Driftwood Creek – its outlet

 

I know it’s time to begin to wind down these Driftwood Creek reflections now that we’ve moved. But images keep arising. This time of year we’d have been looking for harlequins, we’d have been wondering how wild the spring freshet would become. First thing in the morning, we’d hear its muted rumble through the open bedroom window. The creek filled our well and watered our garden. When I think of all the stones we tossed its way! All the rocks we winged at passing sticks – to hit them, to sink them, to unsnag them. Laughing, competing, losing, succeeding and still the sticks floated off, tumbling downstream to join the pile of driftwood at the mouth of the creek. Along the banks of the Skeena all the way to tide water. Cumshewa, the Chinook word for bleached driftwood – or the white men drifting into shore in their big boats and floating off again at high tide.

The creek is a path we seldom take – except in winter. As Eminem sings,

I walk on water
But I ain’t no Jesus
I walk on water
But only when it freezes

We skied from our house down to the confluence one winter, maybe 1979. We snowshoed down in the early 2000s with Jim and Rosamund Pojar. I remember a large wing print in blood-splattered snow, a dipper nest in the canyon by Nageli’s bridge, and a complicated descent over a rockfall. The descent was not as much fun for us as it had been for the otters, the smooth grooves of their slide trails twisting and turning through the boulders.

That rockfall just above the confluence, over forty years old now, stops the salmon that used to come miles up the creek. But the fish still come to the pools below, feeling the tug on their hearts, the ravelling up of an ancient genetic thread.

Once I started the Driftwood Creek project, I wanted to revisit the confluence and find that rockfall again. We even talked about initiating a salmonid enhancement project to clear the rockfall and allow salmon back up the creek.

The route down to the river.

We found a pleasant route through Walter Faeh’s property down to the Bulkley and downstream to the confluence. We repeated this trip many times over the last couple of years. We tried to follow the creek up to the rockfall, but kept getting blocked by seriously precipitous canyons, the conditions never quite right on foot or snowshoe to persevere.

One lunch at the confluence.

 

 

 

 

 

Another lunch with Karen and Owen Diemert.

 

When we finally had the sense to ask, Tristan and Damien Jones pointed us in the right direction. Last fall we slithered down the slope beside their house to the creek and followed it up to the rockfall. Any thoughts we had of clearing it evaporated. Indeed, it seemed miraculous that the creek had ever found a way through. How we snowshoed our way down the jumble of huge boulders that winter so many years ago baffles me – there must have been tons of snow.

 

These canyons, where the creek pushes back against the rocks that were once liquid themselves – rocks thrust up into their own future – are special places. They form passages through pools of light, openings in a geological shadow. Secret places away from our roads, our trails, our bridges. You’ll find them in many places along Driftwood Creek, from its beginnings to its end. Like the one just above Al Fletcher’s disintegrating cabin. The one below Nageli’s. And this one.

Hidden from most of us most of the time, but not from the dipper who knows the creek and its canyons summer and winter. And as if in response to my hopes, we found one right at the bottom of the rockfall that day last fall. The animal spirit of the creek, binding it all together.

Thanks to Karen, Bruce, Owen, Jim, Poppy, Joan, Brent, Pica and the others who accompanied us on the trips to the confluence. Some of these pictures are likely theirs.

 

Beginnings – the height of land

Don Parmeter’s aerial photograph of the Driftwood Creek headwaters.

The concept of watersheds has long fascinated me, as the many posts about Driftwood Creek illustrate. Back in 1977 when I worked for a Terrace newspaper, a regional district staffer, Doug Aberly, suggested provincial programs be managed in integrated watershed districts rather than in the piecemeal way jurisdictions were and still are divided. Long before that, Indigenous nations  divided territories along geographical lines of watersheds rather than the methods used in Canada’s Dominion Land Survey system which created townships and one-mile square sections of land, completely ignoring the natural boundaries provided by creeks, rivers, and mountains.

Years later, I opened a play, The Height of Land, with the image of a woman squatting to pee (women’s attention is more focused on the ground between our feet at these moments) and wondering which way her urine would run – if she was in just the right place (like the Columbia Icefields) could her urine eventually reach three oceans?  A shift of inches could produce an entirely different outcome – a little like that butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing.

Then I took a geography course from Rick Trowbridge at what was then Northwest Community College. He showed us a short film that began with the image of a single drop of water splatting onto the ground. Whether it was soaked up, frozen, evaporated, or ran into the nearest stream, it eventually returned to the sea via one watershed or another. While the term height of land sounds as if it should stand out – a hill or mountain – it is often the opposite.  Think the country north of Prince George along the nine-mile Giscome Portage where the watershed shifts from the Fraser to the Peace (via the Crooked and Parsnip rivers). Nothing dramatic there. And Rose Lake just west of Burns Lake, the division between the Fraser and Bulkley/Skeena river basins. Again, hardly a hill in sight.

Driftwood Creek’s beginnings are a little more dramatic where the watershed shifts from Driftwood Creek and the Bulkley to Cronin Creek and the Fulton and Babine rivers. A sensible boundary between Witsuwit’en and Nedut’en territory.

Lynn and I scrambled up above the cabins in Silverking Basin in 1977 on our first extended camping trip into the Babines. We fought the shintangle to reach the small lakes in the basin whose walls create one of the boundaries between those watersheds and also between Silverking and Grassy Mountain and the Twobridge (Reiseter) watershed.

Dan, the Rhebergen girls and Gisela Mendel.

Our eldest son, Daniel, went with me and Gisela Mendel in 1991/2 on a weekend trip into the basin. We joined Frank Rhebergen and his daughters to climb up the shintangle again into the headwaters. We made it up onto the flank of Cronin and crossed over to the Hyland Pass Trail – a route we tried to do in reverse the summer before last. We didn’t succeed, so Don Parmeter very kindly gave me the beautiful aerial photograph at the top of this post.

 

The kids with Silverking Basin and Harvey Mountain in the background.

 

 

Me and Dan below the glacier.

 

Lynn and Jim Pojar on Grassy Mountain, the Fulton side of the watershed divide.

 

All those watersheds draining into the Skeena Basin, into the Pacific Ocean.

And now we live right beside the same ocean. Here many creeks run straight to salt water without a river in sight. It’s a new kind of geography. For a river to get big, it needs to start far away from its final outlet. Once you think about it, it seems obvious, but coming originally from Powell River as I do, I didn’t really understand rivers. Powell River, the river that is, is one of the shortest in the world. Maybe that’s why I ended my novel, The Taste of Ashes, beside the Nautley River which drains Fraser Lake a mere 800 metres before it empties into the Nechako. Another “shortest” river. It felt something like home.

 

Should we stay or should we go?

It’s been a tumultuous few months in Driftwood Canyon. About a year ago we began to think about moving to the coast. Back to Powell River, the town where I grew up. Indeed, back into the house where my mother still lives. Where I’m writing this now.

No one was more surprised than I was. For years I thought the farthest I’d move was the fifteen km into Smithers. Anyone who’s read my blog here, or my other writing, can’t help but know how much the Bulkley Valley has been part of our lives; I met my husband (t)here, our kids were born and raised (t)here, we’ve hiked and snowshoed the hills for over forty years, we have deep and richly satisfying roots (t)here. I agreed with Wendell Berry and Pete Seeger advising us to settle in a place and stick to it.

But priorities shift. And while obstinance is a familiar stance for me, I am adaptable. And my mom, approaching 95, lives in a large house beside the ocean. So here we are.

I cringe a little when people say something is meant to be. It’s nice when things fall into place, but I don’t believe there are forces in the universe re-arranging the furniture to open up new opportunities for you or me. But when we talked to the ducks, they lined up in a lovely row.  One day I met an acquaintance in the drug store, told her we were moving, and asked in jest, do you want to buy a house in the country? She looked at me funny and we both laughed. The next week she appeared on our doorstep with her partner; we had tea and showed them around. They began to arrange financing. And that was pretty much it: we had four months to choose what to keep and what to clear out from forty years of feathers, skulls, stones, nests, books, toys, letters, photographs, and internal combustion engines. We had four months to finish editing, designing and printing Creekstone’s latest book. We launched Song of the Earth: The Life of Alfred Joseph by Ross Hoffman at the Hagwilget Gathering Place the night before we left.

As for the signs:

The winter was long and cold.

A fellow whose property touches Driftwood Road decided to log down the steep bank right to the road, haul out a few truckloads and leave a mess for his neighbours to enjoy.

Another fellow had been logging on his property further up the creek; he wasn’t allowed to haul his logs out Driftwood Road, but the wetlands we snowshoed in for years are now islands within cut blocks.

The willows are dying; the beautiful scrub willows that have given shape to a landscape of straight trees – spruce, pine, aspen, birch and cottonwood – and made enchanting nooks and crannies and forts and benches of lichen-spattered bark, the host for the fragrant fungus that sets you sniffing at stray wisp of something like vanilla. The beautiful smell of willow burning in the stove. The willow borer has laid waste to them and their dead lie strewn across the steep canyon walls, just waiting for another kind of fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The spring turned dry and dusty, great clouds rising off roads and parking lots.

And then there’s the wheelbarrow. I’ve been rewriting the ending of my wheelbarrow poem for twenty years – and when we celebrated our fortieth year beside Driftwood Creek, it became “Forty years: one house, one husband, one wheelbarrow.” We’d had many discussions about what to take to Powell River. What to give to friends, to the thrift store, what to throw away. A week before the moving van was scheduled to arrive, we talked about that wheelbarrow. It seemed silly to take it; my mom has two. The next day, Lynn brought up a load of firewood and returned to the woodshed with the empty barrow. One of the handles fell off.  I’m not sure what that signified. A certain kind of obstinacy of its own.

Choosing to move didn’t mean it would happen. Or that it was meant to happen, as tempting as that thought is. I became particularly fond of the idea of unexpected connections years ago, reading parts of David McFadden’s Great Lakes Suite: A Trip Around Lake Ontario, first published in 1988, as well as A Trip Around Lake Erie and A Trip Around Lake Huron, both first published in 1980. McFadden always found significance in seemingly random occurrences. But perhaps find isn’t the right word. Perhaps create is more accurate. Which is what writing does, at least for me. Creates significance, meaning.

We’re here now and beginning to get our bearings. The harlequins we looked for this time of year in Driftwood Creek are floating right below my mother’s house. White-crowned sparrows that cleaned up under our bird feeders in Smithers forage under her shrubs. But the mammals we see are seals, sea lions, orcas, otters. The birds we feed are gulls and crows. And after all those years living in a canyon, watching the evening sun play across the trees down the road, we can stand outside and watch sunsets that go on and on.

 

Wah Tah K’eght Henry Alfred: 1934 – 2018

Wah Tah K’eght Henry Alfred died September 23, 2018 at the age of 84. He was the last of the Witsuwit’en plaintiffs in the landmark Delgamuukw-Gisday wa court case. Our home beside Driftwood Creek is right on the edge of his territory. Just over a year ago, I asked him and his wife, Wilat Sue Alfred, some questions about the Driftwood watershed. But this part of his territory had long been occupied by settlers, miners, and loggers and he didn’t spend much time here. While he’d been into Silverking once as a young man, he said, he couldn’t do it now. His kidneys were failing and he required regular dialysis.

Much of his personality showed through in that short visit. He told stories of his uncle Peter Bazil from whom he took his name. He cracked jokes. In many ways, he reminded me of my father and uncles – prairie farm boys – who couldn’t resist teasing, who told groaners, who worked hard and could fix almost anything.

Henry was in the hospital in Prince George for much of the following summer, while a group of Witsuwit’en and settlers and researchers worked with Tyler McCreary and Creekstone Press to get Shared Histories to the press. On September 8, Henry’s daughter, Marg Dumont, flew into PG and, after the day’s dialysis session, drove him to Witset so he could welcome the community to the feast his clan, the Likhsilyu, hosted to launch the book. We felt so lucky to have him with us – smiling and talking about the need for our communities to work together – after what must have been an exhausting day. He died just two weeks later.

Dave de Wit gives Henry his copy of Shared Histories.

Ian Michell wrote in his memorial tribute to Henry:

Uncle Henry has led our clan and did a great job. He lived the ways of our Ancestors. The life of … both living off the land and in the boardroom has inspired me to mentor and try to live the old ways. Chief Wah Tah K’eght all of my life, my leader and grandfather in our Wet’suwet’en ways. Strong leader. Thank you.

Shared Histories author, Tyler McCreary, also wrote a tribute to Henry, one that was published in the Globe and Mail, a suitable honor for a man of Henry’s stature. It tells the story of how Henry acquired the knowledge that Ian respected so much, knowledge he took to the courtroom as an expert witness in Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa.

We went up the hill on his [Peter Bazil’s] line, the court transcript reads. Took us about four or five hours walking … he was pretty old. We went up pretty high. We sat down and have lunch. We made some tea and drank tea. For about an hour we sat there, and he pointed out to me … boundary lines in each corner.

Sitting together, Peter taught Henry the names of the boundary markers, [which he later] recited to the court. … It had been 25 years since the day when Peter Bazil took him out on the territory, but he remembered all the names of the boundary markers.

But those names weren’t readily available to Henry throughout those preceding 25 years. I heard him on the radio tell the story of how he was having trouble remembering them until his day in court, when they all came back to him. When he needed the knowledge, it came.

After Peter died, Henry took on the name Wah Tah K’eght, in 1967. Taking responsibility for the name in the feast hall, Henry committed to protect the territories for future generations.

The story of Henry’s life reminds me of the life of Harry Robinson, an Okanagan storyteller, born in 1900 and dying in 1990. In Write it on Your Heart: The Epic World of An Okanagan Storyteller, a collection compiled and edited by Wendy Wickwire, she talks about where his stories came from. As a child he was charged with looking after his half-blind grandmother:

… and during their many hours together, she began to tell him stories which would later become the centre and meaning of his life. ‘Somebody’s got to be with her all the time. And when we’re together just by ourselves, she’d tell me, “Come here!” And I sit here while she hold me. And she’d tell me stories, kinda slow. She wanted me to understand good. For all that time until I got to be big, she tell me stories. She tell me stories until she die in 1918 when she was eighty-five.’

Other elders told Harry stories as well. But during the long years of his ranching life, years of hard work and responsibilities, he didn’t have the time or inclination to tell stories. “’I don’t care for it,’ he explains, ‘and I forget.’” But as a hip injury and old age slowed him down almost thirty years later, he began to remember: “’The older I get, it seems to come back on me. It’s like pictures going by. I could see and remember.’”

The link between caring for elders directly, a task which creates opportunities for knowledge to be shared, and becoming a repository for that knowledge seems clear. Henry’s life exemplified this. Tyler writes:

He was committed to taking care of the elders in his community. Living with his grandmother, he had supported her when she went blind. He also helped care for Peter Bazil, the son of his grandmothers’ sister and former holder of the name Wah Tah K’eght. Henry would bring him water and cut his firewood, and eventually brought him to live in the family home during the winters.

Many of the other tributes to Henry clearly illustrate the love he engendered. His daughter Marg writes:

Wah Tah K’eght didn’t tell us how to live, he lived, and let us watch him do it. Wah Tah K’eght was a man of few words but said so much with the look in his eyes and body language. You knew he loved you if he teased you. We always knew Wah Tah K’eght only went to Grade 4 but to us, he was our professor. A professor who knew so much about our ways, our protocols, our culture, our land, and our language. Dr. Wah Tah K’eght.

One of the links between these two men is their relationship to the land their people have occupied for thousands of years. Philosopher Julian Bagginni, in an excerpt from How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy, reminds us that Indigenous relations to the land serve to “provide a corrective to the assumption that our values are the universal ones and that others are aberrations. It makes credible and comprehensible the idea that philosophy is never placeless; thinking that is uprooted from any land soon withers and dies.”

As Ian said, Henry was at home both in the boardroom and on the land. Our family and Creekstone Press feel honoured to have lived on his territory for over forty years.

Thanks to Harry Kruisselbrink for the above photos.

Hudson’s Bay Company Ranch

I had a wonderful walk in early September with Eileen Shorter who very kindly took me on the route where the Collins Overland telegraph trail and what later came to be known as the Bulkley Valley Road (now the Telkwa Highroad) crossed her property onto the Nageli farm. It was a beautiful fall day, the early fallen leaves marking the road, the old ditches a slight depression on either side. We walked to the edge of Driftwood Creek where we found some signs of an old bridge.

 

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the many ways  Driftwood Creek has been crossed; before the current bridge location (see pink dot) was used, the creek was crossed at the green dot, just where the Nageli farmhouse sits high above the road.

Here’s what Alan Pickard said:

A bridge across Driftwood Creek is shown on J H Gray’s correctional survey field notes for 27 December 1906. This bridge is on Lot 844 on what was then the Hudson’s Bay Company ranch.  A 2 km road had been constructed on the true left of the creek from the Telegraph Trail crossing of Driftwood Creek to a place where a short log bridge could be put across using rocky banks on both sides. British Columbia Archives photo A-05288 dated 1905 is most likely the bridge across Driftwood Creek on Lot 844. Although there is a private farm bridge [the Nageli’s] at this location now, it was decided by the Highways Department that a bridge at the Lot 844 site would not be renewed in 1916. Therefore a bridge existed across Driftwood Creek on Lot 844 from 1905 to about 1916.

I don’t think that the remnants I saw match the bridge in the photo – it doesn’t look like the same crossing place. But it was definitely one of the bridges that crossed Driftwood Creek to connect the old pack trail from Aldemere to the Hudson’s Bay Ranch on its way to Witset and eventually Hazelton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bridge timbers indicate a crossing with one end on the downstream shoulder of the rock outcropping on the right and the other immediately below the Nageli farmhouse.

Alan Pickard again:

The Hudson’s Bay Ranch was Lot 844, Township 2A, Coast District. This was actually the NW 1/4 of Section 16, NE 1/4 of Section 17, SE 1/4 of Section 20, and SW 1/4 of Section 21, Township 2A, Range 5, Coast.

The HB Co. paid $1,600 for this land and were given the Crown Grant on 13 October 1902.

R S Sargent “staked” this land in 1898. This means he measured the land off the 1892 Poudrier survey posts and selected the best hay land he could. But he had to abide by the rules of the Land Office and “stake” 1/4 sections etc. But there was no ability for the Lands Office, presumably in Victoria at that time, to handle the request for land by the HB Co., so they were allowed to use the land without some government agent checking things out locally.

Of course Sargent chose land on the pack train trail, which was the 1866 Collins Overland Telegraph trail.

What Alan’s research doesn’t refer to is an earlier owner. A Witsuwit’en petition to the 1909 Stewart/Vowell Commission hearing in Hagwilget stated that a Witsuwit’en woman, Mrs. Leo, and her daughter Nellie (together with 10 cattle and horses) had been living at Lot 844 before this. Richard Overstall writes:

The records show that the main Bulkley Valley hay farms in the early twentieth century were originally developed and owned by [Witsuwit’en] families: the Hudson Bay Ranch on Lot 844 was known as Sesink’en and worked by Mrs. Leo and her daughter, Nellie; the Glentanna Ranch at Lot 861 was known as Dee’tsilyee and run by Peter Michel’s family…

I haven’t found out how or when the title shifted, but Stories of Swiss Settlement in the Bulkley Valley records that Herman Nageli bought the farm from Harry Zogoff in 1948. Herman and Anne’s second child, Esther, was born in 1962. “My dad had all kinds of stories about Harry, that maybe he had been involved in some way with the Hazelton bank robbery and if my dad looked in the right spot he might find something.”

She showed me the barn, which is the only one of the old Hudson’s Bay buildings still standing.

There was an old granary that had a beautiful wooden floor we liked to play in and this one snowy morning the roof was down … that’s where we had chickens and such, but my dad always called it the granary…there was a bunkhouse, there were barns when I was a child, and my dad knew some of the stories … a really old man arrived with his great grandson and he had worked there as a young child, maybe nine or ten years old, and he was doing a trip through the valley to remember his youth … I remember that we were enthralled that he had been there; he was this wrinkly little tiny old person.

On the left, the old farmhouse from across Driftwood Creek; on the right the logwork of the house is typical of many houses of the same era. The stonework in the basement dates from the original ranch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the location of the Driftwood watershed’s Hudson Bay Ranch is clearly established. But in the course of editing Creekstone Press’s latest book, Shared Histories, I found Witsuwit’en people refer to the Oschawwinna Reserve 3, a location much closer to Witset (Moricetown) as the Hudson Bay Ranch.

Wilat Sue Alfred told me the story of how her family had been moved from place to place as settlers took up land in the Bulkley Valley.

What happened is they were all south of Houston where my grandmother had territory – Sam Goosley Lake – they all lived there, my mother, my aunties, my uncles were all born out there on the territory – What they now call Buck Falls, Nilt tsi – means misty falls – they were all living out there and all of a sudden the government came in, they took them off the territory and they placed them in Glentanna and what grandpa’s family did, they cleared the land, huge land and they were going to build a log house, what did they do? they came again, and what they did, they put them in Oschawwinna.

Melanie Morin’s book, Niwhts’ide’nï Hibi’it’ën: The Ways of our Ancestors, cites Likhdïlye Russell Tiljoe’s memories of his father, Alec Tiljoe, wintering horses for the Hudson’s Bay Company there. When I spoke to Russell, he confirmed the story. His father and uncle, Antoine, ran pack trains for the Hudson’s Bay Company from Old Hazelton to Aldemere and Telkwa in the 1910s. His grandparents also lived there – it was in the Tsayu territory – Alec’s clan.

Out for a walk to Driftwood Creek’s confluence with the Bulkley River, I was trying to pinpoint the date we hiked up the old trail. I wanted pictures. It turns out, none of us had any, but a few minutes further along, right beside the creek, Jim Pojar spotted this hawthorn bush. Go figure!

In fact, the old Moricetown-Cronin trail passes through there, a trail that took people from Witset to Babine Lake along the back side of the Babines. And the name of the reserve, Oschawwinna, means prickly and refers to the black hawthorn bushes that grow in a clearing there – north of the Telkwa Highroad up toward Duckwing Lake. It’s the only place he knows of where it grows. (The plant, Cratageus douglasii, is more commonly found in the Skeena drainage). We walked through there years ago, trying to retrace the trail, and were entranced by the open meadow with the big prickly bushes in the middle. Alan Pickard writes:

In the summer of 1898 the HB Co. also allowed their pack train to graze and they cut hay on land claimed by the Witsuwit’en. This was the 160 acres that was or became Oschawwinna 3 reserve. This reserve was laid out by O’Reilly on 19 September 1891, and finally surveyed by E M Skinner in 1899. R E Loring was also involved with the layout of this reserve.

An August 31, 1898 article in the Victoria Daily Colonist states that the Hudson’s Bay Company

had cut some hay at a place beyond Moricetown, claimed by the Indians as a reservation, and the latter protested. The affair was at once brought to the attention of the department, with the result that it has been amicably settled, the natives being found right in their contentions, and the Hudson’s Bay company being ready to recompense them for the hay taken.

Since the place was already established as a reserve, the claims were heeded. However, claims for other Witsuwit’en homesites along the pack train route were not heeded. I’ve written about the people at Canyon Creek in my first book, Canyon Creek: A Script. In it, there’s a reference to Peter Michel, Wilat Sue Alfred’s grandfather. He made a claim to his homesite at Glentanna to the 1915 McKenna/McBride Commission:

  1.  Now we come to the application of Peter Michel.
    PETER MICHEL IS CALLED AND SWORN:
    MR. COMMISSIONER MACDOWALL:
    Q.    You had a house which was destroyed. Where was that house?
    A.    A white man burned it where Charlie Chapman is now.
    Q.    Where does Charlie Chapman live now?
    A.    It is in the district surrounding Lot 861 on the Bulkley Lake Road – it
    is about 1-1/2 miles from what we call the Hudson Bay Ranch, and that
    ranch is Lot 844.
    Q.    How long had you your house there before it was burnt down?
    A.    My wife’s father lived there for a long time and I came there and
    built a house there for my boy and myself.
    Q.    How many houses on the place?
    A.    Two smokehouses and one good log building. I used a whip-saw to make
    the lumber.
    Q.    Was it Chapman who ordered you off the land?
    A.    No, it was Peavine Harvey of Old Hazelton.
    Q.    Well, what do you want Peter.
  2.  I want to get a piece of land where my house was burnt.
    Q.    Suppose you can’t get that piece of land is there any other piece of
    land that you know of that you would like to get?
    A.    White men are camped all along there. If I can’t get that piece of
    land I would like to get another piece that I know of.
    Q.    Where is that piece?
    A.    (Examining map) I think it is not very good all around it, and I
    don’t think I can get the piece I want, – the only place I want is where
    I was staying before.
    Q.    Well, we will see when we get to Victoria, but I cannot hold out much
    hope, however, we will do our best.
    A.    I want to get a place somewhere up Bulkley Valley where I used to hunt
    before.

Peter Michell ended up moving his family to Oschawwinna where they lived until the children were grown; then they moved to Witset.

I haven’t, so far, found any further mention of Mrs. Leo and Nellie at what became the Hudson’s Bay Ranch. The site is beautiful and would be a natural place to make a home – Cygnet Creek flows into Driftwood Creek at that spot and there would have undoubtedly been lots of open land around there to raise horses and cattle. Like many others, if their homesites were on land that had been staked by settlers, their claims were unlikely to be heeded.

Thanks to Eileen Shorter for taking me along the old road and to Esther Nageli for sharing some of her family stories (more on that later). And thanks again to Alan Pickard for his research.

 

Finally, rain.

 

We’ve been away, dodging in and out of heat and smoke, mostly lucky. Just days before we left on August 1, we sent off the proofs for Creekstone Press’ latest book, Shared Histories: Witsuwit’en – Settler Relations in Smithers 1913 -1973 by Tyler McCreary. As we drive south, I imagine huge scrolls of paper (I grew up in a paper mill town and that’s where we’re headed), massive rollers turning, long blades slicing through the bleeds at the edges of some pages.

Smoke between Fraser Lake and Vanderhoof, fires north and south. Afternoon sun scorching the high rises along the Fraser River in New Westminster. The relief of a swim off Grief Point in Powell River, my 94-year old mother joining us.

The bright book cover printed and cut; a glossy skin protecting its images, the kind words on the back. The glue along the spine.

Our son’s wedding on his grandmother’s lawn, the smoke already rolling in to erase the islands just offshore, the mountains behind Courtenay. Hanging on for days.

When we finally head north again, we hear the book has been shipped. And, for the first time in a month, rain. The Fraser Valley wet. The Fraser Canyon, damp. Further north, back into the smoke. A pale blue haze shimmering in the distance.

Again, between Prince George and Burns Lake, brutal smoke. No rain here. Sore throat, irritated eyes and those poor residents have been inhaling this for weeks now.

Home and the books have arrived. Carton after carton of stories, analysis, old photos and maps. A great sigh of first relief, then pleasure.

The ground has sucked in its cheeks around the shrunken stems of fireweed, nettles, and cow parsnip.  Cottonwood leaves, open palms on the ground, scarred by the leaf miners’ sad stories. We walk up the Malkow Lookout trail, our footsteps puffing up clouds of dust. The cows watch us pass, their cow pies already flat plates, dry on the desiccated grass. A few asters in shaded spots, nothing else in bloom. The bush is loud with the hum of bees. Everything is speckled with aphids, shining with honeydew. Some leaves are shellacked, others sticky. And this, I find, is nectar for bees.

We hear chickadees, juncos and kinglets. See one flock of robins startled up out of the field. Five water bombers pass overhead, one, two, three, four, five. Heading toward Babine Lake.

The saskatoon berries are desiccated, the cranberries few, the wild raspberries hiding in the shade. Our own grass is sparse, soil showing through at the crest of every downhill slope.

 

 

 

And then, tonight. Standing outside in the suddenly early darkness. Finally. Rain.

 

 

 

 

 

At last, dippers!

It’s been a quiet few months on Driftwood Creek. Just snow, snow and more snow. The driveway ploughed and ploughed again, the deck shovelled and shovelled until there was no place to put the snow, the roof shovelled onto flowerbeds, six feet of compacted snow. The snowbanks got so high we couldn’t see the creek, the snow heaped so high on the bridge railings we had to clear openings, one to look up the creek, one to look down.

But in the last week, we’ve seen dippers again. Finally. Sometimes a pair. And the juncos are back, the mountain bluebirds flash their brilliant blue, the robins flock by the dozens, the bell tone of a single varied thrush. Flickers and sapsuckers hammer the house. Hawks cruise the cottonwoods. Along one of the bare slopes of the canyon, about thirty grey-crowned rosy finches – birds we rarely see. Geese overhead, mallards on the melting beaver pond and, of course, cranes.

It is time for the harlequins to return as well. Last year this time they were making out in a pool just above the log jam; this year the creek is still thawing. Last year this time the trail up out of the canyon was open and welcoming; this year it’s a litter of fallen trees and rotten snow. The combination of several years of willow borer and leaf miner in the aspens left them vulnerable to heavy snows and erratic windstorms.

Sometimes we feel the same way. Vulnerable. To illness. Age. Accident. The news is full of bad luck. When big gusts blow through the huge old spruce trees outside my window, I listen for a crack, get ready to run.

But the light brings us back. The silliness of daylight savings is soon washed away in the widening smile, the opening arms, the head thrown back, the crow of light’s laughter. Welcome, welcome light.