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.
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.
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