As you reach a certain age you begin to get used to seeing your contemporaries bite the dust. Some make you feel bad because you don’t feel badly enough about them. Others you make you feel bad for not being able to get over it. Mike Poole fits the latter category for me. He died back in July but every time I think of it I get this raw feeling. A guy as vital as Mike deserved more time.
I first got to know Mike properly around 1974 when our mutual friend and fellow Sunshine Coast lifer Pete Trower published his first book of logging poems, Between the Sky and the Splinters through my fledgling company.
Mike was by this time a well-established producer with CBC TV and he announced he wanted to make a film of Between the Sky and the Splinters. I didn’t know much at the time, but I knew this was a highly unusual notion. A film based on a book of poetry? I was quite proud of BTSATS and secretly felt it was fated to win the Nobel Prize despite the fact the hippie artist who had designed it made it the size of a kids’ picture book and set the entire text in italic, goofy effects that were not helped by my ink-splattered self-taught pressmanship. Nevertheless I was convinced the unlikeliness of a gat-toothed, beer-swilling logger writing quite fine poetry would turn heads and was a little suspicious that this film guy from the city wanted in on our action. Mike was at this time one of the top documentary makers in the country, whose work always showed in prime time and set off regular political uproars. He directed The Beachcombers and started The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. His Tankerbomb deserves much credit for stopping the first Kitimat oilport proposal and Island of Whales, starring Gregory Peck, helped bring about the moratorium on whaling. He’d won every award from the Gemini (Canada’s Oscar) to a British Wildscreen, the Olympic Gold Medal of nature films.
According to Mike, he only wanted to help Pete. They’d been friends growing up in Gibsons before Pete got sidetracked into the hard-drinking life of the camps and now that Pete had managed to a publish a book, Mike wanted to treat him a half an hour of prime network time as a vote of confidence. But looking back, I realize Mike was also seeking something in the project for himself—a chance to get back to his own roots and do something more personal than current affairs on CBC. I know this because not many years later, Mike astounded the film world by quitting the business to write his own books about the coast. First there was Ragged Islands, a book about his 1000-km canoe trip down the coast. Then there was Romancing Mary Jane, about his season as an ill-fated marijuana farmer. It is ironic that, out of all the things he did, that naughty little memoir is what he will be remembered for. To me Mike’s emergence as a cannabis guru came as a surprise, because the Mike I had known was a very straight, slightly naïve dude who could be counted on to stay sober and steer the boat while everybody else got wasted. In fact I think I saw him smoke his first joint. It was on Pete’s film shoot. Somebody handed him a good-sized spliff adequate for the whole film crew and he said, “Oh, thanks,” and proceeded to smoke the whole thing himself, winding up rolling on the floor speaking in tongues. It was curious to see him, a few years later, touring the country as a marijuana expert and I wondered if it was something he had deliberately done to try to shake that square-shouldered, clear-eyed persona he had carried with him since birth. After the marijuana episode he became more colourful himself.
With great foresight he bought a choice piece of Middlepoint waterfront when ordinary mortals could still afford it and throughout the 1990s he and his second wife Carole set about building their dream home, Mike doing much of the fine finishing himself. Once he was securely ensconced back on the coast, he set about his great project, a novel about his childhood in Granthams Landing. He set it during WWI instead of WWII but that clean-limbed country boy who falls for the rich city girl is unmistakably the young Mike. It didn’t do as well as he had hoped, probably because he went into too much detail about every aspect of old-style coast life from tuning up an Easthope engine to rigging a wooden spar tree, but he was content to have finally arrived in the exact place he wanted to be doing the exact thing he wanted to do. As he wrote in a recent biographical note, “What next? Another book, I expect, though I’m not sure what. And in fact, the subject is less important than the activity. Not to be writing seems, for me at least, to be less than fully alive.”
Few pursued the goal of being fully alive as restlessly as Mike, and that is why it seems so unfair that having chased his dream all the way around the world to the place he started out, he had so little time to enjoy it.