Scenes in Adventure Learning (Part I): Over, Under, Through

Arch

Aligning our departure from Chin Beach to the 8am low tide, our group of seventeen grade nine and ten students and four adult leaders set out around the rocky bluff at the western edge of the beach, walking in the shadow of towering sandstone cliffs. Groundwater drips down mossy walls and splatters on the slick boulders we navigate to the tune of clattering hiking poles and the gasps of narrowly avoided falls. To the west the bright blue sea is visible through the window of a dramatic granite arch extending from the forest.

One of our volunteer leaders and one of the grade tens ventures under the arch to assess the possibility of avoiding the abrupt headland interrupting our beach route, to no avail. Even with the low tide, the route under the arch runs out into shallow seawater and the threat of being surprised by rogue waves on the exposed point; we will have to go over.

It is the second morning we’ve woken up on the beach, having set out just after lunch from the China Beach parking lot at the eastern end of the Juan de Fuca Trail Saturday afternoon. We have hiked more than twenty kilometres with tents and food and water purification tablets, and as we set out onto the third day of the five-day trek, the most difficult sections of trail are behind us. Having surmounted the endless switchbacks and headlands of the merciless stretch between Bear Beach and Chin, the group is strong and confident, and sets about scaling the rocky archway without a break in collective stride. 

Arch BypassThe first few who make it up onto the bluff deposit their packs and hiking poles on the far side, and return to help others gain the ledge with encouraging words, outstretched hands, and assurances that what looms on the other side is “no worse than we’ve done so far.”

On the other side, the route descends sharply to the boulder-strewn beach over a five foot ledge that offers only an awkward bum-shuffle as a way down. Here, too, bags are shuttled briskly through helping hands; a guide line is set to balance reluctant shufflers;  encouragement and spotters collect on the beach to catch us as we resume the trail on the other side. A waist-height waterfall pours out of the sandstone onto the beach where we wet our faces and cool ourselves before continuing into the morning. A hundred other challenges will arise before the day is out, but no matter. The group is operating with a heightened focus on the goal at hand: to safely reach the end of the trail together.

Less than a kilometre down the rocky beach, we meet the buoys hanging in a tree that signal the trail ‘s shift inland, and clamour in a rough single file up and over the twisted roots of a sitka spruce hanging over the edge of a creek. For the next three days we will continue in this manner, immersed in the boundary between forest and sea, with everything we need to survive stowed away in brightly coloured packs and the awestruck glances of our teammates.

John Steinbeck’s Adventure Trip Advice

Mobile Classroom

Tomorrow morning, the TALONS are driving out to the eastern edge of the Fraser Valley, and setting out in a fleet of Voyageur canoes with our friends at Ridge Wilderness Adventures to travel the Mighty Fraser River. In a few days, we’ll arrive at Fort Langley, and from there will be on bikes, returning to school early next week.

This time of year usually finds me comforted by John Steinbeck and the opening pages of Travels with Charley, a book I read on one of my own epic Canadian Adventures. The story of Steinbeck’s road trip around the US, accompanied by his poodle Charley, begins thus:

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.

When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from. Next he must plan his trip in time and space, choose a direction and a destination. And last he must implement the journey. How to go, what to take, how long to stay. This part of the process is invariable and immortal. I set it down only so that newcomers to bumdom, like teenagers in new-hatched skin, will not think they invented it.

Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process; a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this way a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand.

Essential British Columbia

This week, we have been beginning our study of Canadian geography and our reading of the Golden Spruce by reflecting on what we might find as the Essence of British Columbia. In setting out to learn a few other TALONS skills – image manipulation, journal writing and a few technicalities of posting different items to our blogs – each of the classes have been selecting pictures from the TALONS archives of Flickr photos and adding text from different reflections on place to make the image come to life in a more personal and powerful fashion.

Which got me to thinking this morning that I and we have friends, colleagues and classmates out there in the world beyond B.C. There are our friends in the Idea Hive, and across Canada’s north and east through my connections in recent Unplug’d conferences. There are Jabiz’ classes, and Keri-Lee’s, and Mary’s students learning in Asia, and Europe. And while it gives me a personal charge to see our own provincial home characterized in so many memorable photos and personal reflections, it makes me curious to see others’ homes brought to life in a similar manner.

In a few weeks, we will be looking at Canadian Geography in the larger sense, and it would be excellent to see some of our co-learners from across the country attempt a similar remixing of their  own or their class’ pictures. But also those of you in our international ranks: this question of place is made more tangible with diverse responses to it, and we would love to see what you think of where you call home, and what you think it means.

 

BCIT Woodlot Visit

BCIT Forestry instructor Jonathan Smyth has been kind enough to spend a few days in the last few years teaching the TALONS about land and resource management in the Maple Ridge research forest. This year we are spending two days with either of the cohorts and Jonathan in the fresh onset of autumn rain in the coastal woods, conducting tree inventories and learning about the complex interplay of ecosystems and the various knowledge and practices that humans use to manage our relationship with them. Supporting science, socials and physical education curricula in the same activities, we are always grateful to be doing our learning outdoors, and to Jonathan and BCIT for having us out again.

Along with the photoset embedded above, I also captured a few audio samples of Friday’s exercise in taking a tree inventory:

Poetry is Nothing… in the woods.

I wrote a few weeks ago about team-teaching a wilderness journaling activity with my TALONS colleagues along with my oft-mentioned Internet brother Jabiz Raisdana, using his poem-turned-song “Poetry is Nothing” as an introduction to a solo-walk around Hicks Lake, in Sasquatch Provincial Park.

Having turned the corner here in metro-Vancouver toward fall and winter, I thought I would post the video of a very warm afternoon (the last official day of summer 2012) and a writing prompt that travelled a long way to get there.

Special props are due to Liam, who rose to the occasion and supplied the harmonica solo.

A Kernel is Hidden in me…

PM TALONS Photoset on Flickr 


Fresh from the PM TALONS’ fall retreat, I woke up Monday morning with a tweet from my colleague in Singapore, Jabiz Raisdana, inviting me and fellow writers, teachers and thinkers to run with a post he shared with his class of grade eights at UWC:

I would love to see these words transformed, re-thought and remixed into some kind of art project. I know there are some amazing musicians, writers and artists amongst you; do these words inspire you to draw, sing, create? This post is like Caine’s Arcade, in that I hope it moves you in some way to create. Consider it another seed that I have planted. I will wait patiently and hope that perhaps a few trees may grow.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Hesse quote made a perfect union with some of the pictures I took while the TALONS were journaling on our three day jaunt through the British Columbian woods, where Jabiz’ own words had actually served as a meditating and writing prompt on Thursday afternoon. Before sending the group on a solo walk around the back half of Hicks Lake, I played the TALONS the first half of a song I wrote out of one of Jabiz’ poems and told them to “immerse oneself in the blossoming awareness of the moment,” and that we would meet up on the opposite shore where I would play them the second verse and we would settle ourselves to do a little writing (where I snapped the above pic).

That he would have a follow up quotation for us on Monday morning is unsurprising, of course, because this is the sort of thing I’ve come to expect from my online colleagues, these folks – some of whom, like Jabiz, I’ve never met face-to-face – who are here in our classroom from time to time whether on these blogs or in the local woods: teachers, students, learners, friends.

Slice of Life – Last Run of the Day

Inspired by the brilliant Scott Lockman‘s Slices of Life project, and wanting to begin this semester of Digital Storytelling 106 in a manner that would lead to an inspiring next few months spent blending pedagogy and creative expression, professional development and a variety of different learning communities – that is what this Life-Long Learning is all about, isn’t it? – I thought I would share a slice of life from last Saturday’s epic adventure at Whistler / Blackcomb.

Reunion with an old friend

Scott’s slice of life story is a perfect example of the #ds106 community in all of its authentic and on-the-fly glory: uncovering the power of relationships mediated (and empowered) by our digital tools, as brought about by a course that is everywhere and nowhere, connected seemingly by the strings of vibrating energy prophesied in theoretical physics. Though it’s been described (by Tom Woodward, though he is probably not the first) as “an online course meets Woodstock,” I think the string theory analogy may fit closer to the dream of DS106’s version of EduGlu-as-the-Unified-Theory-of-Everything (in pedagogy). Tom continues with his Woodstock comparison, “You take a guided online experience and mix it with both chaos and, more importantly, community.

At the core, this is all about community.”

During this same week of last year, I took a leap at Jim Groom’s call:

…to push yourself beyond your creative comfort zone, time for us to wrestle honestly with the future of education through praxis and engagement and, more than anything else in my book, it’s time to make some damned art already. Let’s go!!!!

To think that it’s only been a year…

It’s only been a year since I started recording music, spoken word experiments and podcasts as my own creative projects, and began weaving the same emphasis on the shared creation of (physical and digital) learning artifacts into the inquiry, assessment and reflection taking place in my classroom. It’s only been a year that I’ve begun to think about terms like personal cyber infrastructure, and begin to see the next horizon(s) of education as a means of preparing citizens to create a new, more hopeful world. It’s only been a year that I’ve been so completely surrounded by people who see their own path to becoming their best selves, and who are constantly challenging me to become mine.

This has all been on the one hand personally inspiring and meaningful in a transformative way, and on the other a challenge to see the chaos of the #ds106 as part of its ultimate aim, and Jim’s (along with a host of others who have brought this idea into being) genius as an educator.

Because he did all of this on purpose. Not by knowing where it would end up, but by knowing (suspecting, maybe?) how to encourage (again, borrowing from Tom Woodward): commenting, community, and creativity.

There was no way to know that I would hear Scott, a few months back, talking from his Japanese morning to my Canadian evening about an informal daily check in, or simple creative act. “I’m going to narrate my own life,” he promised the few of us assembled across the strands of DS106 Radio airwaves.

And even after that broadcast, there was no way to know that he’s go out and do it (45 times, as of this posting). Or that a year later he would be teaching his own sections of DS106 at Temple University, in Japan (or that Michael Branson Smith would be teaching the course at City College, in New York, either), taking the simplicity of Martha Burtis, Tim Owens, Alan Levine and Jim’s EduGlu setup, and bringing more stories and students into the wild frontier of online learning that strives to unleash potential than constrain it.

Which is what I hope to not only take away, but bring to #ds106 this semester. Last year a number of the TALONS spring assignments were created through the lens of the we jam econo motto, and at various times our grade nine/ten cohort took on the nick name #DS105, phoning in expert testimony to Jim’s DS106radio broadcast celebrating Songs to Grow By and crashing more than one of the open university course’s parties. I expect that the spring semester provides even greater impetus, and more avenues, to share the the learning in our classroom, as well as in the school beyond.

Why Learning Outside Matters

DSC02381

Having spent already more than five days this September immersed in the outdoors with separate TALONS groups on Fall Retreats in Howe Sound and Sasquatch Provincial Park, I have been thinking lately of the importance that learning in the outdoors plays in a 21st century education. Opportunities for relevant, authentic learning experiences in the outdoors are able to powerfully combat the disconnect with the natural world that is arguably at the heart of many challenges facing future generations, and which much classroom learning is ill-fitted to provide today’s learners. Outdoor education is specifically poised to provide experiential lessons in:"What we haven't done yet, is have a dance party." - Owl

  • Realizing that we are a community.
  • Experiencing our place in the (local) natural world.
  • Learning self-reliance and accountability.
  • Living in the moment.

As one of the pillars of the TALONS Program and Betts Autonomous Learner Model, the Fall Retreat is constructed from the ground up out of opportunities for group development and community-building, self-discovery, and authentic experiences involving teamwork, problem solving and personal reflection for each member of the community. With trust that time spent establishing group and individual goals and roles in the community pay dividends in learning later in the academic semester, TALONS learners traditionally spend September forming committees to deal with the various elements of trip-planning and implementation joining the program’s new grade nines with grade ten mentors, committee chairpersons, and project managers who consult with teacher-facilitators in bringing the trip to fruition. While fulfilling the class obligation to the Ministry‘s Leadership 11 IRP, the Retreat orients TALONS learners within the ethos of the program and establishes the introductory norms of the new peer group while immersing them in relevant example of real-world goal setting that culminates through the trip’s three days.

Dinner Retreat Shopping

As with many other TALONS undertakings, a glimpse into a Retreat or Adventure Trip meal provides a window into the value of student-centered learning, as learners consult previous years’ menus and shopping lists to decide on final recipes and supplies, arrange for shopping trips to Costco, cookies parties at home and schedules for food prep & delivery once we’re in the field, all before the trip even begins. Trip food needs to be accounted for within the class’ budget (provided to parents by the student-run Finance & Forms Committee), and accompanied by a list of requisite cooking materials (facilitated by the often-sprawling Equipment Committee).

_ALB6055Once on the trip itself, involved committees are responsible for the scheduling, preparation, delivery, and cleanup of the meal, which can involve any combination of volunteer-forces the class chooses to muster up. The incentive of natural consequences (We don’t cook, we don’t eat. We don’t eat (or clean up), we don’t have a campfire.) powers the need for collaboration and communication from start to finish, and fosters relationships and trust within the class community. Bread is only broken once everyone has been served, and it is customary that a few words of wisdom or thanks are shared before the meal commences, and the din of conversation engulfs everyone and everything.

Weather

DSC02264On the west coast, the idea of rain in September is something of an inevitability to the extent that the advent of sunshine on a September Retreat is akin to winning a meteorological lottery of sorts. Survival – or at the very least, comfort – in British Columbia’s natural elements depends on an ability to prepare and share a stable shelter with one’s fellow travellers. Whether in the form of maintaining a fire in the wood-stove for the drying of constantly sodden clothing, or the 4am gusts of wind and rain that find friends arguing with half-hitch knots and headlamps in the middle of the night, the ordeal of an adventure in the woods is an omnipresent demand to see opportunity in crisis, and the glass as half-full (or, more appropriately, overflowing).

The forests of the west are green and snow-capped as a result of the winter winds that buffet our coasts with rain that allow the salmon to swim home, and to deny the necessary beauty of the rain is to deny this place we call home. There are, as my friend Andy Forgrave reminds me, “Two kinds of weather: memorable, and forgettable,” and the rain that seems to find us every year on at least one of our trips is at times of either sort.

“There is also that little-mentioned third category,” Andy adds, however. “Dry.”

DSC02100

Games

The Albatross LungeWithout the distractions of iPods and text messages, Facebook or television, it never fails to amaze me how quickly TALONS and other teens assemble into naturally occurring orbs of conversation, laughter and friendly competition that (for Dean Shareski) coalesce on beaches, in forests, and on water. With a fire roaring in the wood stove, and voices echoing in the second-growth cedar and hemlock, a group passes more than an hour dissecting the intricacies of a riddle. The same woods are freckled with games of Camouflage, and Ninja. Russian card games. Twenty-five person rings of Stella Ella Ola.

These songs and games are generally learned in elementary, or middle school, and are the stuff of our children’s learning rituals of play – they exist in every corner of the world, and in many cases (I’m sure) mimic one another. That they spring up in BC’s forests, or in hotel lobbies in Cuba, places where we might find ourselves pining for a sense of identity or home, shouldn’t surprise at all. We often think of our culture as being made up of the songs we sing, and the stories we tell; but it is startling to realize that our repertoire of games and riddles is a shared story as well.

Hiking

Looking out on the Salish SeaIn the years that I have been with TALONS, we have hiked on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in the forests of the Lower Mainland, North Shore, and Fraser Valley, as well as across peaks in the Gulf Islands. We have covered urban and rural terrain, wilderness and back countries with go-gear, water bottles and enjoyed countless hours of meandering conversations and Ninja-breaks along the trails and pathways of our provincial and regional parks in rain, sunshine, and fog, wandering for hours only to arrive in campsite we left that morning. Bonds are formed on these walks that are cyclical odes to the journey being important above the destination, and the company we keep mattering much more than what we might be doing with it.

Sometimes, it is enough just to walk.

Night Solos

_ALB6107“How much of our fear of the dark stretches back to our evolved relationship with so many years spent living in the dark?” Mr. Albright asks me during one of our hikes around Hick’s Lake this weekend. The night before, we had marched the class out into the forest surrounding the campsite to participate in a “Night Solo,” where each member of the class sought out a solitary space at a distance (from the teachers’ lantern) of their own choosing. And with lights out we sat in inky silence for more than ten minutes, listening to rain pelting the upper canopy of forest. Our hiking conversation that following day had shifted to human beings’ relationship with fire (learned relatively late in our development as the species homo sapiens sapiens, or, to interpret the Latin, the Wise One).

“If you can imagine what it would have been like to be a human, or one of our earlier ancestors who lived in a world that didn’t yet know fire,” I told the class before we went out into the woods on the evening following the hike. “What you feel as an instinctual rejection of the dark is part of that history, and our story as people. Listen to it. Be with it.”

We walked out into the woods and within minutes were greeted in our silences by the persistent hooting of an owl presiding over the camp for the duration of our solo. Scattered across the forest floor, in a blackness that enveloped all but the distant moon shining off the lake below, the owl rang its voice across the treetops, cradling us all. When I called out finally for the solo to end, seconds swelled and stretched in silence as no one wanted the moment to be gone.

Our ambition as TALONS facilitators is often to nurture these individual worlds, where everything needed for survival, or even thriving, is brought along in backpacks and the people assembled in a given place. Enjoying the peace of sitting in the woods at night alone, a serenity connected to the most basic of human fears of loneliness, made possible in the company of trusted peers. If a more apt metaphor for the autonomy that TALONS espouses exists, I’d love to hear it.

Temperature Reading

Toward the end of every evening around a TALONS campfire, once the songs have all been sung, and our solitudes have been confirmed in the surrounding forests, it is a nightly tradition that the group concludes its evening by offering each member of the class the opportunity to offer a rating for the day accompanied by a brief reflection on the day’s events. Time for laughter, learning, or the airing of grievances, I have seen and witnessed moments of the most awesome honesty and collective triumph in these circular conversations, as each day adjourns with an affirmation of the wisdom that we all might:

Look well on today, for in its brief course lie all the variation and realities of your life – the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty. For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow a vision. But today well-lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. 1

  1. M. Wylie Blanchet’s The Curve of Time

Did the author of the Golden Spruce comment on two TALONS' Posts?

BCIT Woodlot

BCIT Woodlot

Sometime Thursday evening, my phone buzzed with an email from Jonathan telling me that I should check Veronica’s blog, as “it look[ed] like John Vaillant commented on her chapter three post.”

Veronica’s interpretation of Grant Hadwin’s close friend (and backwoods competitor) Paul Bernier outlined him as the by-now-traditional character of a sidekick:

All classic heroes have sidekicks, so naturally, Grant Hadwin should have one too – in the form of Paul Bernier. Bernier strikes me as kind of an underdog to Grant Hadwin. Maybe it’s just how the story is told in The Golden Spruce, but the author makes Bernier seem inferior to Hadwin. I think that this is maybe to more thoroughly develop the character of Grant Hadwin. Anyways, from the quote “We’d run in the bush; we’d race each other. He didn’t like to lose.”, I assume that Bernier probably lost most of the time, so most the glory was taken by Grant.

And at present it indeed appears that Mr. Vaillant has somehow discovered and commented on the post:

Hi Veronica; I think your interpretation is a good one, based on the limited info you’ve got to work with. when I interviewed Bernier, I got the same impression you reflect above, and I think he’d probably agree. But, in the long run, Bernier may have been the stronger, more together person, able to manage the conflicts that the logging industry can present to a person. Very best regards, John V.

By the time I arrived at school the following morning, our newest commenting benefactor had apparently visited Meghan’s post about Loggers and Depression:

Loggers are talked about as replaceable and expendable. “Accidents were so common in the early days that if a man was killed on the job his body would simply be laid to the side and work would continue until quitting time, when a boat, plane or runner might be sent to notify the police.” Imagine seeing the man you shared breakfast with stabbed through the stomach by a massive branch, and then just having to move him to the side only to late have to drag him back to camp like a sack of flour.

Vaillant offers his agreement of Meghan’s appraisal, and an interesting possible extension of research:

BCIT Woodlot

BCIT Woodlot

Hi Meghan; thank you for posting this thoughtful (and well-supported) opinion. Personally, I think you are right on the money, but as you can imagine, not a lot of loggers go into therapy and it’s not a job, or a culture, that lends itself to introspection! Though there are some notable exceptions. It would be interesting to see what doctors and clergy in logging communities would have to say about this. Best regards, John V.

Doubtlessly a busy man with a new book out, it would be great to be able to verify if the comments were indeed the work of our author.

And if it is, Veronica has already jumped at the next question.

Canada Day & Our Country's Parks

Last week I received an early-morning phone call

informing me that a friend of a friend had passed away over the weekend along the lengths of the Yellowhead Highway’s western flank, in Smithers, BC. Weary of the drive through the Fraser’s canyon and the sheer distance involved in traversing the province’s northern shoulder – some two thousand kilometers in all – I offered to provide vehicle and pilot to the expedition (this is where it can help to have vacationing teachers as friends) so long as we could round out the trip by cycling through the northern edges of the Rockies on the return trip. And at 11pm on the last day of June – last Tuesday – we resolved to leave the next morning for Smithers, and the funeral slated for Friday. The next morning, Canada Day, we stopped at Canadian Tire for a stove and several propane canisters, and lit out for the north.

In Chilliwack, we stopped at the Provincial Information Center by the Trans Canada, and procured nearly the entirety of the resources required for a 2500km road trip over five days: BC Parks & Road map, Camp Free BC guidebook, and regional parks descriptions for the Caribou, the Skeena, the Rockies, the North (yeah, simply, the North), as well as Lower Mainland and Coast. Aside from spending a night in Smithers in a hotel (whose drapes helped us sleep through a night that saw a mere three hours of night), we would live out of the car, making living rooms in campsites around the province.

I have made such voyages before, but never on such short notice. My sister and I have driven the country from Toronto to Vancouver, and spent a month in the wilds of Haida Gwaii, and yet even on a smaller scale, the ease our provincial parks put such explorations of our country’s natural beauty before our fingertips is a remarkable testament to that which we hold to be self-evident: that,

“as a public trust, [our parks] protect representative and special natural places within the Province’s Protected Areas System for world class conservation, outdoor recreation, education and scientific study.”

A. and I left for our trip on Canada Day, our national holiday, and set up tent, fire, sunset and the Tragically Hip on a perch above the Trans Canada Highway and Lac Le Hache. Far from a wilderness venture, our site was raked gravel, and came with sturdy picnic table, fire pit (and achingly dry pine that split and burned too easily), and also included waterfront view at $15 a night. From past experience, I knew that in driving aroundacross our country, the use of a Parks Road map will point out such overnight accommodations at two-to-three hundred kilometer intervals along Highway 1, but also many ulterior routes. But I had not truly contemplated how easy, how reachable, and how inexpensive such experiences could be, and realized that it showed an incredible amount of foresight for our legislators had written it into law that such plots, freckled across our highways and the natural expanses they lead to, be set aside to put future generations in touch with who they are, as citizens of Canada. To enjoy our parks is to view the country’s natural and human history in the spirit of the adventurous present, we thought that night, retiring to a sleep rock-a-byed by the rumbling of 18-wheelers on their night drives, winding through the capillaries of the Caribou.

The next morning we set our sights on the western reaches of the Yellowhead, to Smithers and the head of the Skeena Valley. With 700km to travel, and a date with a hotel that evening, we spanned our day around highway rest stops and campgrounds for meals and swims across the high country. Two years ago my sister and I followed the Yellowhead to its termination in Naikoon Provincial Park, on the Queen Charlotte Islands. But we misread the date of our sailing from Prince Rupert, and spent four days exploring the valley of the Seven Sisters, and the lakes along the Pacific Trunk Railway. Though not as awe inspiring as other corners of the Province, it felt on both trips as though I were exercising some patriotic duty to see and experience as much of my home as possible. Thoreau alluded to traveling in one’s home as important to that accomplished abroad, and while I don’t believe he imagined a sense of home reaching the lengths of BC’s farthest borders, I feel like these excursions make manifest this purpose.

With the funeral behind us on Friday afternoon we drove away from the afternoon sun, bound for Beaumont Provincial Park near Vanderhoof (the Geographical Center of British Columbia). But with the sun still high and the promise of the Rockies not far off, we drove through the northern capital of Prince George and found a Campsite Full sign outside Lake Pruden. Cause for momentary panic – as the long twilight had begun and Mt. Robson was more than an hour’s drive to our next such lodgings – we found that “overflow campers” had been diverted to the picnic area behind the beach. At the same cost ($15), we found ourselves baffled in the July moonrise accompanied by crying loons and the North’s trademark mosquitoes, black flies and noseeums, and retired to an early rest.

The next morning, still in the sun, the eastern border of the province barreled on toward us, opening the highway up into its cursive-writing dive into Mount Robson and the western Rockies. Mount Terry Fox reared up, bald and rounded at the edge of the highway, striking that chord that Douglas Coupland has spent a while tuning in each of our appreciation of the quintessential Canadian Hero. Looking up through the free steel binoculars in the rest area, I remembered standing at the foot of the man-made monument to Terry at the western tip of Lake Superior, and the furthest point reached during his Marathon of Hope. As a graduate of Coquitlam’s schools (just like Terry Fox), I didn’t feel myself a stranger to the mythology of the young man’s courage, inspiration, and the call to rise above, beyond and to become a symbol. But to be twenty two at the time and to see my young countryman in marble looking out at the greatest of the lakes was a Canadian moment rivaling any I have yet experienced.

Some few thousand miles west, into the promised land which Terry traveled as a picture of heroism which defies description, I looked up at the mountain bearing his name and thought about the land between these honoured points, and that it is the fabric of our country, our home, and diverse as the people who live upon it. But each of us is bound to this sense of distance,  and the immensity of our separation. In distance we are yet close.

At Mount Robson, we stayed in the spray of the Fraser headwaters as they begin their teeming glare out of the belly of the province to spill the land’s sediment into the Pacific. Here begins the highway that the Northwest Company would utilize in its efforts to reach the ocean; how much hope welled within those earliest explorers – Alexander MacKenzie, Simon Fraser & David Thompson, among others – when they sensed that these streams were to be the culmination of a continent, the end of the future? I waded into the freezing waters on Sunday morning, waited for the numbness to take my feet and shins (though in the meantime worried I would throw up from the pain of doing so) and submerged myself in the broiling eddy of the main current, stumbling and rolling against the riverbed before coming up.Later in the day, A. and I would each swim in the Thompson before stopping for a final night on the shores of Lac Le Jeune.

It may only be a Canadian ritual 1  to ceremonially immerse oneself in the waters of the various regions of one’s country, or in the least is exclusive to countries – where through frigid temperatures, dangerous currents or predatory animals – where rivers, lakes and the seas command human respect. Where the opportunity presents itself, I keep a tally in my mind of the local bodies of water I have swum in: from the Adriadic, Atlantic and Pacifics, to the Frasers, Thompsons Rivers, Cultas and Pure Lakes, among a host of others. I was raised a water child, swimming before I could walk, and to emerge from these waterways is to become a citizen of these places.

“I have been for a long period among the Rocky Mountains, but have never seen any thing equal to this country, for I cannot find words to describe our situation at times. We had to pass where no human being should venture. Yet in those places there is a regular footpath impressed, or rather indented, by frequent travelling upon the very rocks. And besides this, steps which are formed like a ladder, or the shrouds of a ship, by poles hangining onto one another anc crossed at certain distances with twigs and withes (tree boughts) suspended from the top to the foot of the precipices, and fastened at both ends to stones and trees furnished a safe and convenient passage to the Natives – but we, who had not the advantages of their experence, were often in imminent danger, when obliged to follow their example.”

Simon Fraser

Having journeyed north through Cache Creek and the Fraser Canyon, winding through Hell’s Gate and what must have seemed the apocalypse to Simon Fraser and his band of Norwesters, we spent Sunday passing through Valemount, Barrierre, Clearwater and the country north of Kamloops where Fraser first came south, along the Thompson. With the ghosts of the high country fading, we discarded the relics of the north en route back to life, civilization, and pavement.

We made it through Kamloops, filling up on what would be our trip’s final tank of gas, and stopped at Lac Le Jeune on the Coquillhalla Highway for our final night in the tent. RVs rumbled through the afternoon taking up sites, and

the moon rose on a cloudless, bugless night. We lit an early fire with a surplus of wood, and listened to a large family playing Wolf and the Townspeople up the hill from our site. Our fifth night out, we slept soundly amidst crickets in the surrounding grass.

Civilization came calling early the next morning however, with an industrial weed-whacker tackling deep swaths of the cricket-grass before the sounding of the dawn’s first rustling birds. Yawns and bed-headed tenters emerged quickly – checking watches, craning their necks to the overcast sky – and by 7:30 the camp was fully stirring, as the weed-whacking parks employee had continued his rounds through each of the campsite’s four concentric rings of sites. Our dusty wares were stowed and we stopped for coffees before arriving in Port Moody in the rain, 2512km under our tires in five days.


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  1. I say that this could be a Canadian phenomena based on two experiences: When my sister and I found ourselves within a stone’s throw of the St. Lawrence, in Montreal, grasping the history that had sailed that canal in the preceding four hundred years: as Canadians, something of us is born in rivers and lakes, as they meant the birth of our country. In BC, we are witness to not only the proximity to European and Native interaction with the land, but the millenia which have sculpted salmon’s relationship to the land within its waters. Such is this impulse in British Columbians that on a recent trip to Copenhagen with a large group of Canadians, several were instinctively drawn to diving from the corner of a busy downtown intersection into the channels of the Copenhagen River, yielding many inquisitive stares from the uninitiated European observers.