Riding my bike down Driftwood Road. Riding into a tunnel of sensation, the gravel rattling my tires, flickers erupting from the ditches, the creek a muffled roar on my left. Sweet with the smell and sight of the big white plumes of flowering false Solomon’s-seal. And the roses! There has never been such a year for roses. I ride into a wind, heavy with roses. Past a thicket of elderberry bushes, a copse of cottonwoods, across the bridge. Leaving the creek and climbing out of the canyon into the expanse of (I think) an alluvial fan formed when the glaciers receded into the remnant snowfields of the Babines leaving an outwash of the gravel underlying the fields beside the Driftwood school and Glenwood Hall at the Telkwa Highroad.
I turn to ride down the highroad to Glentanna—a ribbon through a pastoral landscape—and the rising wind carries new smells. First horses as I pass Eileen Shorter’s farm, the L’Orsas’, then cows in the Nageli’s fields and more horses up around the corner past the Northern Wildlife Shelter. The Bruhjells’—cattle ranchers from the early days—and then hay, the cutting just beginning, the air thick with its fragrance. Down through the pungent odor of dairy farms—Ewalds’, Brandsmas’—as I make the turn, not up Snake Road past Veenstras’ toward Sturzeneggers’, but left and down once again towards the creek. It is only then the wind lets up and I coast down to the driveway that leads to Tristan and Damien Jones’ place on the edge of the steep drop that gives Snake Road its name.
They bought the land from the Sturzeneggers in August 2001, started building the next spring and moved into their new home in November, 2002.
Tristan tells the story:
“We came here to visit my aunt and uncle (Peter White). We came in November and it was pouring rain. The next morning the clouds parted and there was snow on the peaks. He started driving us around the valley; I looked at Damian and said, I could live here.”
The house they built shows some of the influences of Tristan’s Banff connections—she grew up in what she calls the Whyte bubble—the Whytes are an old Banff family deeply connected to the park’s mountain culture. She and Damian ran a guest lodge in Canmore and both wanted out of the hospitality business, into a life that offered Damian more opportunities for creativity.
Tristan figures they passed some kind of test because they were grilled closely about their plans for the place before the Sturzeneggers agreed to sell. Peter and Paul, the brothers, spent a lot of time on the property fishing both on the river and the creek, and were pretty attached to it.
As well as wanting to snowshoe and hike on their property, Tristan and Damian hoped to get right off the grid. Leroy Taylor (who owns land on the other side of Driftwood Creek as well as 40 acres below their place down to the confluence) talked them out of early plans to build a micro-power project on the creek because it tends to wash out significant sections every few years. Instead they’ve installed solar panels, built a root cellar, greenhouse and planted a big garden. Along with Damian’s parents who live right next door, they are about 80 per cent there in terms of self-sufficiency, Tristan says.
And they’ve made room in their busy lives for creativity: Damian’s Harvest Designs creates beautiful furniture out of re-purposed wood, he builds guitars for Rayco Resophonics and plays guitar with The Train Wrecks.
Tristan loves the solitude as well as the convenience of being just 16 km from town.
“We live on a bear highway. There’s an ephemeral creek and when it dries up the bears have to go down to Driftwood Creek to get water and we see them coming through. My brother was sleeping in our cabin and spent an hour one morning watching a bear eating Saskatoons outside the window. We see them eating dandelions, tearing up anthills. One day we watched a mom introduce her cubs to an anthill—they’d jump in and then jump back—it was hilarious.”
Everywhere I walk with Tristan today, we see the iconic view of Hudson Bay Mountain and we hear Driftwood Creek.
“I love that I can hike up to the headwaters of the creek that runs past our home, that waters our garden —it’s the wellspring of our lives here.”