Author Tags: Gold, Outdoors, Photography
Self-publisher and photographer Chris Harris of 100 Mile House first teamed with his wife Jenny Harris to produce The Bowron Lakes: British Columbia's Wilderness Canoe Circuit (Gordon Soules), a popular guide to the 75-mile waterway in central B.C.'s Cariboo Mountain range. They formed their own adventure tour company called Pathways Canada Tours and led canoe expeditions, then that marriage ended. Since then he has produced a souvenir photography guide for the scenery between North Vancouver and Fort Nelson on the railway line, BC Rail: British Columbia's Great Train Adventure (Country Light Publishing, 1990), Cariboo Country (Country Light, 1995) and an ambitious photography book to help conservationists preserve interior grasslands, Spirit of the Grass, with text by Harold Rhenisch.
[For a review of Spirit in the Grass: The Cariboo Chilcotin's Forgotten Landscape (Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia, 2007) see Mark Forsythe's comments below.]
Spirit of the Grass has reached its second printing. "I feel it has played an extremely important role in both the environmental and political arenas," said Harris, in 2010. "The increased awareness of the grasslands was huge. David Zirnhelt became the Director of the Grasslands Conservation Council at the very time the book was released and he has used the book extensively in his work. In the past three years he has done so much politically and with the whole ranching community. Lots of very interesting food and beef initiatives are developing as a result. So, in short, the book was very successful on several fronts."
Harris has followed his stunning book on B.C.'s grasslands with another unprecedented photography and scientific study of an under-acknowledged geographical area, Motherstone: British Columbia's Volcanic Plateau (2010). "This is a landscape that has never been seen or photographed before," says Harris. "We hiked for days on end where no one has ever trod, except for the mountain goats!" Once again, Harold Rhenisch undertook research and writing, with Dr. Mary Lou Bevier of UBC as a consultant.
[See Motherstone article below]
Two hundred people attended Harris’ book launch in an airport hangar of the South Cariboo Regional Airport, located at 108 Mile Ranch, for Flyover: British Columbia's Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, An Aviation Legacy by Harris (photos) and Sage Birchwater (text). “We had to send a brigade to the restaurant next door to bring in more chairs,” he says. The gathering included a tribute to local pilot Gideon Schutze who has accumulated more than 42,000 bush flying hours. A promo event in Anahim in 2012, with less than 50 people, resulted in sales of 40 books. Harris marketed his hardcover book with events in 100 Miles House, Wells, Williams Lake, Port Moody, Prince George, Bella Coola, Anahim Lake (Moose Hall), Vernon, Salmon Arm, Langley, Vancouver, Whistler, Surrey, Fort Langley and Quesnel. Flyover (Country Light $59.95 hc, 39.95 sc) is Harris’ eleventh book since 1993.
Reviews of the author's work by BC Studies:
Spirit in the Grass: The Cariboo Chilcotin's Forgotten Landscape
BC Rail: British Columbia's Great Train Adventure, 1993, Isbn 0-9695235-1-3
Cariboo Country: British Columbia's Spirit of the West, 1995, Isbn 0-9695235-3-x
Chilcotin: British Columbia's Last Frontier, 1997, Isbn 0-9695235-7-2
Barkerville: British Columbia's Heritage of
Gold, 1999, Isbn 0-9695235-8-0
Tweedsmuir: British Columbia's Park of Many Colours, 1999, Isbn 0-9695235-9-9
Kamloops: British Columbia's Riverside City, 2000, Isbn 0-9682516-0-6
The Bowron Lakes: A Guide to Paddling British Columbia's Wilderness Canoe Circuit, 2006, 0-968-52166-5
The Bowron Lakes: British Columbia's Wilderness Canoe Circuit, A Lifetime Journey, 2006, 0-9685216-7-3
Spirit in the Grass: The Cariboo Chilcotin's Forgotten Landscape (Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia, 2007), with Ordell Steen, Kristi Iverson & Harold Rhenisch. 9780968521694
Motherstone: British Columbia's Volcanic Plateau (2010). Hard Cover: ISBN 978-0-9865818-1-6; Limited Edition of 700 HC @ $69.95 / Soft Cover: ISBN 978-0-9865818-0-9; Unlimited SC @ $39.95
Flyover: British Columbia's Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, An Aviation Legacy by Harris (photos) and Sage Birchwater (text).
British Columbia's Cariboo Chilcotin Coast: A Photographer's Journey (Self-published, 2016)
[BCBW 2016] "Outdoors" "Photography"
The Bowron Lakes (Soules $23.95)
MANY BRITISH COLUMBIANS ARE proud to know that Whistler /Blackcomb is ranked number two in North America by leading ski magazines. But few of us realize the 120 kilometer Bowron Lakes canoe circuit has been called "one of the top ten canoe routes in the world" by Outside magazine. Chris and Jenny Harris are not' surprised. They've canoed the circuit dozens of times as professional guides. And they estimate that close to 100,000 people many from Europe have also paddled the route. Bowron Lakes Provincial Parks is nestled in the Cariboo mountains east of Barkerville. The couple, who lead at least four tour groups around the lakes every year and give lectures and slide shows about the lakes, have just released The Bowron Lakes (Soules $23.95). "The book is like a memory of the experience for those who have canoed the circuit," says Chris, "and an introduction for those going for the first time." The text includes descriptions of the natural and cultural history of the area by zoologist Syd Cannings and cultural historian Jim Boyde, and includes a map describing .the circuit. Harris says his Bowron book is the first one about this provincial park but the guide is misguided. Well illustrated with historical and contemporary photos, Richard Thomas Wright's Bowron Lakes: A Year-Round Guide (Heritage) updated in 1989, explores the liquid parallelogram with research drawn from the Barkerville archives and resource people such as hunter/outfitter Frank Cushman. "The history of the Bowron Lakes is closely tied to mining, trapping, big game hunting and resort style living," says Wright, "in that order. Where trappers, homesteaders and holidayers once tried to push back the wilderness, we now canoe, hike, snowshoe or ski in ways unchanged for a century. In many places you can sense the ghosts of days past." Harris ISBN: 0-9695235-0-S Wright ISBN: 0-919214-77-0
[BCBW 1991] “Outdoors”
Spirit in the Grass: The Cariboo Chilcotin’s Forgotten Landscape
from Mark Forsythe
Chris Harris is something of a publishing loner. His company at 105 Mile in the Cariboo includes a studio constructed of straw bales.
Over 17 years he’s produced ten photography books in his ‘British Columbia and Beyond’ series; with a focus on his regional landscapes, from the Bowron Lakes to Barkerville and the serpentine BCR line.
Harris is also a skilled outdoor adventure guide with a knack for positioning his camera in interesting places most of us will never get to.
Spirit in the Grass: The Cariboo Chilcotin’s Forgotten Landscape (Country Light $39.95) is something else again.
After immersing himself in Cariboo-Chilcotin grasslands for three years, Harris has placed himself near the forefront of a movement to preserve one of B.C.’s most endangered ecosystems.
“I’ve walked through the grasslands in snow and ice, thunderstorms, rain, wind and fire.
“I’ve tramped across ancient lichens in heat that turned my skin to leather and have camped on open benchlands to capture the dawn...
“The sound of the meadowlark is now a part of me, and the grasslands now centre my life.”
For Spirit in the Grass, Chris Harris often spent nights camping on the grasslands, camera at the ready as morning light crept into the viewfinder. The first light came quietly, “as if slowly pushing the darkness away.”
In one early morning shot, patches of bunchgrass and sagebrush shimmer like distant galaxies.
Harris also photographed late into the evening where in one shot the setting sun turns Mid-Fraser River Canyon into a molten slash that disappears into black benchlands.
The grasslands were by far the most challenging landscape he has photographed because the land is flatter and the colour palette is muted.
“The grasslands reveal themselves quietly and slowly,” he says. “They’re soft and rolling, the colours pastel, and it’s much more difficult to create images that that evoke a response.”
The viewpoints range from sweeping, wide angle perspectives high above a jade green Chilcotin River to tight close-ups that mingle light, form and purple mariposa lilies into something hinting at Monet.
Harris also has an eye for adding drama to wildlife photos: a California Big Horn Sheep defies gravity as it crosses a nearly vertical cliff face so it can nibble on a small green bush.
For this project Harris collaborated with two ecologists from the Grasslands Conservation Council, Ordell Steen, a former research ecologist with the B.C. Forests Service, and Kristi Iverson, a plant ecologist and past chair of the Council.
From these experts we learn the intermountain grasslands are part of the rich tapestry of ecosystems. In the grasslands, only about 30-55 centimetres of precipitation falls each year, less than any other area in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
“Air temperatures are the highest in the region,” writes Iverson. “Forests cannot thrive in the grasslands; only plants that hold their moisture against the pull of the dry air, or that can avoid the drought by becoming dormant, survive in the grasslands.”
This climate results in abundant bunchgrasses, sagebrush, cactus, lichens and diverse wildlife, including the largest breeding population of Barrow’s goldeneyes in B.C., as well as three species of bats that occur only in the grasslands and ancient sandhill cranes.
Threats to this delicate habitat include our habit for dousing fires at every turn. When fire traditionally swept through, once every seven to fifteen years, it renewed life by keeping the forest in check and fertilizing plants with ash.
“After 1860, the frequency of the fires decreased as cattle grazing removed the fuels necessary to carry fire, First Nations people were penalized for starting fires, and fire suppression reduced the size of wildfires. When the fires stopped, trees and shrubs invaded many cool, moist sites in the grasslands.”
Many areas are now choked with forest. The grasslands are also being seriously eroded by urban development. We need look no further than the Thompson and Okanagan to see what can happen if human habitation isn’t adequately curtailed.
Alien plants introduced by humans, can displace native species and animals; over grazing by cattle can “hammer” the grasslands, and no one knows for certain what global warming will bring.
Poet Harold Rhenisch contributes a brief cultural history of the grasslands, tracing the first nomadic people from almost 10,000 years ago, to more permanent Secwepemc and Tsilhqot’in pit house villages beside the rivers.
White settlement and ranching followed with the gold rush of 1858, and legendary ranches like the Gang Ranch, Alkali Lake Ranch and Empire Valley Ranch sprang from the superb bluebunch wheatgrasses.
Wild horses still run free in the Esketemc, and the Esketemc people migrate each year to “bring the horses and their spirit home, and then to return them again, in this culture that has never been broken.”
Harold Rhenisch concludes: “Because of the continued honour that the Secwepemc and Tsilhqot’in people and ranchers have maintained for the land, the spirit remains in the grass.”
A portion of the profits from the sale of this book will be donated to the Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia.
Mark Forsythe is the host of CBC Radio’s BC Almanac.
His new book is The Trail of 1858 (Harbour, 2007),
co-authored with Greg Dickson.
--review by Mark Forsythe
by Sage Birchwater
In 2008, photographer Chris Harris and writer Harold Rhenisch set the bar high with their first high-altitude collaboration, Spirit in the Grass: The Cariboo Chilcotin’s Forgotten Landscape, nominated for two BC Book Prizes.
According self-publisher Harris, they have surpassed that effort with Motherstone: British Columbia’s Volcanic Plateau (Country Light $39.95), a coffee table book that portrays the majesty of the Central Interior and invites the reader to take an expedition into time; to peak into our geographical beginnings, and wonder how the landform we call the Cariboo Chilcotin was formed.
Motherstone covers a vast region of volcanic activity from the edge of the Chilcotin Plateau, where it buttresses up against the Coast Mountains in the west, to the sub-glacial volcanoes of Wells Gray Park to the East.
“I’m a mountain person,” Harris explains. “Mountains turn me on. I’ve ridden through these mountain ranges before, but this time I walked through every inch of it.
“When you walk you feel like you’re touching the earth. You feel the energy coming up through the earth.
“I found I was in tears out there. The volcanic landscape is so untouched; so powerful.”
As with most Chris Harris projects, Motherstone began with the germ of an idea years earlier that took on a life of its own. When Harris was on horseback in the 1990s, photographing in the Ilgatchuz Mountains with outfitters, Roger and Wanda Williams, he and fellow photographer, Kris Andrews, decided to take a side hike over a ridge to see what was on the other side. Harris came back with an image of a crater lake nestled in an undisturbed volcanic cone. In fact, it was a tarn in a cirque.
This became the seed for the Motherstone project. “I vowed to go back there,” he says. “It was the heart of the Ilgachuz volcano. How many people go through there in a year? It was a masterpiece of nature. I virtually don’t think anyone has ever been there.”
When he began the actual work of photographing for Motherstone, Harris wasn’t sure what the project was going to look like. “All my books are total exploration,” he says. “I’ve learned to trust the process. Doors start to open. I just like being out there hiking, physical and free, exploring with the camera.”
Harris decided he wanted to walk the ground he intended to photograph rather than travel by horseback. He hired guide outfitters Dave and Joyce Dorsey, and Roger and Wanda Williams to pack his camp gear and equipment two days into the wilderness. They ventured to three West Chilcotin shield volcanoes, the Rainbows, the Ilgachuz and the Itcha mountain ranges, while he and his wife, Rita Giesbrecht, and friend, Mike Duffy, went by foot.
As a hiker, Harris returned to the tarn that inspired the project years earlier, and noted only slight changes to the landscape, caused by gravity and erosion over a fifteen-year span. For the most part, the natural vista was totally undisturbed except for a possible goat or two.
“No one has walked here,” he says. “And with every drop of rain or snow flake, or with every freeze and thaw, the Ilgachuz volcano Gallery is re-hung. Nature has not finished creating this masterpiece of art yet.
“It was totally an amazing experience to be up there and feel that energy coming up through my feet and legs.”
Over a two-year period Harris photographed hundreds of magnificent images, then he handed the project over to Rhenisch who came up with the term “motherstone” as he was driving home to Campbell River from the Cariboo.
“It jumped into my head. The red rock south of Spences Bridge talked to me. It’s nice to feel in this vast, empty universe we’ve got a home. I’m of this place. I am this place speaking of itself. We are this place.”
Going back three billion years, Rhenisch says British Columbia was formed by the drifting of continental plates. Chains of volcanoes formed along stress lines in the western Pacific, drifted east, and smashed into North America.
“Very little research has been done on this region,” he says. “I spent three months researching to find out what the story was. Everything we have in British Columbia is caused by continental plate movement. Rock is a record of a dance that happens in time.”
Motherstone, according to Rhenisch, is essentially the story of going out to the mountains and walking. “We wanted the book to be the art of the mountains, where the mountains are creating the art. The earth is an expression of itself where you can walk across ground no one has ever walked on before. The earth is seeing itself for the first time through your eyes.”
Both Harris and Rhenisch are adept at pulling back the veil of every-day perception to reveal the essence of what makes the Central Interior unique. Rhenisch uses the scientific expertise of UBC professor Dr. Mary Lou Bevier to augment gut-felt romantic impressions to tell the story of this remarkable place.
“It’s an interesting balance—the scientific and the mythological,” Rhenisch says. “We had to have the science right, but at the same time it’s not a scientific book. We had to tell the story of being there. Science couldn’t do that.”
With his tenth book, Motherstone, Harris hopes to once more create an awareness of the value of the natural world and the biodiversity of the Cariboo Chilcotin region. Awareness affects public opinion about places,” he says, “and only public opinion affects change.”
The amalgam of art, science and adventure makes for one message. “The natural world is not something we must set out to conquer and subdue,” says Harris. “On the contrary, in fact it is our only hope for survival.”
After launching Motherstone at a gala reception in 100 Mile House in October, the duo commenced an extensive, province-wide tour and slide show. Seven hundred signed, hardcover copies of Motherstone ($69.95) were made available. For information, visit chrisharris.com
Sc 978-0-9865818-0-9; hc 978-0-9865818-1-6