000. In 1990, the two couples collaborated as authors for Home: A Bioregional Reader, a 'classic' of the sustainability movement, adopted for use in many college geography departments.

The New Catalyst was originally just The Catalist, a catalogue put out by the food co-op with a couple of prominent pages devoted to commentary of its members. At the outset of the computer era, The New Catalyst office was located 30 kilometres from the nearest town, used power generated from the nearby creek and depended upon a radiotelephone for its communications.

The Plants' New Society book imprint evolved from the Movement for a New Society, an anti-Vietnam war organization in Philadelphia that published materials to support peace. Following publication of Jude’s book Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism in 1989, Kip and Jude opened a Canadian office of New Society Publishers and began publishing books focused on sustainability.

After purchasing the whole New Society company in 1996, the Plants ran their publishing house, mainly from Gabriola Island, until it was bought by Douglas & McIntyre in 2008. In that time, they had shepherded over 275 new books into the public realm. The couple continued active involvement with New Society Publishers for four years. Then, when Douglas & McIntyre were forced to almost declare bankruptcy in 2013, Chris and Judith reached out to their former partner, Carol Newell, and, together, they bought back the publishing company. New Society was once again headquartered on Gabriola Island.

B.C. lost one of its bravest and most essential publishers, Christoper (Kip) Plant of Gabriola Island, when he died on June 26, 2015 in Nanaimo after courageously living with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and Multiple System Atrophy for nine years.

Prior to publishing, Kip Plant had lived in the South Pacific and worked as an editor at The Institute for Pacific Studies. He edited New Hebrides: The Road to Independence (Institute for Pacific Studies, 1977) and Rotuma: Split Island (Institute for Pacific Studies, 1978.) He also translated from the French the book, Kanaka: The Melanesian Way (Editions du Pacifique, 1979) and published his MA thesis from SFU, PEACESAT: Communications and Development in the Pacific Islands (1982).

For New Society, he co-edited Healing The Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, (1989), Home! A Bioregional Reader (1990), Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future (1990), Green Business: Hope or Hoax? (1991) and Putting Power in its Place: Create Community Control! (1992).

After Chris 'Kip' Plant died, his longtime friend Van Andruss, who had published his own annual Lived Experience magazine for fifteen years, wrote, "I never knew a more energetic, virtuous, clear-thinking character."

Here follows Van Andruss' biographical tribute to the life of Chris Plant, known to his friends as Kip.

--

My Friend Kip

Van Andruss

December, 2015

My friend Kip was a talented man. He was a leader, courageous, trustworthy and upright from an early age. In my high school class, he’d have been voted the most likely to succeed. In fact, he was “Head Boy” in his private school in England.

I first met Kip at Simon Fraser University. He was working towards a Master’s Degree in the newly formed Communications Department, focusing on satellite communications as a tool for communicating amongst the small island nations in the South Pacific. He had been attracted to the ideas of Fred Brown and we ran into each other one day at the doorway of Fred’s office. I faced a handsome, pink-cheeked fellow, neatly-dressed in a white turtleneck sweater, introduced to me as Christopher Plant. We shook hands, delighted to make each other’s acquaintance. He told me about his political work in the anti-nuclear and independence movements in the South Pacific. I learned later that he’d played a key role in the de-colonization of the island group known as New Hebrides, since re-named Vanuatu. Thirty years later, he was honoured for his actions there in a grand ceremony described in “Vanuatu Revisited,” LE 9.

I believe our meeting in Fred’s office took place in the late 70s, shortly before he got together with Judith, also a student of Fred’s at Simon Fraser. About four years later, Kip, Judith, and Judith’s three children would join Fred and about nine others of us at our hideaway Intentional Community located in the interior mountains of BC.

But first the Plant family migrated to the Nass Valley. Judith taught school while Kip worked for the Nisga’a First Nation. Longing for community, they were intrigued by the promise of living in harmony with friends and building a model small society. After due consideration, they packed their essentials, their kids – even a half-dozen ruffled chickens – into a faithful red Chevy truck and set out for a New World destination, up a three-mile trail beside a cold-water creek.

Kip and Jude and the three young ones – Julie, Willie, and Shannon – made a big boost in the power of our enterprise. Upstream from the cookshack and communal cabin, they built a simple dwelling for themselves with a chainsaw and hand tools, a one-room affair with a loft and a nice front porch in the shade of a young cedar tree. That was the Pole Cabin. For a touch of continuity, they hung the old door they’d used on their cabin in the Nass.

Christopher Plant was an ambitious man. He was determined to exert an influence on the world. Our humble domestic life, rather disorganized and slow of progress, could not contain him. He and Jude stayed with us for a time – it must have been about a year – but when arguments arose among us and morale broke down, the Plant family found accommodation at the bottom of the trail in partnership with a former communard, Kelly Booth, currently Professor of Philosophy at Thompson River University. Together they purchased a small piece of property from a retired post master with both a log cabin and a picturesque shack below it, set back from a dirt road leading into our valley. Beside the shack was a charming human-made brook fed by the larger creek that splashed in the canyon below. We visited them often.

There was a people’s food co-op in Vancouver that had emerged in the early 70s. Sage Birchwater mentions Fed Up in his story, “A Spiritual Awakening.” Many back-to-the-land people of our tribe travelled down to pitch in, taking turns. Fed Up sent out a catalogue called The Catalist. Included were articles on various topics of interest to us hippie types along with the bulk food price list in the center section. I wrote a piece on communal living, I remember. When Fed Up changed its form and The Catalist went out of print, the Booth/Plant collective at the bottom of the Creek took over the paper and called it The New Catalyst, aimed at promoting the social philosophy of Bioregionalism, with an emphasis on issues of ecological import for the Province of British Columbia (issues now covered by the excellent Watershed Sentinel). The New Catalyst became BC’s most informative organ of communication in the 80s and 90s among us counterculture folks. It was brilliant and I only wish it were still functioning today.

The Plants connected with a publishing group in Philadelphia at this time called New Society Publishers, a project of the Movement for a New Society that had started up in opposition to the Vietnam War. It’s a long story (watch Judith’s talk for more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z4uJe4FRsw) but they were having serious financial difficulties. They knew our friends from having published Judith’s eco-feminist book, Healing the Wounds in 1989. That relationship led to the eventual purchase of New Society Publishers by Kip and Jude, which brought the company to Canada.
This was the beginning of a long, fertile career for Kip and Judith. Working together, inseparable as a team, they published hundreds of titles on a great variety of subjects, from political and philosophical works to manuals on the use of solar energy, small-scale electrical generating systems, guides to gardening and cookbooks.
In order to carry out this work, Kip and Jude moved to Gabriola Island, setting up business where up-to-date technology supported their labours.

They bought a house, found investors, added an office complex and hired a congenial staff. They raised a vegetable garden, fruit trees, grew grapes, nurtured a flock of chickens and carried out their publishing ambitions in a domestic setting. After a few years Julie, Judith’s eldest daughter, joined her parents, packing books with her newborn son slung on her hip.

Today, eighteen years later, she is the chief operating officer with Judith backing her up. I might add that the business has recently launched an Employee Trust Fund, an achievement that Kip was very excited about.
Beyond sketching out Kip’s formal career, let me say a few words about the man’s informal side. Up from a day at the desk, he was looking for good food, exercise and fun. He pursued projects around the house. He loved his shop full of tools and tinkered contentedly at the workbench. Things were always arranged in good order. Parked in the shop was perhaps the most useful tool of all, the ElecTrac – a relic from the early 70s that was completely to his taste.

In conversation, Kip was congenial and thoughtful. He did not bum you out (as I am inclined to do) with all the bad stuff of the world, or try to convince you of his ideals. His attitude was constructive. He had a builder’s mentality.

He never wavered from a Bioregional vision. The books he sought to publish were essential to that vision. It was clear to me that he went to bed at night with a good conscience. I envied his ability to lie down and just go to sleep. He liked his pre-dinner glass of beer at night and relished well-prepared food, was a cook in his own right, but lucky devil, had endless beautiful gourmet meals set before him by Jude. It was always such a pleasure to eat at their table. Driving down to the island for a visit (we stayed in the yurt), I would begin wondering what we were having for dinner! Jude would have made something special for our arrival . . .

The sturdiness of Kip’s personality was celebrated by Jack Plant, his father, on the young man’s twenty-first birthday. Kip himself read this piece aloud at his sixtieth birthday party on Gabriola Island. I found it both true to his character and hilarious. I’ve had to cut out most of the speech for lack of space but Jack’s ironic, English sense of humour is easily registered:

"From an early age there were disturbing signs that he had inherited my own notorious absent mindedness.

"As a little boy, Pat’s custom [Kip’s mum] was to send him upstairs to get his potty when he wanted to do his doosis, as she put it. One day she sent him up for something quite different, which he quite forgot, returning instead with the potty.

"His life since has been marked with strong enthusiasms, pursued with remarkable tenacity.

"In his early teens he decided to become a drummer. And with very little financial help, by judicious sales of toys accumulated over the years – and perhaps other bric-a-brac found lying around the house – he acquired an expensive set of drums and somehow negotiated his way into a pop group – a bunch of real thugs much older than himself – with whom he played.

"His next enthusiasm was racing cycling. Again with determination he managed to become the protégé of the top man in this sport in these parts. He earned, scrounged or otherwise obtained the cash to buy not only several fabulously expensive racing bikes but also a motor bike and sidecar in which to transport the bikes to race meetings.

"In this phase he imposed upon himself a regimen that will amaze some of his present friends. He ate only energy giving foods, went to bed early, did exercises, abandoned all girlfriends, and eschewed strong drink.
He rode in track and road races with such verve and dash that we got quite used to being called to remote hospitals to which he was frequently rushed with grave injuries.
From time to time there have been other objectives. Most of them needed more money than I could provide, so he worked. Already in a short adult life he has been a warehouseman, barman, milkman, brush salesman, hospital orderly, timberyard labourer and farmhand. Indeed he and his friend Clive Bromelow were among the top 40 brush salesmen in the country, and were under great pressure to make a career in brush salesmanship, door to door.
Equipped with this facility for setting a target and pursuing it with monomaniacal fervour, he could go far."

And far he did go.

After carrying on vigorously in the publishing business for over twenty years, he dreamed of retirement in the Yalakom Valley, until now not affordable either with time or money. Around the same time, he began to experience odd symptoms in his hand, a shakiness. It was a queer development. At the computer his thumb seemed too weak to manage the space bar. He went to a doctor for an examination.

Meanwhile, he and Jude, acting on the retirement scheme, bought a piece of land in the Yalakom Valley, where they planned to build a house for the future enjoyment of the whole family. Kip drew up plans, walked the property, took steps to locate water for a well. But almost on the very day the land was purchased, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He didn’t believe it. How was it possible to arrive at so grave a conclusion after a twenty minute exam!

In the end he had to give up the idea of living on the land again, and eventually even of visiting the land. The disease progressed rapidly. It seemed more rapid than most cases of P.D. (The condition is described eloquently in “The Dragon and the Snail,” LE 10). Weakening, he did what he could to stay reasonably able. He rode his bike, walked, kept active around the place, in the garden, in the kitchen. Time passed. He was reduced to a cane. Then a walker, and finally to a wheelchair. And then a new diagnosis came along.

He may not have P.D., after all; they said it was likely Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and Multiple System Atrophy. Both. The symptoms were similar at first but far more devastating as time goes on.

The whole business was a nightmare. He lost his ability to move freely, to sleep peacefully, to swallow easily, even – and this was the final blow – to form words with a tongue that would not properly articulate. The disease brought him down. From a pinnacle. It was very sad for his dear friends to witness, and heartbreaking for Jude, upon whose shoulders the relentless care-giving was laid. Eleanor and I visited as frequently as we could. We were with Kip the week he died in the Palliative Care wing of the Nanaimo hospital, on June 26, 2015. He was placed there to get his meds under control. But it was the end.

During this final period, I was astounded, how a person so outstanding, so wholesome and fit, could be brought down so low. I still wonder at the event. It goes without saying that we grieve at our loss. The departure of a dear friend leaves a hole in your life. You carry on, as you must, but you are not the same. There’s a sense in which, when your friends die, you go with them. No words, no reasoning will bring them back. It is some consolation to acknowledge that Kip enjoyed great success in what he set out to do and that he found happiness with his wife and family. He was an attentive husband and father, made loyal friends, travelled when opportunity arose, relished the pleasures within his grasp, and there were many. Before disease dragged him down in its final stages, he’d had a very good time of it, a fortunate life. If he could hear me, I know he would agree. But no final say can ever make his passing okay.

[This tribute first appeared in Lived Experience #15]

[BCBW 2016]