Exploring places of unusual power

Recently I have been wandering the iconic interior ranch country of British Columbia through the words and photos of The Junction by John Schreiber. Subtitled ‘Stories of Land and Place in the BC Interior,’ the book is a meandering look at places where the land forms, our human history and nature seem to fold together into a deeper narrative. Places that talk to us.

I know that I am traveling with a kindred soul when I read Schreiber’s Introduction, where he focuses on Writing-on-Stone park in southern Alberta. “If this is not a setting of power and depth,” he says, “then I don’t know one.” I have long loved the mythical sense of place at Writing-On-Stone, and my essay on it was published last year in Earthlines

After starting at Writing-on-Stone, though, Schreiber takes us along on meandering visits through areas of B.C. that include the south Cariboo-Chilcotin, the south-east Chilcotin, “The Junction” of the book’s title (the junction of the Fraser and Chilcotin Rivers), the lower Similkameen, the south Okanagan, the mid-Fraser River region and more. 

John Schreiber

John Schreiber

I’m unfamiliar with much of this country, having spent most of my life wandering the parklands and west country of Alberta. I am enjoying learning about these districts with Schreiber as a guide, including his musings about historical question marks, such as whether the First Nations people in the areas had much experience with horses before their direct contact with European explorers and traders. 

Mostly, I enjoy Schreiber’s own curiosity and his comfort level with unanswered questions. “History, I am learning, is never simple. In fact, there is something increasingly mirage-like about the results of my own small efforts to nail down details of early B.C. ranching history,” he writes. He does so while noting how much our world has changed. How, now, do we define “wild” and “wilderness” – and how have our views of wildlife changed? Schreiber remembers his own childhood and the common rural response to shoot any wild thing that moved. We now need to see our world through a different lens.

The places of The Junction are valleys, hillsides, creeks and homesteads with romantic sounding names like Gang Ranch, Lone Cabin Creek, Empire Valley and Ross Gulch. Schreiber is interested not only in their written and official histories but the shared, evolving stories told by aboriginal people, aging ranchers remembering wilder times, and tough settlers. 

“There are places of unusual power and attraction across this land,” he writes, “where time becomes timeless and we slip more easily in a kind of myth-mindedness.”

 The Junction, Caitlin Press, 2013

The Junction, Caitlin Press, 2013

 

Many of these places seem to be ones that ‘time has passed by’ (my cliche, not Schreiber’s) – and there is no doubt a nostalgic temptation to look at ‘the old places’ and try to imagine an earlier era as a better era. Schreiber avoids this simple nostalgia but is often pulled into philosophic musings, calling on his reading of Zen teachers and contemporary writers for wisdom and a broader perspective. “Lone Creek has become a meditation for me,” Schreiber writes near the end of The Junction.

It is a worthy meditation, in extremely interesting country, in the good company of John Schreiber.

 Images courtesy Caitlin Press

Comments

  1. I loved this book and am so glad to see if get some more attention.

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