Over the last few nights I have been tucked into bed reading The Power of Dreams: 27 Years Off-Grid in a Wilderness Valley.
Written by Dave and Rosemary Neads, the book is about them carving a life for themselves in the West Chilcotin’s Precipice Valley.
It is a fierce love story about a place they found magical and how hard they worked to live there.
So much of what they did they taught themselves, including building a two-storey, post and beam house with Douglas-fir they horse logged on their property, aptly naming the house Firhome.
Through trial and error they figured out such things as solar power, running water, telephone and eventually internet access.
Cariboo author and photographer Chris Harris described their story as “one of ingenuity for survival and sensitivity to preserve the rhythms of nature.”
Williams Lake author Sage Birchwater praised the book as important and as being told from a conservationist perspective, “giving the reader an intimate perspective of the natural world, seasons and wonders, and insight into the rigors of backwoods survival.”
Dave is originally from Ontario and Rosemary from B.C. They met at the University of British Columbia in their 30s. She completed a bachelor of education and he was working on a masters in urban and social geography.
In 1980 they visited friends in Alexis Creek, west of Williams Lake, who persuaded them to take over Pigeon’s general store in the community.
While running the store, they explored the Chilcotin and became hooked on both the country and the vision, they said.
One day Rosemary spied an ad in the Williams Lake Tribune listing a property for sale in the Precipice Valley and sent off a letter of inquiry.
Several weeks later they received a reply from the owner, Dave Gladden, who sent them a hand-written letter with directions, encouraging them to go have a look.
To access the property, Dave left Highway 20 near Nimpo Lake and travelled by a gravel road then a rough track arriving more than three-and-a-half hours later.
Within walking distance of the Hotnarko River he located Gladden’s log cabin.
His first impression of the property is described in the book.
“Under the rustle of the river, almost beneath the threshold of hearing, there was a stillness, a sense that normal time did not mean anything here.”
Three weeks later Rosemary got to see the property for herself. They bought it in 1984, but did not move there until 1986.
For the first five years they lived in the cabin, which they called the Glad Cab, while they built their home.
Dave also worked seasonally for BC Parks and then went on to do contracts for BC Wild, B.C. Spaces for Nature working towards establishing protected areas.
Often he’d be gone for eight or 10 days at a time travelling around the province.
Rosemary said she was so busy with dogs, cats, horses and gardening she never got lonely.
She also started doing stained-glass commissions.
Conservationists at heart, they became involved with Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE) process, helping form groups such as the Anahim Lake Round Table, the West Chilcotin Resource Association and the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society.
Dave wrote a column for the Tribune when Bill Phillips was the editor – 500 words every two weeks – and said some of those columns got morphed a bit and went into the book.
In late 2013, the Neads made the difficult to decision to leave. They sold their place and moved to Gabriola Island where they live today.
Writing the book
On Gabriola, Dave joined a poetry group and at the recommendation of Naomi Beth Wakan, who has written dozens of books, he and Rosemary decided to write their book.
“Naomi is 10 years older than I am, so 92 already,” Rosemary said. “She liked Dave’s writing and she’d read a bit of my writing and said, ‘you guys have got to write a book’ and really encouraged us.”
Writing the book was an evolution, but once they got serious they created a collection of pieces which Rosemary then worked hard at editing into a manuscript, Dave said, noting the process was a roller coaster.
“It was the fabric of our life living there as you see when you read the book,” Dave said. “Going over it, there were times when it just erupted.”
One day he was outside doing something after working on the book when a flock of geese flew over heading north, probably toward Precipice Valley.
“I just burst into tears,” he said.
Every time they did an edit, it would bring something back, Rosemary added.
“The hardest thing we ever did in our lives was leave Precipice, but it was time,” she said.
By 2018 the book was ready to send out to publishers and Hancock House picked it up.
The pandemic slowed things down because printers did not have access to paper.
Power of Dreams ended up being printed in China and finally the books were in their hands in time for a book launch in mid-December 2022.
The Neads are touring parts of the province in April starting in 100 Mile House on Thursday, April 13 at the library 6:30 p.m.
They will be at the Tatla Lake Community Hall on Friday, April 14 at 2 p.m., Williams Lake library on Saturday, April 15 at 2 p.m., Kamloops library on Sunday, April 16 at 2 p.m., Salmon Arm library on Tuesday, April 18 at 6:30 p.m., Revelstoke library on Wednesday, April 19 at 6:30, in Kelowna at Sabine’s Salon, Friday, April 21 at 6:30 p.m. and the Kelowna library on Saturday, April 22 at 2 p.m.
The presentation involves a 55-minute slide show, reading and talk.
“Here on Gabriola we had 75 people at the library for the launch and we only had room for 40,” Rosemary said.