Author Tags: Cookbook, Outdoors, Women
Born in England on August 5, 1947 and raised in the north of England, Christine Helena Czajkowski (pronounced Tchaikovsky, like the composer) has lived and worked in Uganda, New Zealand, the South Pacific and South America, spending twelve years backpacking around the world before coming to Canada in 1979 as a cow milker. Three years later she headed into the mountains of the Central Coast Range to build a cabin on private property surrounded by the Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. Access was by foot and canoe and often required an overnight camp. While there she began writing for the public by sending letters to Peter Gzowski's Morningside program on CBC Radio. These letters became the basis for her book, Cabin at Singing River. After four years she moved to a much higher location, on the dry side of the Central Coast Range, where she has built three more cabins, two by herself.
Czajkowski's wilderness and cabin-building experiences have been documented in a series of books that include Diary of a Wilderness Dweller, Nuk Tessli: Life of a Wilderness Dweller and Snowshoes and Spotted Dick: Letters from a Wilderness Dweller. In the latter she describes building her fourth cabin in the wilderness with hand tools, two chainsaws, an Alaskan Mill and some helpful friends. One of her helpers was Nick Berwain, a quiet, literary young German who was eager to gain some log-building experience. Berwain corresponds with Czajkowski after his return home. In letters to Berwain, Czajkowski details how she breaks trails by snowshoe with her two pack dogs, encounters grizzly bears, builds a custom stone oven and learns how to use it to bake bread -- and to make spotted dick, a traditional English steamed pudding. Food and building supplies were flown in and Czajkowski must hike more than 30 kilometres to the nearest road to lead guiding trips and to attend craft fairs and book promotions to supplement her income.
Czajkowski has described her wilderness adventures at Lonesome Lake in Tweedsmuir Park, east of Bella Coola, 480 kilometres north of Vancouver, an area first made famous by Ralph Edwards [see entry] whose conservation work with trumpeter swans was the subject for several books. Written from the point of view of Lonesome, the first dog to accompany her into the wilderness, Chris Czajkowsi's Lonesome: Memoirs of a Wilderness Dog is an attempt to observe the world through her long-suffering canine companion who she named after Lonesome Lake. "I got my human when she was already fully grown, which was a relief," Lonesome narrates, with occasional cynicism and disdain. "I'm not a dog to seek adventure and would have been far happier in an orderly, suburban garden with kids to play with and nice, safe walks in the park," she muses. Mostly humourous, Wilderness Dog ends on a touching note as Lonesome, too old to withstand the rigours of her spartan life with her human Chris, is billoted with a kind friend at Schoolhouse Creek who must ultimately take the infirm animal into the bushes, carrying with him his rifle... The wry memoir entirely from a dog's point of view spent several weeks atop the BC Bestseller List. "The snow plastered itself over my face," Lonesome recalls, woefully, "until only my eyes were uncovered. The more I tried to rub my face clean, the more the snow stuck to it. My human seemed to find this hilarious. She would obscure the front of her head with a device called a camera and transfix me with its great black piercing eye. There would be a click, and her face would appear again, grinning unsympathetically."
An accomplished botanist, watercolour artist and photographer, Czajkowski operates the Nuk Tessli Alpine Experience, a small, ecotourism, wilderness adventure business that she manages via her website and her Nimpo Lake mailing address. The only access to her home is by float plane or by foot. She lives about a day-and-a-half's walk (at human speed) from the nearest road, or four days' walk depending on the weather, at an altitude of 5,000 feet, about 40 miles away from her first cabin that was destroyed by fire in July of 2004 during the Lonesome Lake Fire. She subsequently recalled that fire, from the moment lightning struck until she was ordered to evacuate, in a collection of stories about her dogs and nature, Wildfire in the Wilderness (Harbour 2006). Her follow-up, A Mountain Year: Nature Diary of a Wilderness Dweller, is her diary of 2005 supplemented by her own paintings and sketches, concentrating on Central B.C. wildlife.
Czajkowski’s A Wilderness Dweller’s Cookbook is not just a collection of recipes; it is an account of how a wilderness dweller—-in a non-growing climate 20 km from a road, 60 km from a store and 250 km from a town large enough to have a supermarket—-feeds herself and the clients of her wilderness adventure business.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
And the River Still Sings: A Wilderness Dweller’s Journey
And the River Still Sings: A Wilderness Dweller's Journey (Caitlin Press 2014) $21.95 978-1-927575-50-5
Ginty’s Ghost: A Wilderness Dweller’s Dream (Harbour, 2012) $21.95 978-1-55017-575-2
A Wilderness Dweller's Cookbook: The Best Bread in the World and Other Recipes (Harbour, 2010).
A Mountain Year: Nature Diary of a Wilderness Dweller (Harbour 2008).
Wildfire in the Wilderness (Harbour, 2006).
Lonesome: Memoirs of a Wilderness Dog (Touchwood Editions, 2004; 2014).
Snowshoes and Spotted Dick: Letters from a Wilderness Dweller (Harbour Publishing, 2003)
Nuk Tessli: The Life of a Wilderness Dweller (Orca Books, 1998).
Diary of a Wilderness Dweller (Orca Books, 1996; reissued by Harbour Publishing 2005).
Cabin at Singing River (Camden House, 1991; reissued by Raincoast Books, 2001).
To Stalk the Oomingmak: An Artist's Arctic Journal (Aquarelle Publishing, 1990).
[BCBW 2014] "Outdoors" "Women"
Nuk Tessli: The Life of a Wilderness Dweller (Orca $17.95)
Nuk Tessli means west wind. And it’s also Chris Czajkowski’s name for her hiking business and the high-altitude lake close to her home--a log shelter cobbled together by her own hands and situated between Nimpo Lake and the southeast corner of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. Nuk Tessli has accommodation for the guests she guides, mainly in the summer, but for most of the year she is alone--without human company. She must walk twenty miles to reach a road and travel for three days to reach her nearest neighbours on foot. But in Czajkowski’s Nuk Tessli: The Life of a Wilderness Dweller (Orca $17.95), drawn partially from her submissions to Morningside, she plays down the isolation of her present location. After all, she says, she can radio for help and be in a hospital in two hours.
Czajkowski gives detailed accounts of the overland journey she undertakes to leave her cabin and go on the lecture circuit. In winter she doesn’t carry a tent but overnights in a sleeping bag under a dense clump of balsam. Sometimes she is able to spend the night in an abandoned trapper’s cabin.
Czajkowski travels with two dogs, both of them carrying considerable backpacks. Although her life brings her into contact with some lively characters, she is less interested in delineating human beings than animals. These include the dogs necessary to her life and the bears that lurk nearby and wreak havoc on the cabins in her absence. But the book’s appeal does not depend entirely on descriptions of animals, natural phenomena and physical feats.
Autobiography is currently one of the most popular literary forms and Czajkowski does not disappoint those seeking to understand the person behind this singular way of life. While she presents autobiographical information somewhat obliquely, her forceful personality emerges quite clearly. For instance, there is abundant evidence of her love of books. Each chapter has a literary epigraph, and when swallows decide to nest in her cabin, they find an ideal home on her bookshelves.
“Securely supported by the toe of the shelf and sandwiched between T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence, they had appropriately picked, for the centre-piece of their future brood’s home, Brave New World.”
In one of her closing chapters, Czajkowski addresses the question she is asked repeatedly: Why does she choose to live in the bush? She points to North American cities with their overloaded materialism, stink, noise and stress. Living in such conditions, she argues convincingly, calls for explanation and constitutes real eccentricity! It is easy to understand her fondness for the T.S. Eliot of The Wasteland and Gerontion, and for Aldous Huxley’s dystopic vision. 1-55143-133-5 --By Joan Givner
[BCBW SUMMER 1999]