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.

Everything connects…

Creekstone Press

We are very proud to be celebrating Creekstone Press’s 20th anniversary this year. We began by publishing my book, Canyon Creek: A Script – a book about the eviction of a Witsuwit’en family from its homesite on the Telkwa Highroad in the 1920s. We’ve published about one book a year since then and we have two more in the works. Last year, Neil Sterritt’s Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History – with local design and cartography – won the Roderick Haig-Brown regional prize, a prize awarded for a book that contributes to the enjoyment and understanding of BC; it also took second prize at the BC Historical Federation’s book awards. And one of our other authors, Sarah de Leeuw, who wrote Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern BC, is also up for an award for her collection of essays, Where it Hurts. Both Neil and Sarah have been guests on In the Shadow of the Mountain and their interviews can be accessed via CICK’s website.  Other guests who have been on the show nominated for prizes this year include Eden Robinson who’s been nominated for the Ethel Wilson fiction prize for Son of a Trickster; Theresa Kishkan nominated for the Hubert Evans non-fiction prize for Euclid’s Orchard & Other Essays. Our second book, Oar and Sail: An Odyssey of the West Coast by Kenneth Leighton, which was short-listed for a prize back in 2000 – is excerpted in Spindrift: A Canadian Book of the Sea, another short-listed book.

In the Shadow of the Mountain

While Creekstone Press continues its work, I’m ready to shift directions and leave In the Shadow of the Mountain. It’s been almost four years and over 50 shows and has given me a wonderful opportunity to connect with other writers, to give me both the motivation and excuse to just talk to other writers about writing. But it takes time away from my own writing, which each of my conversations on In the Shadow of the Mountain makes me miss even more.

I’d like to share some of thoughts about leaving.

Yesterday I broadcast my final edition of In the Shadow of the Mountain on Smithers Community Radio Thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at CICK 93.9 FM for helping out with the show and for all the other shows they make, the community events they present, and the community connections they foster. And thanks, as well, to Interior Stationery and Books/Speedee Interior Stationery and Books/Speedee Mills and Books on Smithers’ Main Street – for sponsoring the show and for keeping us in good reads. Bravo!

I was especially pleased that my final guest for In the Shadow of the Mountain was Donna Kane, a writer from the Peace River country, Rolla to be exact. Donna was a guest on the show many times – she did a regular writing gossip column in its first year and I also did a show with her about her chapbook Pioneer 10: I Hear You.  She’s published two books of poetry, organized innumerable poetry readings and writers’ camps, including several in the Muskwa Kechika where her husband, photographer Wayne Sawchuk, takes summer-long horse trips every year in order to draw attention to some of the last remaining wilderness in the Northern Rockies. I had the pleasure of spending a couple of weeks at an artists camp there a few  years ago and created a series of images and poems called The Muskwa-Kechika Fire Poems.

It’s no surprise that Donna’s latest book is called The Summer of the Horse. What surprised me is that it’s not poetry, but rather a memoir of sorts. It documents the day she and Wayne met at a book fair, each of them having grown up almost next door to each other without ever meeting, each in long term relationships; they are instantly drawn each other. In the book, Donna documents the changes their relationship precipitated, the pain and uncertainty it caused, and the questions it led her to explore: the ways in which our thoughts, our observations and our actions are inextricably connected. To quote poet Lorna Crozier, “It’s a love story, not only between a remarkable man and an equally remarkable woman, but between this same woman and horses, this same woman and the BC wilderness. There is such fine thinking between these pages that could only have been written by a poet/philosopher. By someone who opens her mind and body to the beauties and sorrows that surround her and who finds the words to knot everything together with such finesse they’ll never come apart.”

 

 

Teetering past the solstice

 

Oh, it can be dark here in the canyon in December. Three hours of direct sunlight if we’re lucky. And cold. The solstice arrived with, finally, a dipper on the creek below the bridge up the road from our place. The one where the outlet of the ground water seeping out of Gordon Harvey’s old park enters the creek and makes an open spot even when everything is frozen. The old park where little bridges used to cross the creeklets trickling through tall spruce and cottonwood. A carved bear, long gone. A guest book anchored to a tree, also gone.

The solstice also brings a plane landing into the -14 winter evening. On it, our elder son and his fiance. Vancouver kids shivering in the cold. Life in the house doubles. That night, wolves howl nearby. It feels like a sign, a return of life and light. The next day, -20, we climb the hill and look for tracks. We don’t find them but we relish the sunlight as we look across the valley, its murky air.

The other boy arrives with our almost six-year-old grandson, wild with Christmas, keen for everything. We walk over to the creek, throw chunks of snow off the bridge into the open spot just under the bridge’s arch. No dipper.

The birdfeeder is a circus of colour and movement: Steller’s jays, whiskey jacks, redpolls, nuthatches, chickadees, hairy and downy woodpeckers, a magpie and pine grosbeaks. On the fringes, a pine marten. A pair of ravens. Look, we say to our grandson, whose first language was raven squawks he made with his grandpa, raucous squawks the ravens answered. Look. There they are. Your old friends.

The house is quiet as we come to the end of the year, the boys and the girl gone. The temperature stays low and the creek is quieter and quieter. The openings all closing. But the light is returning and I know somewhere on Driftwood Creek a dipper is dancing in the new year.

… some lines from an old poem of mine … Why are some rivers?                                                                            

A quiet seepage –
too quiet, really, to be called a spring –
can unlock the earth’s own heat.
The ice exhales and opens
a sudden pool for this dipper
bobbing on a splintered stone.
It dives right in and finds a current
that’s warmer than the winter air.
There’s spirit in there somewhere
and bouncing back, the bird
it dipsy doodles
on the slippery dance floor
tapping out some bebop riff
we all wish that we could follow.

Happy New Year from Driftwood Canyon!

Driftwood Creek – and the ways we cross it

Thanks to Alan Pickard  for sharing his research. Alan lived on the Telkwa Highroad for many years and has been researching its history for almost as long. Although he has returned to live in his home country of New Zealand, he visits regularly. He is writing a book he calls Place Name Stories Of The Bulkley Valley and the Driftwood name is one of the inclusions. This is what he has discovered.

Driftwood Creek, C’ide’Yikwah in Witsuwit’en, has its headwaters in the main, southwest facing basin of the Babine Mountains. It flows into the Bulkley River about 10 km down river from Smithers. Although driftwood collects in the beds of many rivers and creeks it remains unknown when the name Driftwood was given to this creek.

Only the Suskwa and Bulkley Rivers are shown on a 1866 Collins Telegraph map and documents. The Poudrier map of 1891 gives it the Witsuwit’en name Chi Noo A Kwa which must be what the surveyor Gauvreau heard during his walking survey through the Bulkley Valley in 1891; this presumably was a rendering of C’ide’Yiwah. Poudrier writes Big Rapid Creek in his 1892 survey field book for Driftwood Creek. Poudrier’s survey party met with some opposition from the First Nations people at Moricetown and they did not use First Nations people in their survey work. It seems Gauvreau used, or at least talked to at some length, First Nations people in 1891. Many of the details on Poudrier’s map of 1891 could only have come from Gauvreau.

A G [Father] Morice does not mention local creeks that cross the Telkwa High Road. It is most likely the name Driftwood Creek came from some of the pack-train or other travelers who passed through the Bulkley Valley from 1874 onwards. Camping places were most often beside creeks and these camping places were given local names, some of which will not have survived into the European settlement era. The name Driftwood Creek first appears in writing on J H Gray’s correctional survey field books for January 1906.

This crossing at the Nageli farm is just above the older one.

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. It is unknown who took the 1905 photo and whether it is correctly dated. There was a photographer with the Provincial Mineralogist in 1905.

This early aerial photograph of what is now Eileen Shorter’s ranch shows the old king truss bridge over Driftwood Creek.

There is no mention of a bridge at the Telegraph Trail crossing (present Telkwa High Road) in any documents up to about 1916. Driftwood Creek is easy to ford at this point [just below Glenwood Hall] when the creek is not in flood. Many small bridges were built along the Hazelton to Aldermere trail/road from about 1905 onwards, and more and more money was spent on improvements of the road. Some King Truss bridges were built on this road from 1907 onwards. The problem for the Public Works Department, and later the Highways Department, was that the bridge on Lot 844 was on private land whereas the Telegraph Trail was a public right-of-way.

The name Telkwa High Road did not come into being officially until about 1920 although the name may have been locally used well before this. In the 1912-13 Public Works Report $761.35 was spent on the Driftwood Creek bridge but no specific location was given. It is likely this was the bridge on Lot 844.

In the 1919-20 Public Works Report $1,453.60 was spent on the Driftwood Creek bridge but no specific location was given. It is likely however that this was the bridge at the Telegraph Trail crossing, the present Telkwa High Road crossing.

The current bridge below Glenwood Hall and Shorter’s ranch was installed after the 1986 flood.

The bridge across Driftwood Creek at the Telegraph Trail crossing (the present road crossing point) “went out some time ago”; this from a Highway Department letter dated 5 September 1936. This letter discusses at which of the two locations a replacement bridge should be built.

This is likely near the crossing referred to in the 1905 report. This bailey bridge just below Park Road on Driftwood Road was another replacement after the 1986 flood. In his history of the Babine Mountains, Joe L’Orsa said locals numbered the bridges consecutively above this one, which was adjacent to the Harvey homestead. The “fifth bridge” was at Sunny Point.

From the 1905 Provincial Mineralogist Report; “Babine Range, 17 September 1905, P. McPhee, a local prospector, engaged as guide. The trail up to these claims leaves the telegraph trail about half a mile west of Driftwood creek, and cutting across the rolling
hills through pea-vine and fire weed higher than the horses backs, crosses Driftwood creek about two miles up from the trail . . . The trail follows the east bank of Driftwood up for a couple of miles further, through heavy spruce woods, when it begins to climb
the main mountain side by a steep and poorly cut trail, through the small jack-pine and
balsam trees.”

It is said C G Harvey cut the trail to the Babines and staked the first claims in 1903, but
this date is doubtful. C G Harvey was given the Crown Grant for Lot 859 at Glentanna
in June 1906 and his son said C G Harvey came in to Hazelton in 1907. It is therefore
likely that Pat McPhee knew of the route/trail into the Babines via Driftwood Creek
before Harvey.

From a letter dated 30 April 1937 in the Smithers Highways Department files, “ . . . The
Dieter [road] grade running north is a revival of the old miner route . . .” although note
that the Provincial Mineralogist says the route started half a mile west of Driftwood
Creek, which means the trail started about six hundred meters north of present day
Gilbert Road.

We always called this “the first bridge” – for many years after the 1986 flood there was no bridge here and access to the Babine Mountains was restricted to bike and foot traffic.

In the 1915-16 Public Works Report work was done on the Driftwood Creek Sleigh
Road; that is the road up Driftwood Creek. Four new bridges were built and a new
sleigh road. $1,696.30 was spent. In the report for the next year new work was done on
this sleigh road and $1,206.19 was spent.

The Interior News, 14 July 1920; A. P. McCabe returned to Smithers last week, having
completed the erection of five bridges on the existing route to the mining properties in
the Driftwood Creek section of the Babines . . . The crew on the bridges have been
turned over to Robert Mackin, who will extend the road for several miles as the
beginning of a truck line into the prominent claims of that district.

If the road accessing this bridge over Driftwood Creek on Snake Road is “less steep” than it used to be, it must have been very tricky in winter.

Driftwood Creek also is crossed by Snake Road. This road was first laid out in 1913. It is
unclear when the first bridge was built across Driftwood Creek on this road. In a letter
from the Department of Works dated 8 April 1921, a request for a “high level bridge over
Driftwood Creek on the Telkwa – Canyon Creek Road [Snake Road]” was turned down.
The road approaches to the crossing of Driftwood Creek on Snake Road were made less
steep in 1917. Snake Road was built about 1913.

*I’ll be writing more on this later.

I just had to add one more photograph of a Driftwood Creek bridge – the one currently providing access to the fossil beds at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park. It is the fourth one built in the 40 years we’ve lived here.

Engineer’s Trail

I think it was Gisela Mendel who first took us down Engineer’s Trail – the trail that angles down from the McCabe Trail  to a spot where the engineers camped beside Driftwood Creek the summer in 1919 when they were building the trail. You can find the entrance by hiking the McCabe Trail as far as the big rock slide, then backing up just a few metres. Or you can scramble a few metres down the rock slide to find the trail below.

It’s not much of a trail really. On the first couple of descents we trimmed back a few small sub-alpine firs and clipped the alders that close in on the lower parts. Ann and Alan Pickard helped us, Renee Granlin too.

Once you emerge at creek level, the trail disappears into soft moss and small waterways that often don’t freeze all winter – they seem to be the result of some extensive beaver activity a few years back and natural springs like the ones that cross the Silverking Trail above Danny Moore bridge.

You have to make your way across the creek to find the camp itself and there’s not much left of it – a round of wood where a wall tent might have been anchored, a few rusting vessels of indeterminate function. Almost one hundred years ago now – it’s likely others used it over the years for there to be anything left of it at all.

One November, we walked down there with our boys – teenagers at the time. Very little snow and a heavy frost created the most wonderful illusion. It was a special day and resulted in a poem, one of the ones included in the weather from the west.

winter

one step down
from the named trail
into
silence

we trace a lost descent
its perfect grade
tangled in alder
huge tracks
unmistakable
no dog wanders here    alone
where wolfish breath
clouds the glittering air
hot paws melt through
to thrifty November earth
hoarding its heat
beneath a dusting of snow
coolness
after a season of rocks

we follow the tracks
and the earth
down
to water
burrowing in its own cleft
struggling
always
towards the center
tricked by beavers
and winter into extravagance

ice floods the trees
a window to the earth
spread naked and surprised below
bubbles stilled
unburst

 

 

 

my boys slide on their bellies
and spin
their whoops shattering
the silence of indrawn breath

wolf tracks measure the beaver lodge

they too mark the surface
they too sing their wildness
into the ringing winter air

Driftwood spirits

Joe L’Orsa – Harry Kruisselbrink photo

Joe L’Orsa was one of the first people who befriended Lynn and subsequently me when we moved here. He lived with his family in the house his parents built on the Telkwa-Moricetown Highroad in the 1940s; his mother Harriet lived in a smaller house she had had built nearby in the late sixties. I still have mint from her garden – a hardy variety that finds itself a place among the vegetables every year.

Since Harriet died at age 90 in 1987, her house has been rented out to a variety of people – single men and women, couples, young families – many of whom had strange encounters there. But even while Harriet was alive, there was an unsettling sense about the place.

Sherry Wertz remembers that Harriet lived on her own, managing all the tasks of daily living. “She was somewhere in her eighties at the time and she was able to take care of herself and so on, but she would often talk to people we couldn’t see. Maybe her sister or others. She’d scold people who didn’t use the doors like other people did to come inside the house. We’d just go along with her and say hello to her friends. Aside from that, she was fine.”

Sita Then, who lived there after Harriet died, wrote:

Joe told me that his farm was on “a thin spot”, a magnetic line, a place where our plane of existence and another could be crossed.  He explained to me that his mother was always surrounded by people from this other plane and that she treated them as if they were real. The Earth had a grid of magnetic lines, he said, and Smithers, his home and the Babine Mountains were all directly on this one.

The magnetic grid theory was one Joe shared with many people. But the stories around Harriet’s house are more specific. Some tenants found that objects seem to get moved around; the teapot left on the table would be found in another room; a doll would appear that didn’t belong to any of the children in the house. Others talked about hearing children playing outside. One fellow who pooh-poohed the stories, reportedly left after spending a single night there. Another visitor, his sister reported, woke up “absolutely terrified.

Joe’s brother Tony, who lived in the house with his mother for a time, dismisses the stories. I’m ambivalent. I haven’t experienced anything to make me believe in ghosts or thin spaces between planes of existence, but people I respect seem to have a sense for such things. And when I asked for stories about Harriet’s house, I got a bit of a surprise. Both Sherry and Sita have never spoken to each other about what they experienced, but their stories bear a remarkable resemblance. And each one had a witness.

Here’s what Sherry said happened when she and her daughter spent a night with Harriet:

It was somewhere in December – it was cold and wintery and there was snow on the ground. Megan and I went to bed in the spare bedroom.  Somewhere between two and three a.m., I heard a lot of noise, men talking, and some banging around. I got up and went to Harriet’s room because she did sleepwalk sometimes and I was worried she might have gone outside in the cold. But she was there, asleep in her room.

It was quite loud and seemed like it was just outside the kitchen window. It sounded like someone was loading heavy metal objects or something. I turned on the outside lights, but there was no one there. The noise had also awakened Megan – in her toddler way she asked me what the noise was and was someone here?

Here’s what Sita wrote:

It was winter, and the snowy afternoon had continued into the evening, but by bed time the sky had cleared, the snow had stopped, and the temperature had fallen considerably.  The brightness of the moon on the L’Orsa fields shone through the generous windows of Harriet’s old house illuminating our squat furniture and casting deep shadows all around.  Sound tends to travel well on nights like that, as we noticed when both Ron and I woke to noises both loud and close.  Even with the atmospheric mood taken into account, the sounds were simply too close and too loud to be anywhere but in the parking area around the back of our house.  Without even discussing it, we both launched out of bed to see what the heck.

Straight to the back door we went, both of us stopping with our noses up to the glass, searching the crystal blue night for what sounded like two men talking to each other and unloading empty metal milk containers like the old fashioned ones from a dairy.  We were sure that it was the sound of these empty containers rolling across a truck’s flat deck and then onto the ground. But not how it would have sounded if they fell on snowy ground. And outside our door there was at least a foot of brand new sparkling snow.

But now we heard nothing, just our own breathing as we stood peering out through the glass.

Still without a word we bolted back to the living room to look out those windows to help us make sense of the noises we had heard. Seeing no trace of truck or men, we looked for tire tracks or human tracks. But all the moon showed us was the flawless skin of untracked snow.  No deep blue shadows of tire marks, no clumsy human footprints to break up the perfection that was the landscape of that night.

Uneasy, we vowed that in the morning, we would go over to Joe’s to see if he’d heard anything or was up to some late night milk container rolling.  In the morning, we skipped coffee and put on our gear to see what we could see. We found exactly what we had seen from the windows the night before, a landscape of perfect, untrammelled snow.

We shovelled out the truck and returned to our warm kitchen for breakfast.  I called Joe’s house.  I asked him if he’d heard what we had, or if he’d had some nocturnal projects on the go. He hadn’t.  So we were left with a few options: was it uncommonly audible sound traveling from far away, had we both dreamt the same dream and awakened at the same time, or was it the past speaking to us?

It would have been easy for us to go over to the Nageli’s dairy farm further down the road and ask them what sort of mischief they were up to the night before. Maybe we would have found our answer there. But maybe we wanted the mystery of “the thin spot”.  Maybe we wanted to affirm the crowd of spirit visitors that kept Harriet company every day of her life in the Bulkley Valley. Maybe we wanted to be part of the great unknown of magnetic lines connecting the places we loved.  Maybe we too had crossed over to another plane and startled some other people awake with our industry and chatter. After all, who doesn’t want to be a ghost?

Neither woman felt threatened by the sound. “It wasn’t scary,” Sherry said. “It was just as if I had tapped into someone else’s life. Later I thought about Harriet’s visitors and I thought it could be an overlap of some kind – some dimensional thing.”

Over the years a couple of cleansing ceremonies were done and reports indicate there haven’t been any incidents for many years. Or at least none people are talking about. But rumour has it there may be spirits hanging around Glenwood Hall and Driftwood Schoolhouse…just think of all those weddings and funerals…

 

 

 

 

 

October high water

Tuesday morning, I was sitting in my office listening to the rain pound the roof. It had been going on long and hard enough to make me nervous. Then, mid-morning, it started snowing. Huge clumps of wet snow.

Better than rain, I thought, until I saw the way the silly trees that hadn’t dropped their leaves were drooping under the weight. Branches breaking.

Two and a half inches of snow later, it started to rain again. Really rain. I heard rumbles of rocks slipping and sliding somewhere out there. Maybe a tree dropping a limb, or falling.  The creek roaring.

I couldn’t help myself, and threw on my rain gear, opened my umbrella and went out to take a look. Shook wet snow as best I could off the larch, off the mountain ash. Hauled broken willow branches off the driveway. Went over to the creek and watched the muddy water swirling like it was spring.

Bruce McGonigal, who worked for many years with water management in Smithers and still keeps careful track of what’s happening with our creeks and rivers, sent out this report:

Wet and then more wet. And then yet more.

In case you were wondering…….yesterday we were overwhelmed by some rather substantial rain. And those conglomerate snow flakes…big enough to bring down a goose.

I did a visit to Environment Canada’s met. site for Smithers Airport this morning….

69.4 mm recorded over the 24 hour period for October 24th. Previous record rainfall was recorded on same day in 1966 at 24.1 mm.

There you go, in case you were wondering – Smithers area smashed the previous rain fall record in a rather substantial way.

Today, the sun is shining and the snow is melting. The creek is settling down. Rumour has it, though, that there’s fog down in the valley.