What’s blooming in Driftwood Canyon?

When we swat away the mosquitoes to climb into the summer alpine, we take a good look at what’s quite literally under our noses (easy to do as you climb because you’re moving slowly and your nose is often close to the ground), the micro-view matches the expansive mountain vistas. Patches of moss campion, inkypot gentians, tiny potentilla, anemones, the mosses, the blooming heather, meltwater tumbling down through picturesque grottos streaked orange with xanthoria to form pools of astonishing clarity, well, why would anyone bother planting tulips or petunias? And this is early in the season, before the avalanche slopes and lower meadows are knee-deep in valerian, hellebore, artemesia, lupines, and I know I’m forgetting many others.



Even at lower elevations, where we do plant tulips and petunias, the flora is sumptuous – Lynn valiantly mows the grass to keep back the press of fireweed, cow’s parsnip, young aspens, and roses that form a wall of vegetation – this time of year filled with the squawks, screeches and chirps of fledglings, soon to be gone either up high, further into the bush or maybe even back south. Our trail up out of the canyon needs regular attention to keep back the thimbleberry, snowberry, roses and young maple shrubs joining forces with the nettles, meadow rue, chocolate lilies, false Solomon’s-seal, columbine, twisted stalk, star-flowered Solomon’s-seal that all spring up new every single year. An astonishing fecundity.

I wrote a series of sonnets that were gathered in a chapbook Leaf Press published last spring- it has an impossible name – The Bathymetry of Lax Kwaxl – and arose from a kayak trip we made to the Melville-Dundas group of islands off the northwest coast a few years ago – Lax Kwaxl is the Tsimshian name for the islands. This is the first sonnet in the collection.

My curtains close against the winter darkness
scuttling through stripped down trees and shrivelled asters.
Summer is filed in photographs, in salmon
fillets and halibut buried in the deep freeze.
We struggle to remember willows frothing
with wind, with leaves and yellow warblers. The garden
green with cabbages and garlic scapes unfurling.
Grizzlies fat with sockeye, salal and huckleberries,
first children of a succulent world. Our kayaks
hang in the shed above a rolled up pea fence
and empty flower pots. The battered hulls tell stories
of rasping barnacles and the rumble of bull kelp
under the keel. Outside, the tide of snow
eats up the last light of fallen leaves.


It all happens so fast.  And is over so soon. On a walk up the road, I stopped to take stock, to see what flora is here, right now, in Driftwood Canyon:

  • cow parsnip just beginning
  • more roses than we’ve ever seen before, but they’re fading fast
  • sitka burnet
  • arnica
  • geraniums – sticky and cranesbill
  • cut-leaf anemone or Anemone multifida
  • columbine
  • paintbrush
  • Jacobs ladder (almost done)
  • clover
  • large-leafed avens
  • a few fireweed swelling
  • bedstraw – its red roots a good dye
  • the nasty hawkweed – such a lovely yellow
  • buttercups
  • daisies
  • peavine and vetch
  • alfalfa
  • the bear berries (twin berries) dangle black from their red bracts – the birds (and bears, I guess) love them
  • Saskatoon berries are forming
  • raspberries in flower
  • currants and gooseberries
  • wild strawberries ripening – hot and sweet
  • soapberries beginning
  • snowberries still hiding, waiting until September to surprise us


Leaf miner has returned – the wonderful aspen green is turning silver yet again. And the cottonwood seeds are floating through the air like a lazy snowfall, blowing in the open door, snagging on pots, in the woodshed, reminding the grass that winter is not far off. But for the moment, oh, the wonder of it!




Forty Years: A Celebration of Driftwood Creek


January 1977 – I moved to Smithers to work as a reporter at The Interior News, a paper with a venerable history and a crack reporter on staff. I was a new graduate and needed a mentor. A month later, he quit and I was the senior reporter. Now that was fun. Five months later I moved into a ratty little cabin the crack reporter (now working at the local bookstore) had purchased. A year later, I married him. And we’re still here, deep in the heart of Driftwood Canyon.

Our home is in Laksilyu territory of the Wet’suwet’en people in the House of Tsee K’al K’e yex (House on the Top of Flat Rock); the chief is Wah tah K’eght (Henry Alfred). Across the creek is Woos’s territory.



This morning we strapped on our snowshoes and travelled a few kms down the creek. Minus 16 and the sun was shining up high on the canyon rim. The alders have grown about as big as they get around here – thirty years since the big Father’s Day flood scoured the creek clear of the small stuff and a few huge cottonwoods besides. But a route that we’ve skied and snowshoed many times is wide open. The log jams we used to clamber over are gone, the tricky rapids solidly frozen. It hasn’t been this cold for this long for years. It’s wonderful.


When I started thinking about a new writing project a few weeks back, stalled as I am on a series of poems, on a stubborn short story, on an unpublished novel, I was in the middle of reading Dart by Alice Oswald. A book-length poem Oswald compiled/created over three years, it traces the Dart River from its origins in Dartmoor in southwest England about twenty miles to its estuary at Totness and on for another nine miles to the English Channel at, of course, Dartmouth. She collected stories and narrates the poem in the voices of those who have lived, worked and played along its length.

Near the beginning, she speaks in the voice of an upland hiker:

What I love is one foot in front of another. South-south-west and down the contours. I go slipping between Black Ridge and White Horse Hill into a bowl of the moor where echoes can’t get out


and I find you in the reeds, a trickle coming out of a bank, a foal of a river

one step-width water
of linked stones
trills in the stones

What’s not to love about that?

We’ve all spent a fair bit of time thinking about the Sacred Headwaters over the past years. The Skeena, the Nass and the Stikine all rising out of a series of wide wet meadows high up in Spatsizi country. Many of us watched on film as Ali Howard searched for the Skeena’s beginning to start her epic swim to tidewater. Coalbed methane at the top end, fish farms proposed for the bottom end and the damn Northern Gateway project proposed to run right across the watershed’s eastern reaches. All done, all sorted. (I’m not going to start about Lelu Island here – the proverbial elephant in the room.)

snowshoe-hare-400x225Instead, I’m going to hunker down beside Driftwood Creek as I have so many times over the forty years I’ve lived here. In the early days, I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I loved the intensity with which she examined that creek flowing out of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. But I’ve got to tell you, the aquatic life is a little harder to find in a mountain stream that drops from an altitude of about 5000 feet in the Babine Mountains to its confluence with the Bulkley River at about 1200 feet in under thirty km. It never gets much warmer than ten degrees and I speak from experience.

small-creek-225x400Thank god for the dipper, which I thought was a tall tale when a couple of friends told me about it for the first time. A little grey bird that dives into the water and walks around looking for food, even when it’s forty below and there are only one or two openings in the whole damn creek. No way, I said. The water ouzel. I saw one a couple of days ago singing like it was spring.


So many stories. It’s too late to say, “Don’t get me started.” Instead, I’ll raise a glass of creekwater to celebrate its stubborn beauty.

PS. I’d be glad to hear your stories too – I’ll happily post them here.