Tuesday, September 19, 2017


An artist I know works in découpage.  On canvas, she layers cutouts that she covers with a think layer of glue.  She will add a photograph, or part of a photograph, and then extend that image with paint or watercolour.    The work of art she creates is an amalgam of those three techniques, and its effect is dependent on their interplay.

My experience of Haida Gwaii resembles that découpage.  Rather than cutouts, photograph, and painted forms, however, my canvas is the product of in-your-face macro nature,  particular locales, and, of course, inevitably, interactions with people. The reflections that have ensued ground me and challenge me.  Here’s my canas, shared over three posts.

Remember, I am neither an outdoors person nor a travel writer.   I am just a retired person, a teacher, a reader, a musician, a writer.   On those islands, I didn’t fish, scoop up crabs on the beach and cook them over a fire, or make it out to locations where an 1978 camper van couldn’t go.   I bird-watched,  did accessible hikes, and let the sea mesmerize me.  What I did experience during those weeks brought me joy, connection, and truth.  Including the road trip on Yellowhead Highway 16 from Prince George, British Columbia, to Prince Rupert, these are the macro natural highlights for me.

(formerly Fort Kitwanga)
Located between Hazelton and Terrace on Highway 16, Battle Hill National Historic Site entrance looks like a rest stop on the side of the highway.  Be sure to turn in, and if you can manage an impressive set of stairs, go down to explore the path of an ancient trading route as well as the hilltop location of the fort built by the warrior Nekt  as a strategic defensive site to control the local trade.  Your reward is twofold: the longhouse placements etched on the hilltop, and a magnificent view of the Kitwanga river.  On the way back, you will notice a path leading away from the hill.  Follow it right to the end.  The rope that stretches across the path betwen two trees is not a barrier, but an aid to lower yourself down the embankment, through the tree roots, to the river bank and another spectacular view.

As you travel highway 16 from Prince George through Prince Rupert, remember that this is the Highway of Tears, along which more than forty indigenous women have been reported missing or murdered.  I noticed two billboards (only two?) along the 720 km route to remind me of the sorrow along the road I traveled in peace.   The last stretch from Terrace through Prince Rupert ribboned through the mountains along the Skeena River, every kilometer just as breathtaking, even in a light mist.

Spirit Square
·  Spirit Square, Queen Charlotte Village, Haida Gwaii

This peaceful spot on the bank of the inlet next to the Visitor Information Office provides a gathering place and a rest stop for travelers and locals alike.


Agate Beach, Haida Gwaii

Agates on the beach
Follow Old Masset Road east to Agate Beach.   Stroll the beach to select your collection of smooth stones nestled in the sand.  Admire the workmanship of the sea over infinite tidal surges.  In the provincial park, find a campsite overlooking the sea, and wake to its roar.  Sit on the felled logs strewn along the beach to watch the eagles and the waves, to read and write, or just to be.  

Tow Hill, Haida Gwaii

When you’re finished at Agate Beach, it’s just a short jaunt to the Tow Hill trail head.  A boardwalk makes the trail wheelchair accessible to the first viewing platform.  It continues up through the tidal bore and on to the summit, which offers a spectacular view of Rose Spit, and, in the distance, a few islands in the Alaskan panhandle.   A rarity in our time on the islands, more than five consecutive hours of sunshine allowed us to soak in all the heaven of Agate Beach and Tow Hill.

Kitselas Canyon at Gitau

It took two tries and a visitor information worker in Terrace to find this treasure about twenty kilometres east of Terrace, and even then we almost missed it.  Look for the Gitau sign to turn north, and then take the gravel road when it appears down to the canyon and the national historic site under construction.  The four longhouses of the Gitselasu (People of the Canyon) and totem poles are beautiful.  Enjoy the outstanding accoustics of that bowl-like area.
A trailhead near the maintenance building leads through the forest.  If you persevere right to the end, you will get to examine a mounted Haida canoe,  and study four totem poles.  A boardwalk on the left leads down some stairs to the lookout overlooking the canyon and the turbulent Skeena River.  So worth it.

Kleanza Creek Provincial Park

It took two drive-pasts and a vehicle rollover that stopped traffic on the 16 for more than three hours to get us to this hidden treasure.  Although this provincial park was mentioned in the literature, its vistas and design are, in my view, vastly underrated.    An innocuous sign announces its presence about a kilometre west of Gitau, on the south side of the highway.  Campsites dot the gravel road, as you drive in; nothing unusual or even particularly beautiful in a land that normalizes stunning vistas.  I wasn’t prepared, however, further down the gravel road,  for the extraordinary opportunity of the the day visitor site.  The creek spews out of a forested gorge a  Picnic tables line the bank, and a bench is tucked into a corner in front of a tree on the edge of the creek.  Imagine hours on that bench, to read, dream, and contemplate.
nd gurgles parallel to the road, but hidden behind the high banks.

These places are one third of the cut-out base layer of the découpage, to be covered over with a think layer of reflection.  The photographed image is my self, and the painted lines the resultant extension of that self.    The next post applies to the base the snippets of unforgettable experiences in unique locations.

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