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.

 

Driftwood Creek – the wellspring of our lives

Riding my bike down Driftwood Road. Riding into a tunnel of sensation, the gravel rattling my tires, flickers erupting from the ditches, the creek a muffled roar on my left. Sweet with the smell and sight of the big white plumes of flowering false Solomon’s-seal. And the roses! There has never been such a year for roses. I ride into a wind, heavy with roses. Past a thicket of elderberry bushes, a copse of cottonwoods, across the bridge. Leaving the creek and climbing out of the canyon into the expanse of (I think) an alluvial fan formed when the glaciers receded into the remnant snowfields of the Babines leaving an outwash of the gravel underlying the fields beside the Driftwood school and Glenwood Hall at the Telkwa Highroad.

I turn to ride down the highroad to Glentanna—a ribbon through a pastoral landscape—and the rising wind carries new smells. First horses as I pass Eileen Shorter’s farm, the L’Orsas’, then cows in the Nageli’s fields and more horses up around the corner past the Northern Wildlife Shelter. The Bruhjells’—cattle ranchers from the early days—and then hay, the cutting just beginning, the air thick with its fragrance. Down through the pungent odor of dairy farms—Ewalds’, Brandsmas’—as I make the turn, not up Snake Road past Veenstras’ toward Sturzeneggers’, but left and down once again towards the creek. It is only then the wind lets up and I coast down to the driveway that leads to Tristan and Damien Jones’ place on the edge of the steep drop that gives Snake Road its name.

They bought the land from the Sturzeneggers in August 2001, started building the next spring and moved into their new home in November, 2002.

Brent Patriquin photo

Tristan tells the story:

“We came here to visit my aunt and uncle (Peter White). We came in November and it was pouring rain. The next morning the clouds parted and there was snow on the peaks. He started driving us around the valley; I looked at Damian and said, I could live here.”

The house they built shows some of the influences of Tristan’s Banff connections—she grew up in what she calls the Whyte bubble—the Whytes are an old Banff family deeply connected to the park’s mountain culture. She and Damian ran a guest lodge in Canmore and both wanted out of the hospitality business, into a life that offered Damian more opportunities for creativity.

“It took us four years to sell our place—Uncle Pete was our land agent. The month we closed the sale of our guest lodge, this place came up for sale.”

Tristan figures they passed some kind of test because they were grilled closely about their plans for the place before the Sturzeneggers agreed to sell. Peter and Paul, the brothers, spent a lot of time on the property fishing both on the river and the creek, and were pretty attached to it.

As well as wanting to snowshoe and hike on their property, Tristan and Damian hoped to get right off the grid. Leroy Taylor (who owns land on the other side of Driftwood Creek as well as 40 acres below their place down to the confluence) talked them out of early plans to build a micro-power project on the creek because it tends to wash out significant sections every few years. Instead they’ve installed solar panels, built a root cellar, greenhouse and planted a big garden. Along with Damian’s parents who live right next door, they are about 80 per cent there in terms of self-sufficiency, Tristan says.

And they’ve made room in their busy lives for creativity: Damian’s Harvest Designs creates beautiful furniture out of re-purposed wood, he builds guitars for Rayco Resophonics and plays guitar with The Train Wrecks.

Tristan loves the solitude as well as the convenience of being just 16 km from town.

“We live on a bear highway. There’s an ephemeral creek and when it dries up the bears have to go down to Driftwood Creek to get water and we see them coming through. My brother was sleeping in our cabin and spent an hour one morning watching a bear eating Saskatoons outside the window. We see them eating dandelions, tearing up anthills. One day we watched a mom introduce her cubs to an anthill—they’d jump in and then jump back—it was hilarious.”

And the hiking is amazing.  “Last summer I hiked every Friday and all summer we saw four other hikers—the people from Banff and Canmore don’t believe us when we tell them.”

Everywhere I walk with Tristan today, we see the iconic view of Hudson Bay Mountain and we hear Driftwood Creek.

“I love that I can hike up to the headwaters of the creek that runs past our home, that waters our garden —it’s the wellspring of our lives here.”