Newsletter #184: September, 2020
© Chris Harris. All rights reserved.
Paddling the Bowron Lakes
A 50th Anniversary Adventure!
When the morning mist and the water became one, there was a sense of timelessness
In Search for Possibilities:
I love the idea that I have no idea. I love the idea that I have no idea of where a thought, an action, or a photograph will lead me, or how it will influence my life. The very thought of endless possibility in all that I see, do, or think of, is inspiring, motivating, and exciting.
Fifty years ago (1970) while finishing a degree in Fredericton, New Brunswick, I picked up a Sierra Club calendar, saw photographs of BC mountains, and decided on the spot, my life belonged there; somewhere. I had no idea where those photographs or that thought might take me.
After writing my last exam, I boarded the first train for Vancouver. Soon after, I read an article in the Vancouver Sun by Lee Straight about a canoe circuit in a ‘wild wilderness region’, 700 km north along a road that led to Yukon and Alaska. It seemed wildly exciting, and even though I had no experience in canoeing, wilderness travel, or with wildlife encounters, I had to go.
I had no idea that experience would lead to a livelihood where, as a wilderness guide, I would guide over 1000 people around that circuit. I had no idea that as a wilderness traveller I would paddle the circuit over 120 times, a total distance of flying from Victoria, BC to St. John’s, Nfld. three times. I had no idea that a photograph I would make would be the cover image of a best-selling book (over 20,000 copies) I was to independently publish in 1991.
Those calendar photographs, that newspaper article, and all the images I have made while paddling the Bowron Lakes, were filled with possibility. It’s that possibility that excites me.
Compared to the simple lines and shapes of a canoe or a mountain, the interior temperate rainforest with its structural entanglement and washes of colour seemed far more complex. Finding it impossible to capture this feeling within a representational style of image-making, I found a more accurate expression in abstraction.
My earliest canoe trips, including those that I guided, were physical adventures; teaching clients how to paddle, and set distances to cover each day in every kind of weather. The reward was the completion of a 120km circuit; a noble accomplishment for everyone.
When I decided to publish a book on the Lakes, my hobby of photography became a more serious endeavor; my trips became visual adventures. Now-a-days, my journeys around the Lakes have become spiritual adventures. I travel slower, connecting to the land and its consciousness. My photography also connects me to my inner-world; my images becoming an expression of self.
Entering the morning mist
Earlier this month, Rita and I returned to the Bowron Lakes, with our long-time friend, John McCarvill, and his son-in-law, Todd Wade, both of whom were new to the circuit. John’s canoe is a classic; a Greenwood cedar-canvas canoe, a perfect match for my Chestnut! I didn’t do a lot of photography on this trip, but with Rita and friends, I enjoyed it immensely.
I might add that Rita and John are culinary artists. Our packs were a little heavy, but the rewards were many!
Below are a few images I made along the way.
Entrance to Kibbee Lake. This is a most meaningful moment for me. With the first dip of the paddle, we leave the electronic world behind. Our adventure with nature begins.
As the marsh opens up, we embrace a new rhythm.
I prefer to paddle close to shore; it’s thought provoking and visually stimulating.
We usually set up camp in the early afternoon, leaving time to explore and enjoy hobbies. Rita and I often set off together to explore the natural world; sometimes I go alone with my camera, seeking expressions of possibility.
John enjoying the art of fly-fishing
Todd had never paddled before, but with a little instruction, he was amazed to discover how responsive a canoe is to the angle of each and every stroke.
At every campsite our Greenwood and Chestnut cedar-canvas canoes always seemed at the ready, waiting for us to explore new surroundings.
I could hear stories and laughter around the campfire as I began my evening of photography. It was the only clear evening on our trip; no forest fire smoke or cloud cover.
“There are billions of times more stars in our universe than there are grains of sand on our Earth”. – Jay Barbree & Martin Caidin
After 50 years, I still felt mesmerized by the lines, shapes, and tonalities of a familiar landscape. To capture them, I used the realist style which I had developed here and honed over time.
As I paddle, I have two cameras at the ready in front of me, always ready to capture the dance of light.
Many of the shoreline birch trees find themselves slowly falling outward over the lakes. I have got to know them personally over the years; I paddle beneath them, touching their branches whenever I can. They are old friends.
Over time, they lower, allowing me to touch each one before they die. Our relationship deepens and I pay my respects.
I made this image to show four canoeists as they paddled through an expanse created by mist and tonal contrast.
An impressionist view of our campsite.
The history of the Bowron Lake area began over 600 million years ago, when North America’s western shore lay roughly along the present Alberta border. Sediments flowing outward into the shallow western sea gradually built up and became layered sedimentary rock. The layers in this image are almost vertical due to more recent mountain building forces.
The Cariboo River. Most of the present-day circuit drains south to Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean via the Cariboo and Fraser River watersheds. During a past ice age, when drainages to the south were blocked with ice, the Bowron Lakes area drained north from Indianpoint Lake toward the Arctic Ocean.
Along the shores of Babcock Lake, we were treated to a courting display.
The Upper Bowron River:
The Upper Bowron River and marsh.
Nowhere on this planet has provided me with more spiritual nourishment than this hour-long paddle winding through the Bowron River marsh. On every solo or guided trip, I have entered the river at dawn. I request silence from everyone travelling with me, to absorb what the river has to offer us. The ‘Indian stroke’ in the stern is all that is required for complete quietness and steering.
The Bowron River and marshlands.
As the morning mist rises and the sun slowly breaks through, we become one with the river, the vegetation, and the birds and animals that live there. As we pass through the homelands and communities of the river otter, muskrat, beaver, moose, wolf, and countless species of birds, we become aware of a world far greater than we can imagine.
Over the 50 years of paddling through this marsh, I had never seen a sandhill crane. With climate change, they are moving further and further north to nest.
Just as we entered Bowron Lake, another crane flew past our canoes, as if to say ‘farewell’. It was a wonderful way to end our trip.
The river water that quietly guided our canoes that morning will always return to its source, always willing to take us on another canoe journey through the Bowron River marsh. I can’t wait to visit once again!
7–Day Workshops – 2021
“Develop Your Creative Vision”
Discover the possibilities of artistic expression. Representational, Expressionist, and Abstract image-making are examined in depth. These workshops will put you on a path to becoming photographic artists.
Gabriola: May 3-10, 2021
September. 10-17, 2021
The Ever-changing Coastline – Representational
Arbutus Tree – Abstract
One-week intensive photographic workshops
Chris Harris & Dennis Ducklow
Bella Coola: June 21-28, 2021
The Tallheo Cannery – Representational