In a recent essay for National Geographic, environmental prophet Bill McKibben challenged readers to rethink their life goals. “More stuff is not making us happier,” he wrote. “What we really seem to want is more community.”
Asserted McKibben: “Standard economic theory has long assured us that we’re insatiable bundles of desires. That may be true, but more and more it feels like our greatest wish is for more contact with other people.”
Community. In a small/big town like Whistler, becoming part of the community can mean the difference between survival and dissolution; setting down roots and pulling up stakes. Feeling that you’re part of something — feeling that you could have a role to play over the long term — is the social glue that can bind a family to a place for many generations.
“Funny you should say that,” smiles Irene Whitney. A bundle of energy – youthful, enthusiastic, enquiring, humorous, knowledgeable, self-deprecating – the fifty-something Whistlerite knows all about creating community. Whether in a sailboat or on the side of the hill, teaching new volunteers their ski official duties or opening her home to friends from distant lands, Irene and her husband Al have made it their life work to share the things they love with family, friends and acquaintances.
And they do it with an open-ended generosity that is truly inspiring to behold.
“When we first moved to Whistler in 1987, we decided to buy a place in the Benchlands,” recounts Irene. “Some of our local friends thought that was a bit of strange choice. They couldn’t understand why we’d want to buy a condo so close to the mountain. It was so public, they said. It would be like living in a fish bowl.”
She laughs, a quick staccato burst of happy vigour. “Well, we’d just spent the last seven years living and working on a charter sailboat . It’s a very social lifestyle, you know. And we wanted the same thing for our mountain home. We liked the fact that people could ski by our new place and drop in for a beer. To us, that was a benefit.
“I guess it’s just the way we are. Our first New Year here, I think we had 12 guests staying with us. It was crazy. But it was so much fun…”
And how could it not be? A second-generation Victorian – a rare breed in itself, she says – Irene Whitney has always marched to the beat of her own drummer. “It’s something that Al and I realized about each other from the very beginning of our relationship.” A quick smile passes across her features. “We both preferred the path less travelled. “