2014 Book Tour Update.

czajkowski family picA departure from my usual photographic displays, this picture features in And The River Still Sings, the focus for my 2014 book tour.  I have no idea where the picture was taken.  I never recall seeing my Dad in a suit, or my Mum in such a pretty dress.  I look about two years old, so the date would probably have been 1949.  I, as you can see, am sitting with my customary elegance – already headed for my “tomboy” life as a wilderness dweller.

And the River Still Sings reviews my whole life, trying to explain what led me to a career of a wilderness dweller.  It covers childhood and a decade of world travel as well as my 33 years in Canada.  I will be visiting: the Cariboo, the Lower Mainland, Vancouver and Gabriola Islands, and the Okanagan.  For details of the tour, check out the slide show page.

Within its first week in the book stores, the book reached Number 2 on the BC Best Sellers’ List, which isn’t too bad.

I will also be travelling with the new 10th Anniversary Edition of Lonesome: Memoirs of a Wilderness Dog, as well as with my other 9 titles.

Hope to see you there.

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Bird Banding at Tatlayoko Lake

nature conservancy of Canada signFor some years, the Nature Conservancy of Canada has been buying up properties at the north end of Tatlayoko Lake, and they have established the Tatlayoko Lake Bird Observatory there.

It is the best part of 2 hours’ drive from where I live: I have long wanted to go down and see what was going on at the bird observatory.  I happened to pick the day the weather changed from storm to sun, and it could not have been more spectacular.

I was advised to get there early: the sun rose when I reached Tatla Lake

Tatla Lake sunriseThere, a road branches  from Highway 20 and follows the Homathko River south.  Potato Range is on the left, and the spectacular Niuts rear up on the right.

Niut MountainsThe road drops considerably in elevation, and soon the valley bottom could be seen.  Somewhere below all that fog are the upper reaches of Tatlayoko Lake and the bird observatory.

Tatlayoko Lake valleyI love it when the mountains are lapped by a sea of fog; but I knew I would end up in it.  Soon, it was so thick I could hardly see where I was going.  The lower reaches of the valley are full of mule deer.

mule deerThe fog spangled every spider’s web.

orb spider's webOrb spiders given LSD cannot make cartwheel-shaped webs any more, but I suspect the picture below was from a web of a different species of spider.

7 other webThe 15 bird-catching nets are set up for 6 hours a day, starting around 7.30 am.  The four bird-banders walk around every half hour – as the walk is a km long, this keeps them busy.

The first net on my first walk yielded a song sparrow.

Chris with song sparrow


song sparrow being freedOn the same round, Gail retrieved a female yellow warbler.

female yellow warbler


female yellow warblerThe birds are taken back to the observatory post (a small shed with a solar-driven computer and a few tools) and first a little ring is clamped to its leg.  This male yellow warbler is getting its wing measured.  Both wing and tail feathers are checked for the stage of the moult – this helps determine whether it is a this-year’s hatchling or older.

male yellow warblerThen its feathers are blown apart (by someone gently puffing on the bird) so that naked skin can be seen.  A healthy fat bird has an orange skin.  Three or four key spots are quickly examined.  (Fat of course is good right now – the birds need the energy to migrate.)

checking for fat

The final indignity is to be popped into a tube head down and weighed.

weighing birdsI am sure that when the little guys are released, they have a good preening.

Some birds were recaptured from either earlier this year or even two or three years ago.  A few had been caught only half an hour before!  The banding session lasts 2 month; there is also a 1-week session as the birds first arrive in the spring. 12,000 birds have been banded at the Tatlayoko Lake Bird Observatory, but almost none have been recovered elsewhere.

As well as checking the nets, a walk through a larger area is taken twice a day for a visual census.  Many species don’t get caught in the nets.  Here is a least flycatcher puffing out his feathers against the cool dampness. It rained quite heavily down here the day before.

flycatcher, least

About three hours into the morning, the fog began to break up.

fog liftingThe Niuts were revealed again.

Niut mountainsAvery is returning with a bird bag from yet another round to the nets.  All in a days’ work.



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Cool and Cloudy at Ginty Creek

Finger Peak sunriseHow glorious to see the sky clear again at Ginty Creek.

Nogwhon at sunrise

The clarity was the precurser to cool and cloudy weather.

4. evening

Showers, and even rain was forecast.  In over a week, we had: one small shower, one dribble, and a few spits.

The pond had two remaining puddles.

6. puddle 1

Then there was only one.

7 last puddleIt was seething with life.  The mud was too soft to get to the edge and my photos were not good enough to determine what was wriggling around in there.  A friend suggested snowshoes and this is what I saw.

8 in pond oneTwo kinds of snail, mini freshwater clams, and this same creature darting and wriggling about but they are too translucent to show up in the above pic.

Here is a better one.

9. pond 2

They appear to be some kind of shrimp.  I don’t know if they are full grown, or a larva or something else.  They are about 1 cm long.

10 pond 3 - shrimps

Then came the day when “periods of rain” was forecast.

rain over Finger PeakExcitedly, I watched the curtains of water obscuring the mountains all day.

But they never came here.  It stayed cold and windy, and in the evening, the sky cleared to reveal a skiff of new snow on the mountains.

12 fresh snowThe forecast now is for another week of hot, cloudless weather.

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Becoming Wild by Nikki Van Schyndel

Becoming Wild by Nikki Van Schyndel was an eye-opener for me.

Last fall I had a volunteer whose dream was to be apprenticed to a survival school.  A guy in Ontario was giving a 3-month course on wilderness survival, on his acreage in Ontario.  Participants would build a shelter in which they would live, learn how to start a fire with a hand-made bowdrill, track and trap animals and learn to flint knap, ie make arrowheads.

I had never heard of such a school and put it down to a modern whim on the part of both the teacher and the student.

However, this spring, the publisher of my 11th book (And the River Still Sings – out this fall) issued Becoming Wild by Nikki Van Schyndel, which showed me that primitive survival skills were something of a well-established minority cult, and that it has been going on for a lot longer than I realized.

Nikki dreamed of surviving on a desert island as a child; then forgot it while she took on a life of Olympic-standard horse show jumping, followed by being a sponsored snowboarder.  One day she had an epiphany and realized the natural world was still out there.  Learning survival skills at a school, plus an intensive course of studying wild plant uses, gave her the background, ten years ago, to attempt primitive living on a remote part of BC’s west coast.  She was accompanied by a cat and a fellow enthusiast, Micah.

Their story is nothing short of remarkable.  At first, the only food they could find was plants and shellfish.  They were hungry to the point of starvation, and existing almost permanently in damp, mouldy clothes and bedding.  Their leaky shelters were thick with smoke from their cooking fires.  Their lovingly hand-made bows and arrows and fish-hooks proved inadequate, and it was a long time before they made the physical and psychological effort to kill a bear, which they then preserved and ate to the last rancid mouthful.

As we follow Nikki’s journey we are swept up into a world that is both uncomfortable and very spiritual.  Congratulations Nikki, Micah, and Scout (the cat) for taking on a hugely difficult task, and, quite literally, surviving.  Becoming Wild is a fascinating read: you can also see a bit of their lives in this video.


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Where There’s Smoke….

smokey sunrise at Ginty CreekThe heat waves bring smoke.  This is partly because of the inversion effect, and partly because, when there is a large high pressure in the interior of BC, the winds are light and come from the northeast to southeast quarter, and this is where the fires are right now.

Here is the Google Earth active fire map for BC on 15 August 2014.  Round orange balls mean new fires: red mean active, and flames mean a fire of note.  (Ginty Creek is not too far from the thumbtack just to the left of the middle.)

10 Google Earth_ImageThe daily temperatures reached 33C again; the smoke exacerbated the heat because of the greenhouse effect.  I could work only for a few hours in the morning before retiring inside, and even there it was too hot to do much.  The gloom from the smoke was depressing.  So when the wind switched and it blew cooler from the southwest for a couple of days, it was like looking at a whole new world.
perkins peak


McClinchy riverThe clear days coincided with the full moon

4 moon 1`

Moon on a stick.

5 moon 2

It set before any colour appeared on the mountains.

6 moon 3

The next day I had my camera ready, hoping for the perfect shot, but the wind had changed again and it was too smokey.

8 smoke moon


7 smoke coming inSoon, the mountains disappeared.

I was planning to go to town to pick up a wwoofer, but Highway 20 was closed because of a fire about 2/3 of the way into town.

Wildfire Management Branch is responding to a wildfire currently estimated at 600 hectares that is burning 14 km west of Bull Canyon, near Highway 20. Airtankers and helicopters supported ground personnel and heavy equipment late into the evening of Monday, Aug 11. The wildfire displayed aggressive fire behaviour yesterday and challenged the fire retardant lines.

Objective today is to build a guard to contain the blaze. Today, 5 helicopters and heavy equipment are working to assist firefighters in establishing a guard around the wildfire. Crews will be closely monitoring the weather today as there is the potential for extreme fire behaviour, winds and warm temperatures. Cooler temperatures and rain are expected later in the week.

Highway 20 was closed temporarily as a result of this incident, but has been re-opened 24 km west of Alexis Creek. Traffic on the highway continues to be impacted with limited access. Flaggers are in the area directing traffic. Depending on the fire’s activity, the highway could be closed again. Up-to-date information will be available on www.drivebc.ca

Further updates will be sent as necessary.

Sandra Wagner
Communications Specialist
Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations
BC Wildfire Management Branch | Cariboo Fire Centre

Most BC fires are triggered by lightening, but this one was caused by “person.”  People have deliberately started fires in that area before so they can get work as firefighters.    The above notice was published 12th August: I wanted to drive into town on 14th.  On the 13th we heard that the road was in fact closed, but a detour – which was actually the old highway – was in operation.

I was on the road early.  Sunrise happened about an hour along the way.

11 sunrise on way to townI soon reached the detour.

12 road blockThe old road ran through a couple of farms.  It was narrow and windy and pretty, but very slow to drive.

13 bypassI spent the night at 100 Mile House, where we had a tremendous thunderstorm and heavy rain.  Something was struck nearby with a huge explosion.  I expected the whole world to erupt in red flames.  But apart from a short loss of power, nothing was changed.  100 Mile and Williams Lake are much lusher than Kleena Kleene – they had a good snow cover and a wet spring.  The weeds around my friends’ house were waist high.  I wondered if the rain would spread west.

In Williams Lake, I found out how the “person” started the fire.  Apparently a truck lost a wheel and the hub was dragged along the highway, showering sparks, and igniting six fires.

East of the fire on Highway 20, the smoke was not too bad on the way home. That is the Chilko River in the back ground: it is glacier fed, which gives it the blue colour, and it was full.  All those glaciers must be melting like mad in the heat.

Chilko riverI was most surprised to find that Highway 20 was open.  The extent of the fire was 880 hectares, but in fact it was obviously very spotty.  It was still smouldering in several places.

15 smouldering fireBecause the wind was behind me, west of the fire the smoke thickened.

16 smoke thickening on way homeAt home, I could not see the mountains.  But during the night the wind changed again and the morning brought a beautiful sight.

17 clearingAnd, even though a couple of new fires have started a little closer to Ginty Creek,  soon the mountains were perfectly clear.

18 plane

Judging by the tracks on my road, there had been a very small sprinkle of rain while I had gone.  Nowhere near as much as happened during the 10-minute rain a couple of weeks ago.  The forecast is for cooler weather and more chance of sprinkles.  Let us keep our fingers crossed.

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