Home Range

The last few hundred meters are a push but the view of the tiny lake, still dotted with ice, makes the effort worthwhile. Jenn and I drop our packs and after a few minutes rest we set up camp. It was late in the afternoon when we get started but in the long light of summer we’ve got plenty of time. Soon we’ve got dinner in hand and are watching the sun paint Mount Smuts and Mount Birdwood a deep burnt umber. We’re alone, but not far from home, and feeling the magic of the landscape at work on us.

This is part of our home range. Smuts Pass, Commonwealth Creek, Burstal Pass, and the great circling range of mountains and valleys that extend in every direction. We’re at the southern end of the Spray Valley in Kananaskis Country, just an hour from Canmore, and home.

For nearly a quarter of a century the Bow Valley has been my base camp. I moved to Lake Louise in the early 1990’s to work for Parks Canada and have slowly migrated down valley. There have been plenty of detours along the way, but this range of mountains has always called loudest and it’s here I return to again and again.

Mount Lougheed and the Wind Valley, Alberta.

Mount Lougheed and the Wind Valley, Alberta.

For the last four years I’ve spent a lot of my time photographing and writing about the eastern edge of my home range, and pushing the borders of that demarcation south as far as the Rocky Mountain Front of Montana. During that time I shot more than 40,000 images for a book called Earth and Sky: A Journey Down the Front of the World, and as that project is coming to completion I’ve started to wonder what I was going to do next? I’ve got many other writing projects on the go, but the dream of being a professional photographer has been my greatest ambition since high school. I’ve learned to see the world in a complexly different way since setting a goal for my photography. I’ve loved every minute of the journey. Finding the next photographic endeavour to focus my intent has been on my mind for the last six months.

While Earth and Sky was exhilarating to shoot, it was also exhausting. The southern end of the geography for the book is an eight hour drive away. Last year alone I made over a dozen trips into the foothills of Alberta and Montana, and while some of them were coupled with my work in conservation, they never-the-less left me feeling a little bedraggled. I wanted something closer to home to work on next.

Kananaskis Country came quickly to mind. When I proposed the idea to my publisher at Rocky Mountain Books he suggested I do a statistically valid survey of local book sellers as to what they need. When I asked Jocey Asnong at Canmore’s Cafe Books she – without hesitation or prompting — said a book on Canmore and Kananaskis! That was good enough for me, and apparently good enough for my publisher. (Yes, this is really how decisions are made in the publishing business.)

This is a natural fit for me. I can get to most parts of Kananaskis Country within a couple of hours drive, and a short day hike. I know it well, having hiked and climbed there for two decades. I’ve got a big collection of transparencies to draw on, and a growing stock of digital images that I’ve been shooting over the last few years.

My passion for the landscape of the Bow Valley and Kananaskis Country runs deeper than that. In the 1990’s I spent six years as the volunteer Chair of the Kananaskis Coalition, lobbying the government and rallying the public to protect more of the multiple use landscape. Like many Albertans I was surprised that more of Kananaskis Country wasn’t protected as a park. Together with dozens – with hundreds – of other volunteers from recreation, conservation and community organizations, we worked doggedly to pressure Premier Klein and his government to turn down proposals for new ski areas, golf courses, resorts, heli-skiiing operations and marinas in the Spray and Kananaskis Valley’s. In the end we were successful. On the last day he was Minister of the Environment Gary Mar announced that he was rejecting proposals for development in the Spray Valley and instead creating a Wildland Park.

Around that same time a bunch of us nominated the Bow Valley as a Special Place. Thanks to people like Gareth Thompson, Mike and Dianne McIvor, Wendy Frances, Harvey Locke, the late Jim Kievit (AKA Captain Greenshirt), the late Andre Gareau, along with many others, we were able to secure the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park.

Not long after that I found myself flooded with calls from the media asking if I was attending an event with the Premier. Ralph Klein was going to be in Kananaskis Country to make an announcement on the Recreation Management Plan, under review for the last few years. I had sat on the advisory committee for that plan on behalf of the environmental community. I put on a sports coat, tied my hair back in a pony tail (this was a very long time ago) and drove out to Mount Lorette Ponds. The Premier wasn’t very happy to see me, but his announcement was good news, and I told him so as half a dozen media outlets let the cameras roll.

More protected areas followed though Special Places 2000, including the Sheep River and Blue Rock Wildlands, and the Don Getty Wildland. In all, around half of Kananaskis Country was protected from further commercial development. And while there are still major issues with oil and gas and logging in the eastern and southern portions of the region, progress has been made.

That time, between 1994 and 2000, when I left the Kananaskis Coalition to start a small national conservation group called Wildcanada.net, was about more than just fighting to protect a place: it was about falling in love with a geography. Deeply and intimately.

Now I get to fall in love all over again. Already I can feel the excitement buzzing in me as I think about where I’m going to go, and when, and how I’m going to shoot a particular landscape in order to ensure my passion for this place is felt through the pages of this book.

I’m calling it Home Range, though it may well have a different title when it hits the shelves. It’s my home range. And it’s the home range for hundreds of thousands of others who live in Canmore, in towns like Turner Valley, Black Diamond and Bragg Creek and of course, Calgary.

I’m inviting you to join me: tell me what they love about this place. If I’m going to capture this landscape and the people who love it, where should I go? What trail should I hike, and when? Where are the flowers blooming? What is the wildlife up to? I want to hear from people who live here, visit or work here about a favourite scene, an iconic image that has to be a part of this project. I can’t guarantee I’ll do it justice, but I’ll try.

I’ve got eight months to do what I did in four years with Earth and Sky. I’m going to have to push myself to capture what I love about this place in so short a time. But it’s close to home, and I’m motivated. This has been my lifelong dream – to be a photographer – and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to create a book we can all be proud of.

Here’s how you can be a part of it:

1) Go to the Home Range group on Facebook.
2) Tell me about an iconic scene that defines your home range in Canmore, the Bow Valley (defined for this book as south of the Banff Park Gate) or in Kananaskis Country .
3) Check back often. Share with the community when the first crocus blooms, when your favourite bird returns, when the snow is out of the high passes. I don’t want to miss anything and I’d love your help in doing so. I’ll post many of the photos I take there and you can let me know what you think.
4) In November 2015 I will randomly draw the names of three people who have participated in this effort to receive a copy of the final book when it is published in 2016.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

 

Environmentalists and other Terrorists

Recently the Canadian federal government introduced new anti-terrorism legislation. This comes as a response to the growing, and very real threat of terrorism activity overseas, and from attacks on Canadian soil on two Canadian Forces soldiers at the end of 2014.

There is little doubt that we need to take the threat of terrorism seriously. There is a small, well organized, and no doubt clinically insane group of people in the world who have bastardized their religious beliefs to suit their homicidal intent and are killing innocent people as a result. There are also Islamic extremists to be concerned about.

As has been its modus operandi the federal Conservative government under Stephen Harper has used this excuse to attack its own political enemies. In this case they have introduced a piece of legislation thinly disguised to address a real problem while actually giving their own government and its law enforcement and security agencies the power to do something else entirely.

This past weekend, while reading the paper-version of the Globe and Mail, Jenn asked me what I thought of the new legislation. I hadn’t finished reading the Globe’s coverage yet, but told her that I expected that very soon we’d be hearing how these new powers would be used to fight “domestic terrorists” like those of us who oppose Prime Minster Harper’s pandering to the oil and gas industry.

No sooner had I said that than I read this: “The new internal government information-sharing legislation blinks red. Critically, it paints national security broadly – including things like the “economic and financial stability of Canada.”(Not all proposed Security reforms guarantee Canadian’s safety, Kent Roach and Craig Forcee, Globe and Mail, January 31)

Joe Oliver, now the federal Minister of Finance, but then the Minister of Natural Resources already started framing the debate over forestry, oil and gas and hydro projects as being germane. In a letter published in the Wall Street Journal in 2012 he said: “Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.”

I’ve never been opposed to being called a radical by someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. Being a radical means to get to the root of things and that’s what we need to do in the debate over Canada’s energy future. But that’s not what the Honorable Minister meant.

Prime Minister Harper’s anti-terrorism strategy, while doing little to stop the very real problem of actual radicalization of Islamist extremists, instead targets Canadians who simply disagree with the direction our current government have taken our country. Again in 2012 then Public Safety Minister Vic Toews outlined the government’s policy on terrorism that states it would be vigilant against “based on grievances – real or perceived – revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism.”

Now we have legislation that characterizes threats to Canada’s economic and financial stability as terrorism. It’s likely that this will be explained away as necessary to protect infrastructure and property from rare instances of actual sabotage, but I expect that sooner than later crackdowns on protestors, environmental groups, First Nations and every-day average citizens concerned about our future will be justified under this new legislation. We’ve already seen a dramatic escalation in the response to protests, such as those in New Brunswick over concerns about fracking and in BC over the Kinder-Morgan pipeline on Burnaby Mountain. It’s only a matter of time before the Harper government stops insinuating that First Nations people, environmentalists and others are “terrorists” and starts labeling us as such under this act.