Stories looking for home

We writers are always talking about the importance of stories. Of the ways in which stories reflect a culture back to itself – for teaching, for entertainment, for the record. For thoughtful commentary. So we’re always tickled to find anyone who agrees. Especially a couple of law professors. Of course common law is really based on old stories, so I guess it makes a kind of sense.

In “Indigenous Law and Legal Pluralism”, Val Napoleon and Hadley Friedland illustrate ways in which indigenous legal traditions can be respectfully accessed by “applying legal analysis and synthesis to … stories, narratives, and oral histories.” (Napoleon and Friedland are part of a movement trying to build a bridge between indigenous and western legal traditions. Val is the director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit at UVic; Hadley was its research director until last year.)

The article opens by quoting George Blondin from When the World was New: Stories of the Sahtu Dene:

It used to be that every family with a living grandfather or grandmother possessed a storyteller from another time. The duty of storytellers was to tell stories every day. That is why Dene tradition is so complete, as far back as the days when [Naá]cho–giant now-extinct animals–roamed the world.

Over the years, we have heard many stories from the Driftwood watershed. The year Cronin mine mailman Joe Pekoe was killed in an avalanche. Other men killed in sawmill accidents. The time Katherine Harvey stole her husband Peavine’s chimney from his cabin beside his mine workings because she and their son Gordon had run out of money. Instead of coming home, he had her charged with theft and she spent the winter in jail in Vancouver (this may be apocryphal as there’s also a story about him breaking an arm and Katherine using a stove pipe for a splint). The time two women stood outside the foreman’s cabin in Silverking Basin at night at 30 below, their ski boots in their hands, ready to depart because they got the old airtight burning so hot it was a reverberating bright red.

Hadley and Val conclude “Indigenous Law” with a reference to a statement in Harold Norman’s article, “Crow Ducks and Other Wandering Talk”. Creek elder John Rains saw ten dead and mangled crows on the snow in the bush: “Some story will come along and find those crows, and use them,” he said.

Norman continues:

To the Cree, stories are animate beings. One could tell a biography of a single Cree story (which would be a story in itself) just as one could tell the natural history of an animal.  In this respect, one could ask, What do stories do when they are not being told? Do they live in villages? Some Cree say they do. Do they tell each other to each other? Some Cree say this is true as well. Certain stories live out in the world, looking for episodes to add to themselves. Therefore, we can understand John Rains’ belief that eventually a story would find the torn crows. Later that story would find a Cree person, inhabit that person awhile, and be told back out into the world again.

What a tantalizing concept for a writer! Stories do seem to find themselves, to create themselves and some of us are lucky enough (or not) to be inhabited by them. Think of the possibilities.

Now think of all that stories that might find their way into the creek: the water running, slipping and sliding down, down, down as it always does, some splashed up into the air, some going down your thirsty throat, some pausing in a back eddy or a quiet pool. It parts and connects, parts and connects in a most lively manner. Think of the stories swirling down its path to find their way out into the world.

The time our neighbour, in the wild spring freshet, launched his canoe, paddled down to the fossil beds, and survived. You’ve heard that expression, three sheets to the wind? Years later, we found a half-crushed canoe beside the creek. Not his, he swears. I still have a piece of it my office. Now I know why I’ve kept it all these years. I’m waiting for its story to stop by and pick it up.

Think of the gossip in every back eddy.

Did you see the moose stumble and fall? Ah yes, that moose is nothing but bones now and see, here comes a trickle of its blood. Did you see us tear that bridge right off its footings? Oh yes, we shoved it right up against that house, they were all asleep and we scared them silly. Remember those kids throwing rocks for the big red dog, how he scrabbled to retrieve them? The mud he churned up? Well, here he comes, look out!

And swoosh, those molecules of hydrogen and oxygen are thrown back into the melee, molecules that held shape and form in three dimensions, snow that held a preening whiskey jack, snow that was eaten and pissed out by goats, by moose, by thirsty skiers and sawyers.

Remember, says the muddy stream, thick with memories, carrying a spruce branch drunken with sorrow, travelling together long enough to tell about the mittens snagged on the branch, the smell of wet wool bringing back the spruce’s memory of the sawyer stripping off his shirt in the heat of the work and tossing it down on top of the tree when it was barely bigger than a twig, and now the branch is useless, no needles, no purpose, a forgotten vestige broken off in a skier’s passing, dropped onto the snow on top of the ice and here it is telling the creek about the smell of horses, of diesel and the cries of working men.

Around and around it all goes until something – a pebble tossed, a rubber boot slipping off a stone, a fox bending to drink – sends it all off again, the water and the stories together.

And this time of year, the whole world, it seems, is dripping and melting and water is trickling, burbling, sending little creeks running through the woodshed, under the deck, down into the garden, into the pond, under the road and into the still half-frozen creek. Past the old spruce tree where raucous crows are nesting. Everywhere, winter stories looking for a home.

 

The stories I miss – the ones I hear only as rumours – are Wet’suwet’en stories: rumours of sacred places, of marmot hunts, of goats, of the vanished caribou. C’ide’ Yïkwah or Driftwood Creek marks the division between two territories, that of Wos of the Gidimt’en Clan and that of Ut’akhgit of the Likhsilyu Clan, a name currently held by Henry Alfred. You know it carries many stories. It’s time to listen up.

“Indigenous Law and Legal Pluralism” appears in a special issue of the McGill Law Journal, 61:4.

Driftwood Creek watershed – the map

What exactly is a watershed? When I asked map maker extraordinaire Morgan Hite to make a map of Driftwood Creek’s watershed, he did indeed make a beautiful one. But he first had a few words to say about the concept itself:

Sometimes I like the theoretical abstraction of the watershed, but other times it troubles me. The theoretical bit is this: If you hike up into the mountains, sit down on a convenient rock, and pull out your water bottle, and then you empty that water bottle onto the ground (because you’ve just, perhaps, found a spring of better-tasting water), where will that water go? And the theoretical answer is that it will run downhill, into the nearest creek, and thence down to a river and on to the ocean. It’s kind of like Paddle to the Sea, where the tiny canoe goes from the Ontario uplands to the Atlantic. Everywhere From Which Downhill Leads To Here: that’s a watershed.

The troubling bit is that in reality the water you pour out onto the ground will not run to the nearest creek. It sinks into the soil and disappears. Or, if you are on something impermeable, like solid rock or pavement, it runs out until it is spread thin, and then evaporates. Either way it does not reach the nearest creek. You can try this.

So given that water’s actual behaviour is to mix with buried groundwater, or join the vaporous air, is a watershed even a real thing? If we tried to map it, would we have to include all that underground and all that atmosphere? If the concept is irreproducable by experiment, is it still a valuable idea?

I’m still pondering that. It didn’t prevent me from mapping the watershed though. The theoretical watershed.

(It’s a large file – if you click on it, you’ll see the detail more clearly.)

This is how Morgan went about making the map:

With Driftwood Creek I wanted to make a map that presents the watershed embedded in the larger landscape. It should be apparent that you can drive or walk into and out of the watershed, whether you use trails or roads.

From a 1988 map that Marvin George and Neil Sterritt prepared, called the “Territory of WAH KAH KEG’HT,” I was able to draw a few Wet’suwet’en place names. Spellings have changed in the 29 years since then; Wah Kah Keg’ht, for example, is now usually written Ut’akhgit (a chief of the Likhsilyu/Small Frog clan, a name currently held by Henry Alfred). C’ede’i Kwe (Driftwood Creek) is now written C’ide’ Yïkwah. For consistency, I stuck to the old spellings.

I was surprised to learn that, although Driftwood Creek seems to be simply across the river and up the hill from Smithers, it is in fact farther north. If you went due east from Lake Kathlyn and the airport, you would hit Glenwood Hall, the southernmost point in Driftwood Creek’s watershed.

The width of creeks is exaggerated on the map, because water is the main theme. I show Driftwood Creek as 55 metres across. It’s really only about ten.

I wanted to fade the area outside the watershed, but not to fade as much the roads, trails, contours and creeks. So I used two partially transparent masks: one that fades everything equally, and a second that acts only on the basemap of shaded relief and forest type.

The shaded relief, which gives the map its 3D look, is based on measurements made from the Space Shuttle. One of its missions was to use radar to measure the height and shape of every mountain, ridge, valley and depression it flew over. Bright areas and shadows are based on a (hypothetical) sun in the north-northwest.

Unexpectedly, the Driftwood Creek watershed turns out to look like a puffin. Silverking Lake is the eye, and the place where Driftwood Creek flows into the Bulkley is the tail.

Morgan also created a 3D version of the map that gives a visual sense of not only the distance, but the altitude gained if you were to walk or bike from the Snake Road Bridge crossing into Silverking Basin. Thanks for both of these, Morgan.

Christine Holland Buchholz – Ggunek (Hummingbird) Dec. 24. 1931 – January 20, 2017

Joe L’Orsa used to tell us we lived in Upper Driftwood, a joke to make sure we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. But I have to admit, it’s when I turn off the Telkwa Highroad onto Driftwood Road, onto the section of road that follows the creek from the schoolhouse right into Silver King Basin, that’s when I feel most at home. Of the nine families that lived along Driftwood Road when we arrived, four are still here. One of the most recent departures was that of Christine and Herb Buchholtz; they moved out of their small cabin into their granddaughter Cinamon’s house at Moricetown. I think of all of us, they were here first. Which makes sense in a way because Christine, who passed away in January, was Wet’suwet’en and her people have been here for thousands of years.

The family prepared a wonderfully detailed biography of Christine and I have, with their permission, excerpted much of it here.

Christine was born in Smithers, the oldest of five children. Her mother was Esther Baptiste of the Laksilyu (small frog) clan; her father was Joshua Holland of the Tsayu (beaver) clan. Her grandparents, Jean Paul and Sarah Baptiste refused to be relocated to Moricetown; the reserve established at their homesite on Babine Lake Road is named after them. Christine did not have any formal education. Her grandmother chased the priest away with a stick and did not allow her to attend any residential schools. She received the best education a person can ever have – to be taught by her parents and grandparents. They taught her how to carry herself with confidence in the feast hall, how to care for her children and husband.

She met Herb Buchholz in 1957. They married in 1962 and were together until her death this winter. They made their home in Driftwood Canyon where they raised their eight children and three of their grandchildren.

Daughter-in-law Heather Buchholz told me that in the very early seventies, Herb had heard there was a cheap cabin for rent out there, by a guy named Gerry Langen. Eventually Langen sold the property to Hans Tugnum [who still lives across the creek], and moved back to Saskatchewan. Their original neighbours, before Sonja and Richard Lester, were a young hippy guy named Thor (who dad used to get quite a kick out of), and Andrew George, who ran for mayor one year, also rented a cabin on some adjacent property.

I remember seeing the grandkids, Cinamon and David, walking to the school bus stop; later Herb and Christine would drive up to the corner to get another grandchild, Damian, off to school. They’d be there waiting for the bus in the afternoon. We’d often chat when we stopped to pick up our mail.

Their cabin had no running water or electricity. Christine helped haul water and kept the house nice and cozy. She always had big meals prepared for her children. Her routine was grocery shopping on Fridays and laundry on Saturdays. She would wash the clothes at a laundromat and bring them back to hang on her clothes line.

Christine loved nature. They had a huge fire pit and every evening the family would gather, telling stories until late at night. Herb would tell stories and Christine really loved that. Herb was German. Two of his sisters came and fell in love with the family and to this day exchange letters and pictures.

Both Christine and Herb always made Christmas beautiful at the cabin. They never forgot birthday parties and all of the other festivities throughout the year. Christine loved to travel, take weekend trips, take the kids camping, even to go out for a load of wood. She just loved to be outside.

They would take trips to Vancouver to visit family. Her favorite places were Stewart, Cook Lake, Telkwa Highroad area, Barkerville and Hankin Lake. They would go to Hankin Lake every year as a memorial trip in celebration of life of their late son Werner. She loved going to Barkerville hotel to play the slots and have breakfast. She always won their meat draws and enjoyed their clam chowder at the Barkerville Legion.

When their son, Lester, started playing hockey, they built a huge outside rink so the boys could play and practice hockey. Christine was the loudest fan when Lester played for the Smithers Totems and Moricetown Canyon Bears. They followed the Smithers Totems when they travelled to Kitimaat, Houston and other tournaments. They were proud number one fans.

Christine worked at the cannery in Prince Rupert. She also worked with the nuns at the Smithers hospital. She would sterilize the surgical instruments, wash and re-roll the gauzes. She also worked at the nursery in Telkwa. She liked to sketch native art work, kind of primitive bows and arrows, warrior figures. A couple of years ago, she joined the moccasins-making workshop at the Friendship Center. She made two pairs and gave them to her daughters-in-law.

Cinamon recalls Freda Huson’s drumming group with Molly Wickham singing the Grouse song, which was Christine’s favorite song; she started crying and told her story about how her grandmother used to sing that song for her. Christine was a firm believer in traditional food such as bear grease, ooligan grease, wildlife food. She thought that people would be healthier if they ate more traditionally. She taught Heather how to pick soap berries.

One day I was driving to work very early in the morning. Just at the curve of the road near their driveway, I saw a deer had been killed by a car. It was still warm. Not wanting to leave it there, I went down to the cabin and knocked on the door, thinking Herb and Christine might be able to salvage its meat. Herb opened the door and, as I explained about the deer, the warmth from the cabin rolled out around me and I saw Christine sitting up in bed, like a sleepy queen. I’ve never forgotten the warmth I felt there and was reminded of it when I read this:

Her granddaughter Cinamon recalls how she would start putting on her makeup and put on perfume and nice clothes every day. Cinamon asked her, “Are we going somewhere, Grandma?” Christine told her no, Daddy will be home soon and I want to be beautiful for him. She taught her children all the wisdom she received from her home schooling. She always told them to never leave the children alone and always try to look their best. Christine loved to buy expensive jewelry and beautiful things. If she couldn’t afford them, she would arrange payment plans and pay for all of her items. She was a devoted Avon customer.

Elvis Presley was her idol. She loved his music and passed that love onto her children and grandchildren. She would attend any Elvis impersonators whenever she could.

When her daughter-in-law Darlene took her name at the feast hall she was very supportive and helped her with the preparations. She was proud of her accomplishments and how she carried herself at the feast hall.

We were always impressed with the family’s resilience through many losses; the children’s and grandchildren’s testimonials at Christine’s funeral speak to the warmth and generosity she provided and how she and Herb made their tiny cabin an oasis of stability in a complicated world.

 

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We love to tell a story that reflects Herb’s ability with the internal combustion engine. The number of cars, trucks and buses on the property finally became a bit of a concern and Hans Tugnum had many of them hauled away when Christine and Herb moved to Moricetown. But Herb always seemed like a wizard to us: one evening in the depth of a 1980s winter, when we were still driving an old Scout, the thing just died and we barely managed to coast over to the side of the road on the hill heading down to Canyon Creek. Lynn struck a few matches under the hood but couldn’t see anything in the brief sputtering light. Herb drove up beside us and felt around under the hood – alakazam! the Scout started right up. Herb remembers the night, Heather says. something about a wire to the distributor. Many of our neighbours helped us out over the years, but that night was something special.

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I also need to mention Christine’s Wet’suwet’en name: Ggunek, which means hummingbird. Her grandchildren mentioned its significance in their remembrances of her. Milan told the story of catching a trapped bird in a cloth and bringing it to her: When we opened the cloth that lil bird sat there while she pet it…always wondered why it didn’t just fly away…out on its way it beeped twice, spread its wings and was gone. We laughed so hard…

Jenni’s discovery of her grandmother’s name solved a few mysteries about my grandma, but … also created a few new ones. Watching the hummingbird over the summer since, it seemed that – though small – they could be fierce when defending themselves, their homes, and their children, and they were beautiful, proud little creatures. Like her namesake, grandma was never – ever – afraid to fight for her loved ones and strength hidden amongst dignity and beauty, is a long and ancient legacy of our people. This was my grandma in so many ways…proud, beautiful and strong.

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Thanks to Birdy Markert for giving me the biography prepared for Christine’s funeral, and to Cinamon for putting me in touch with Heather who sent photos and memories:

I tried to send something of mom and dad from when they were a younger, to an older couple. The creek pictures are significant, because they represented a lifetime supply of good drinking water, a place to clean their fish, water to clean themselves, and their home year-round. The solitude and peaceful atmosphere of Driftwood lent something good, not only to mom and dad, but also to the rest of us who visited or lived there. 

A date with poetry

In A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver opens with a chapter called “Getting Ready.” She writes of Romeo and Juliet making appointments to meet. If they keep those appointments, well, we know what happens. But if they didn’t show up, “there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them.”

She continues to say that “writing a poem is not so different – it is a kind of love affair between something like the heart and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen.” If they “fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.”

This is what I tell myself day after day as I walk to the creek and the dippers fail to appear in their usual places. As I lean way over the railing of the bridge to see if one is hidden underneath. I’m embarrassed to say I sometimes drop a stone to surprise one into flight. To no avail. I suspect they’re off building nests, perhaps already sitting on eggs. The jays are gone too, and the red-polls.

There are robins now and varied thrushes. I expect to see juncos any day and hope, as I hope every year about this time, to see gray-crowned rosy-finches rising and falling, chattering and buzzing in the seeds scattered under the feeders. Mountain bluebirds, warblers and Pacific wrens are all gathering, on the wing, coming this way. And the harlequins, the sandhill cranes!

Dan Shervill photo

Yes, everywhere things are stirring even though the creek is still a silent twist of snow, the openings sparse and quiet.

But still, I’m certain there are dippers on the creek, pairing up, keeping their lovers’ appointments. And here I am, back upstairs.

 

 

Outside the wind is doing its spring gusting, its seasonal swagger. In here, I’m listening for the squawk a dipper lets out when you startle it up from its feeding rituals. I might even be flipping a stone into the water. My pen is moving.

            A closeup from a Rick Howell photo

Ghost trails

 

It’s that time of year again – the light longer in the canyon, the wind gusting in the spruce trees. Walking on our old snowshoe trail, its rounded track still intact while the snow has melted all around it, I remembered this poem I wrote many years ago now.  It was for a friend, Margaret Churchill (now Oversby) who was moving away from beside Driftwood Creek. I remembered it too when I was writing a yet unpublished novel – I called these remnant trails ghost trails, and so decided give the novel the same name. It’s out there now, looking for a home.

 

vapour trail

down on the snowbound creek
I see the tracks your skis left
already blurring

like the vapour trail we watched that day up high
our skis clattering on ice

it rose from behind the mountain
thrusting across the bitter sky                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       our faces lifted to winter blue
we watched in silence

the vapour trail
softened into a path
as fat and indolent as the wake of a summer boater

 it made you hot you said
let’s get moving

it was kind of you to include me in that let’s

I stooped to gather
wind-smoothed shells of ice
weathered like shards of glass tossed up by ancient waves

I snapped a fragile tether
and then another
and another

stored them carefully in a pocket
as if they would not melt

Driftwood Creek Bush Mills

Thanks to Lynn Shervill and Hans Tugnum for putting this piece of history together.

Today folks accessing the Babine Mountains via Driftwood Creek can be forgiven if they fail to notice the several log-hauling roads branching off the creek below Sunny Point. Alder thickets, devil’s club and wind falls have obliterated them. But 40 years ago, when my wife and I moved into Driftwood Canyon, they were obvious and each ended in a sawdust pile and a story of enterprise, hardship and, sometimes, tragedy.

Working up the creek from the winter parking lot (just above the third bridge crossing of the creek on Driftwood Road), there were a couple of mills on the bench above the true right side of the creek. One was owned by George Sharpe and Louis Wick and the other by Emil and Steve Mesich.

bush-mill-one-2The next mill, owned by Bill Hickmore, was located between the third and fourth bridges,  and there was another one, again to the north of the creek,  just above the fourth bridge.

We often roamed through these old sites, cutting firewood and wondering what life must have been like for the people who lived and worked here. Maybe not so bad, we thought, having once found a decaying piano at the site near the fourth bridge. It was at this same location we managed to bury a neighbour’s borrowed pickup to the axles at the edge of a sawdust pile, sawdust we wanted as mulch for our hand-watered garden.

bush-mill-2-2Smithers rancher Bill Morris had a mill just above Driftwood Creek on the Lyon Creek Trail, the remnants of which are still visible, and Onie Leighton ran mills part way up the Harvey Mountain Road, just past the fifth bridge, and at Sunny Point.

 

Between the end of World War Two and the mid to late 1950s there were almost a dozen bush mills along the creek, each cutting from 2,000 to 10,000 board feet of lumber a day.

According to Hans Tugnum, whose family emigrated from Switzerland to the Bulkley Valley in 1936, there could be six sawmills operating along the creek at any given time, employing 40 to 50 people.  A typical mill crew consisted of one or two fallers, a skidder using horses or a cat, a sawyer, a slab packer, who disposed of the outside cuts in a fire pit, a swamper (labourer) and a cook.

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Gordon Jewell

Top price was $35 per 1,000 board feet of prime spruce or pine two by 12s or two by 10s, according to Tugnum.  Two by fours and two by sixes went for about $30 per 1,000 board feet. Mill owners – men like the Lubbers brothers, Jake Zust, Ralph Dieter, Al Fletcher, Jack Thomas and Danny Lemire – sold their lumber to a local buyer such as Gordon Jewel of Northern Interior Forest Products in Smithers where it was planed before being shipped out by rail.

Mill employees were often paid according to daily production, say $3 per 1,000 board feet. If the mill was producing 5,000 board feet a day, the employee would get $15 a day.

Tugnum, who owned a mill located between the Driftwood Creek corridor and Old Babine Lake Road, said employees lived on site in bunkhouses and worked from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. “Supper,” said Tugnum, “was served in the cookhouse about 6:30 or 7 and then the guys would return to the bunkhouse to BS or play a little poker.  About 8:30 or 9:00 cook would leave a fresh pot of coffee or tea on the stove.”

On Saturday the crew worked until noon and then headed for home and their families. “And yes,” said Tugnum, “some of them headed for the bar. But they were on their way back to camp on Sunday afternoon or evening.”

It was good work, according to Tugnum, that paid reasonably well. But it could be dangerous. “George Sharpe was killed when a slab flipped the wrong way, was kicked back by the saw and hit him in the head.  A cat driver working for Onie Leighton was killed at Sunny Point when his machine rolled on him and another guy, working for Bill Morris, was killed when a tree fell on him.”

Safety standards, according to Tugnum, were non-existent. “You took what you got,” he said. “The mill owners paid into the workers’ compensation but there were no safety rules.”

harry-haywood-2

Harry Haywood (l) and Ben Miller.

Tugnum said there were probably 100 small bush mills in the valley like the ones on Driftwood Creek during the ten years after the war. But then it slowly came to an end. More restrictive BC Forest Service regulations and big industrial mills, like the one in Houston, made it impossible for the little guys to keep their books in the black.

“Bowater & Bathurst bought Harry Hagman’s big mill in Houston,” Tugnum said. “And after that all the timber started going to Houston.

ralph-dieter

Ralph Dieter contributed to many a musical evening all up and down Driftwood Creek, including at our place. This was taken in 1983.

Another mill owner, the late Ralph Dieter, who operated three different mills during the 40s and 50s, said the big mill owners bought up all the quotas held by the independents. “They spent millions just buying people out. They’d offer almost anything to get rid of you.”

The last logging operation on Driftwood Creek – a small clear cut in the fifth bridge area – was done by Tony Mesich in  the mid-1970s, just about the time work started on creating the Babine Mountains Provincial Park. For many years, we could still drive up the road and happily picked huckleberries there, often meeting the Yeker family. Like many of the other roads, it too is long lost to sight.

Silver King Basin

lynn-going-into-silverking-1976-001Cleaning out some old files at the turn of the year, I came across this old photo of Lynn Shervill packing a new airtight wood burner into what was called the foreman’s cabin in Silver King Basin in the fall of 1976. The photo was taken by Steve Whipp, the reporter I replaced when I moved to Smithers in January 1977.

I think the log bridge crosses Driftwood Creek at Sunny Point – in the background it looks like the road descending from left to right.

 

It was just a few months later in January 1977 that Lynn took me into the basin, a ten-mile ski that started out gently but climbed steeply for the last stretch before we emerged into the basin itself. I hadn’t skied more than once or twice before we went. I borrowed long skinny skis and an oversize backpack from Steve and set out, convinced I could do anything. I don’t remember much about the trip in except feeling pretty good about things by the time we reached Sunny Point, the easy first half. Suffice it to say that we finally got to the foreman’s cabin a couple of hours later than Lynn anticipated. I was exhausted.

 

lynn-on-the-trail-338x600

 

The trail we followed up Driftwood Creek was one of three main prospecting routes into the Babines, as far back as the late 1800s. By 1905 several claims had been staked in the Driftwood drainage, including those of C.G. ‘Peavine’ Harvey after whom Harvey Mountain is named. In 1914 Peavine, his wife Kathleen20170204_114616_hdr_resized and infant son Gordon moved to their homestead on Driftwood Creek just up the road from our house. One of our snowshoe trails follows that old road, still visible as it leaves the hay fields and descends down to the creek near the old Harvey homestead.

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One of Gordon’s rakes, abandoned on our neighbour’s property in what was Gordon’s hay field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the Driftwood route into Silver King is a popular skiing and hiking trail into what is now the Babine Mountains Provincial Park, it was probably even busier in the 1920s. As Joe L’Orsa wrote in his unpublished history of the Babines, “In the words of Axel Elmsted, who was one of them, ‘The hills swarmed with old fossils.’ The Oldtimers, short on both modern-day geological techniques and clairvoyance but long on energy and elbow grease, dug innumerable trenches, tunnels, shafts, and pits, often on a little quartz stringer or bit of copper stain.”

The Lyon Creek Trail was once called the Gale & Lifton Trail and is thought to follow an old Wet’suwet’en route to hunt marmots in Ganowka Basin. A new trail was built to the Harvey mineral claim from the wagon road up Driftwood Creek, now known to hikers as Harvey Mountain Road.The McCabe Trail was built from the wagon road below Sunny Point along the back side of Harvey Mountain by Red McCabe on a trail grant under the provisions of the Mines Development Act.

The claims in Silver King Basin were among the earliest staked. According to L’Orsa,  a working adit was driven in at 4960’ in for 252’ where it “hit promising mineralization.” From the basin, the wagon road followed what is now a footpath zigzagging up the northeast wall over Hyland Pass to the Cronin mine. Exploration activity continued in the basin into the 1980s, hence the foreman’s cabin.

foremans-cabin-600x597

This is what the foreman’s cabin looked like in the summer of 1980. Sam?, Sheila and Daniel on his first trip to the basin.

By 1977, the foreman’s cabin was the most weather-resistant shelter left; there was an old cookhouse and a bunkhouse – the cookhouse by this time was full of packrat stink and porcupine quills and the bunkhouse was so big and drafty it was impossible to heat in winter. It was cold that night and my new sleeping bag wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

In the morning, we explored the basin on skis – how nice was that without an oversize pack? – and then headed back down the trail. Anyone who has skied the trail knows about all the little divots along the way – seepages that melt the snow and form dips in the trail that are exciting for some, but were disastrous for me. I spent quite a bit of time either face down in the snow with the pack shoving me deeper in or face up like a beetle on its back, legs scrambling for purchase. The snow was deep. It was hard to get up. By the time we reached Sunny Point and the gentler sections, I was ready for a gentle cruise back to the car. No such luck. The trapper’s snowmobile had turned the track into an icy moguled death run for the unskilled. I seem to recall finally removing my skis and walking.

What’s truly a surprise after that inauspicious introduction to back country skiing is that I eventually married the fellow who took me in there. He was such a natural athlete he never thought to show me any technique to slow down or make even the gentlest turns. The only way I really knew how to stop on skates was to run into the boards; the only sure way I could stop on skis was to fall. And perhaps that’s why, now, my preferred winter footwear are snowshoes.

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Silver King Basin holds the headwaters, the beginnings, of Driftwood Creek. It also feels like the place where my life in this part of the world began. Where the stream that carried me from the coast east to Ontario and finally to the northwest set a new course, creating for me a confluence with Driftwood Creek, with Watsonquah (the Bulkley), with the Skeena.  With home. So maybe it isn’t such a surprise I married Lynn. He was the first to take me into the mountains, into those mountains. I’ve never lost that feeling, felt for the first time on that trip into Silver King. A love for high places, for their loneliness and often desolation. For the way they remind you just how precarious and precious our tenure is. Here’s what I wrote the evening I got home:

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Sheila in the foreman’s cabin, July 1977

It was worth it, as are most efforts which result in a high clear place where the wind blows from the top of the world and carries nothing but the air with it. It is eerie and lonely, almost frightening as I remember it from this warm house with the radio chirping away and my impatiens plant blooming. Skiing down into a vast white bowl, over marshes, creeks, boulders and a million varieties of mosses. Sinking not at all into the smooth white crust which covers the entire basin. The cabin was cozy with orange firelight flickering over golden walls of unfinished wood. But I couldn’t sleep – a funny scary feeling about all the things that could go wrong.

We have been back to Silver King Basin many times, though the foreman’s cabin is long gone. Over the years hundreds of visitors inscribed their names on the walls of the old buildings and wrote notes in the log book each new place holds. An elegant log building now provides luxurious shelter for folks who make their way in there, as they do in all seasons. And the basin is even more beautiful now as more and more of the old mining debris has been removed.

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The headwaters of Driftwood Creek above the mining buildings in 1977.

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Lynn looking across toward Mount Hyland from Silver King Lake.

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Sheila at the outlet of Silver King Lake, July 1977.