“The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth … the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need — if only we had the eyes to see. ” ~ Edward Abbey

 One cold, clear winter night, out at the end of the road I grew up on, surrounded by pine and spruce reaching high into the dim blue-black horizons of space, we stood. Surrounded by banks of crystalline snow sparkling so much like diamonds in a Maharaja’s chambers, one felt rich in spirit and we looked up to millions of stars blazing into the darkness.

Standing there, the only reminder of human life in the wilderness the occasional light of a house twinkling in the distance, the milky way welcoming me home as I raised my arms to the sky in reverence. All the constellations I spent endless nights finding, watching, remembering as a child stood out bright and clear: Ursa Major and Minor, Orion found again by his belt, Cassiopeia the giant W hanging low as if ready to be snatched by an eager child for his pocket.  This was my sky,my stars, and suddenly I was 9 again, eagerly pointing out a satellite making its way through the milky mass, Venus pulsating bright, a warm and comforting beacon as only those who’ve spent time in the north at night could understand how that feels.

I was home,home, how lucky I was to again be experiencing the misty river in the sky as only the northern people do, my stars at home consisting of Venus and a handful of muted twinkles forever dulled by the pollution and constant light of technology. And it is an experience to stand under this sky, not merely a visual feast for eyes and camera, I swear you can feel the cosmic force here, taste the universe on the tip of your tongue if you stick it out.

I mused, if faced such beauty night after night, every night of your life, do you even see what I see anymore? Does it ever become so commonplace that you don’t notice how this sky is immense and amazing that words fail me even now to describe it completely? That if we were all going to die tomorrow this is one thing that would have to be on your bucket list? Does the sheer volume of stars not overwhelm you and make you feel small, and yet connected in the same way I do going back home? It filled me up, soothed my soul, revived my weary spirit…I didn’t know how lost I was until I came home.

Growing up,my brother and I would often go outside at night to find a snow bank just at the right angle to lay down on to watch the northern lights dance in the sky – the legend as told by a neighbour was if you whistled, they would come down to you and whisk you away…We would, and they always did seem to come down low, moving in a colourful  ribbonlike,magical swirl and I, at least, would run squealing thinking they would get me and take me to where ever northern lights went…makes me smile thinking of it now, that childish combination of fear and excitement.

I think, for me,Prince George is most beautiful in winter.

The snow hides a multitude of sins and is forgiving to even the stark dead beetle kill areas, rounding out barren twigs with mounds of lush white. However, at my dad’s house up on the Hart where a higher elevation leads to often three times the snowfall downtown residents would get, or even those on the south side of town, the snow allows winter play to start on his doorstep. My children were absolutely flabbergasted to see the amount of snow along the roads, in the banks created by the plow and in grampa’s yard. Eyes became saucers in a moment and I smiled to see the minds quickly working to what they could do first.

As all things begin at home, so does this story and this is my road to home, my childhood home, my father’s house. We biked up and down in summer, go-carted, snowmobiled and skied in winter and it’s still so quiet you notice when a car goes by. Being more isolated by site, I spent summers playing alone or with my brother, picking agates out of the gravel, always looking for that perfect one. I never needed other children for company, I was happy doing my own thing, weaving vines into crowns under the canopy of the spruce that served as my castle, poking sap bubbles on the bark of the trees in spring to make gum after dropping it into the snow. Tasted like crap, but we did it anyways because we could…We used to go outside and play in the morning, wandering all over in the forested areas and hanging out at ponds and creeks, ever mindful of bears mostly, rarely was a cougar or wolf a threat then.

Ah, good memories, but I digress. There is time for more summer stories later.

How lucky it is – when we on the coast have to drive for miles to find a hill to slide down, and perhaps even pay to do so – and at home in P.G. the plow creates two personal mountains on either side of each driveway!  My littlest one spent hours on this one, never tiring of the climb up to get the fast slide down,learning to keep his feet up for a faster ride, all the while I showed my older son how to dig a snow fort out of the backside of the hill, complete with built-in snow couch and snowball armoury.

They marveled at the ever-changing properties of snow, and I marveled at showing them how to toss a crispy handful of early morning crystalline snow into the air to watch it turn into floating diamonds in the sun…

…or how the snow on the path through grandpa’s forest behind the house sounds like styrofoam when you walk on it at just the right time of the day. They quickly learned that warm sun makes perfect snowball snow, except if you pack it too hard because then that hurts, and my wee three-year old learned the hard way that  snow isn’t always soft either, after stepping off a three and a half-foot snow bank into the driveway and landing on his face, bloodying his nose in the process.

My father had already packed a path through the forest on his property with snow-shoes and we showed the children the multitude of tracks in the snow as we wound our way through the expanse of trees, told them what you could tell about those tracks and the animal that made them. What direction it went, how fast, whether or not another animal was in pursuit, how old the tracks might be… even I was astounded one morning to find on fresh rabbit track with a singular leap of no less than 12 feet through an open spot…and canine tracks all around. Poor thing, he earned his bunny stripes with that move!

There is always something to do when you live in a place like this, and I wanted my children to have the full meal deal I had growing up, so the age-old Canadian tradition of ice-fishing was next.

Ice-fishing isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain kind of person to sit on your ass for possibly hours with not even a nibble, the icy north wind chapping your cheeks and freezing your eyelashes. Even in Sorels, toes turn to blocks of ice quickly for the inexperienced. But all it takes is one gorgeous silver pink and spotted rainbow trout on the end of your line to turn the story from one of backwoods survival to a stellar expedition and we discovered the trout in Eena lake seemed to love a fluorescent yellow jig and caught three large ones in a short time. A lovely fire and a wiener roast carried the little ones through and of course everyone was thrilled to ride on my dad’s skimmer behind the snowmobile for the ride across the frozen lake. I impressed both children by winding poor mealy worm onto the hook and extricating two of the trout from their hooks. ( how Bear Grylls of mom, my seven year old remarked )

The trout however, were likely not so thrilled at ending up in my frying pan for dinner, dredged in seasoned flour, fried in butter with fresh lemon squeezed on top….but my stomach was in heaven, since nothing could beat the sweet taste of winter caught rainbow trout, firm pink flesh so tender it cooks in minutes and flakes if you look at it too hard…

Life in a northern town gives you ample opportunity to live with wildlife whether you want to or not. Despite seeing thousands of moose track in the bush, and looking every morning for them outside my dads where they have often strolled, we found this sad yearling beside the Hart highway in a residents yard, nibbling willows – one of their favoured winter essentials. Sadly, despite those who decry climate change as a hoax, evidence is everywhere in the north, including this young moose whose hide is showing in many spots as white patches where the hair is gone. Why? He is covered in ticks that suck his blood and aggravate him to the point he rubs himself bare trying to dislodge them and ease his irritation –  ticks that used to die off to manageable levels during the cold snaps that used to happen every winter, driving the temperature down to -40 and colder for weeks. Those cold snaps haven’t happened in so long, that is why the pine beetle spread so far, so fast. The winters don’t get cold enough to kill them. It was also an excellent opportunity for the kids to learn from which animal the moosemeat-loaf came from, in person.

One of the early signs of spring in Prince George is the appearance of the mule deer along the highway going down to the John Hart Bridge over the Nechako. Here, the sun hits the bank all day and teases the grass into early growth, attracting the deer who know this is where they can find the first fresh food after many months of winter. This mom was being filmed with her two young ones from last year, by CKPG at the same time I took this photo, ignoring both of us in favour of fresh nibbles.

I re-discovered many other areas of the city that again, are not immediately clear to anyone coming through town without first researching or visiting the Via Rail downtown info centre (which is off the main thoroughfares through town) – a travesty considering the intrinsic heritage and tourism value the venues present.

Cottonwood Island Nature Park is an absolutely breathtaking gem in the city of Prince George, which is why it is incredibly shortsighted for there to be no signs coming into town directing visitors to it. The area has always attracted people to it, long before the city made it a park, since it is where the mighty Nechako meets the Fraser river. First nations inhabited this special area where the great rivers meet for thousands of years before any of us came, I think the feeling of sacred land here is  self -evident. The city has built a long series of trails, some paved, some gravel, along the banks of the Nechako, through Cottonwood island where the great stands of  300 year old Black Cottonwoods reside, all the way to South Fort George and historic Fort George Park.

We wandered the trails, walked along the Nechako for a while and searched for the carvings painstakingly carved into the thick bark of some of the cottonwoods…the sprits in the wood seemingly alive and waiting to tell their stories... ah, if trees could talk, what have these seen?

They say everything old is new again and indeed this was the case as I found myself surrounded by many pieces of B.C. Rail history at the Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum, a must see for anyone to really understand how this province was built. And yes, I cried a moment when I saw this one for how could I not think about my dear friend Mary, B.C. Mary to most. She lived in P.G. for a while, we talked about that, an odd common link between us because she got what life is like there. Even now, when I meet someone on the coast from P.G. we nod our heads and smile as one invariably states : “Oh, so you get it.”  Gotta live it to understand it.

April is the month they are celebrating 100 years of the forestry service in BC and we had a look at some of the exhibits which are amazing and kept even the little ones enthralled. You can take a ride on a miniature version of the B.C. Rail line- indeed a theme exists here standing testament to what this railway did for this province and how loyal we remain to the name.

We took a drive up to the airport area, and found a short offroad trail up behind a water tower that lead me to the view I sought the most, and one I am most proud of.

This is the view of Prince George’s pulp mills: Northwood, PG Pulp and Intercontinental.  Some might think it would be an odd thing to show off, but considering my dad has spent thirty + years of his life working at one, I value greatly what these mills mean to the families they support.

Ask anyone in the forestry industry and they will agree that these jobs can be the most dangerous out there,and my dad has not been spared workplace accidents in his years working, chlorine gas leaks probably being the most scary. The mills use peroxide now to bleach the pulp instead of chlorine, which has improved safety greatly for workers, but the pulp produced in Prince George, and at Northwood, is arguably the best in the world and creates the finest grade paper. Most of my family back home works in forestry, lucky to all still have jobs in this day and age, and although I left for other passions, my roots run deep and my pride is overflowing for each of them and their perhaps unknowing contributions to keeping this province afloat.

This town is steeped in history and was  a big part of the backbone of this province that is part of who we all are, not just myself.

But because of my heritage, I take particular pride in the north, in Prince George.I love it because I was born there, raised there, with a particular take on life, a particular love for the nature around us, for what it gives us to sustain ourselves. Indeed – a very different and unique place very separated from those in the lower mainland for many reasons. It’s just different, but the people here pride themselves on those differences, and so should you. I know that no matter where I go, or what I do, I’ll always be a Northern Girl.

“Grew up drivin’ on black ice
Spinnin’ in circles under Northern lights
Laughter steamin’, small town dreamin’
Digging tunnels in the deep snow
Sheltered from the shiver of a ten below
And I’m right at home

I’m a Northern girl, wild and free
I’ve got four strong winds to carry me
I’ve been East to West and all around the world
But I’ll always be a Northern girl

Little cottage on a big lake
Sunshine would be a shame to waste
Warm days won’t last – come and go fast
Bonfire in the moonlight
People I’ve known all of my life
That’s where I belong
I’ve got four strong winds to carry me
I’ve been East to West and all around the world
But I’ll always be a Northern girl “

29 thoughts on ““The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth … the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need — if only we had the eyes to see. ” ~ Edward Abbey

  1. LY – that is really beautiful – what a lovely piece of British Columbia – Canadiana – I read it listening to Gordon Lightfoot (Katy) and Girl from the North Country (Tom Northcott). What a treat. You are a hero of mine.

    1. Laila

      Thank you Glen, I just start from my heart and the rest just comes. I don’t think my experiences are all that unique or amazing, but I am eternally lucky to have the ability to write about them… I hope that in sharing, people are prompted to share their experiences and perhaps learn a bit more about the area and rural life in general. I’m not a hero GP, just a regular person with maybe some crazy ideas about changing the world and young enough to think I can still do it. ; )

    1. Laila

      Thanks Kim, but I think I am lucky to have been brought into this world in such a neat place. I want to do right by my hometown even if I don’t live there anymore. It’s still home to me!

    1. Laila

      Thank you David, very appreciated. Stop making me blush..lol…I’m just a regular person like you and everyone else, in the good fight to the end.

  2. anonymous

    Thank you,for sharing this amazing post with us.Your talent as a writer breathes life into every word,I’m feeling your love for where you come from clearly. Sharing this!

    1. Laila

      Honoured that you read this, and your words mean so much to me! Yes, I love my home,with all it’s beauty and failings, for what it is and what it could become. I would be honoured to have you share this with your friends and readers, I hope to inspire people with this!

  3. Ron Sward

    I can relate to the Stars Laila. I remember one night in particular, long before they lit the highways with Mercury and Sodium vapour lights. This night was particularily bright because there was no moon, just the milky way to guide me down the highway from my friends house by the old Moonlight Drive in on Highway 16 west of town. I had to walk to Carney St. near 5th avenue long before the bypass was built.

    The Milky way was so bright I had to stop walking and just marvel at the brilliance of them. It took me forever to get home but I will never forget the walk and those stars. Like you, I felt so small, there were hardly any sattelights in those days so I wasn’t distracted by them. But what I remember most was how bright the stars were. I didn’t need a flashlight to see,the stars lit the way. Everything you wrote reminds me of growing up there and I to am so proud to have been raised in Prince George.

    1. Laila

      Wow… Ron, and thank you for sharing! I love knowing that you’ve had that experience too, that feeling is… well… hard to explain, even for me. I’m glad this touched you too. I’m still the kind of person who would rather spend a summer evening out on the hood of car watching the night sky than going to a fancy event or a party out – guess that comes from my growing up outside… Wow… before the bypass…lol.. i can recall back to when I was a little girl and Kresge’s was still downtown, and they had a soda counter where my grandparents used to take us for shakes and fries..lol. Or the Dog N Suds with the carhops!! .Now I am dating myself… eeek!

  4. Julie

    We have to hang on to our photo’s of yesterday, and keep our memory’s intact. That’s all we may have left.

    Oliver has announced, the Enbridge pipeline will be coming within a year. What does it matter to Harper and Olive, to pollute BC? They don’t live here, we do.

    Greed always comes first. Harper is permitting China to buy up the oil sands. They are bringing their own people to work their vast oil sands holdings. China refuses to pay Canadian wages.
    Who benefits the most from this pipeline? The giant oil and gas corporations who never pay their share of taxes will rake it in. They also are given our tax dollars, to subsidize them. Harper will also benefit immensely . Alberta to a lesser degree…wait until China brings their people to take Alberta’s jobs away from them.

    There is absolutely nothing in that insane venture, that does one thing for the BC people. Not once do they mention the F.N. food sources being destroyed, by a pipe burst or when the tanker spill happens. Harper knows damned well, well over 80% of the BC citizens are supporting the F.N. to stop these atrocities.

    Why is Harper even allowed to act as P.M. The election fraud and the robo-calls, all go right straight to Harper and his Conservatives. It was the 902 number, that gave them away. The records are posted on the, Blog Borg Collective web site.

    The election isn’t valid and Harper is not P.M. At least Quebec and Ontario, have told Harper to go to hell. Why should we co-operate with a lunatic, who wants to destroy our beautiful province, for his own greed?

    1. Laila

      Julie, I do believe without a doubt, without even thinking twice, that Harper will ram this project through. More on that in a moment. It is why memories and stories and people sharing real events and photos of these places impacted by projects like this have to spread far and wide. Thank you Julie.

  5. Hi Laila, that was lovely. Prince George is my home too. I grew up just west of town. I know a lot of people think Prince George is not so great but I think it has a loveliness of its own, and it is nestled in such wonderful wild country.

    I think of how much we love our homes and our wilderness, and I think of all the threatened homes north and west of me. Those people don’t want a pipeline through their home, and I don’t blame them one bit. I am supposed to speak to the JPR in July, but if it gets cancelled I guess I will be standing in front of bulldozers. Do you think a lot of people will stand up for those communities?

    1. Laila

      Thank you Karen! Always appreciate the kind words… and always love to hear from another PG’er! I think PG has a bum rap in large part because of how some areas look, which is really sad. Everything I wrote in my previous post is what is wrong with PG, but people like you and nearly everyone else, is what is right about this city. And yes, it is nestled in the most wonderful wild country imaginable!

      I think back now, and although we had modern conveniences like everyone else, it seemed like we were darn near pioneers at some points! We had a couple pigs we raised and laying chickens, both of which the bears loved to stalk and harass. One summer we had a sow and two cubs that claimed our yard as its territory and we were nearly house-bound all summer. Can’t get that down here!

      Your comment about the pipeline is timely. And here is why.
      I wrote this because I love my town, my family,my land, but also because a lot of people down here, just have never had the opportunity to live like that, to experience what it means to live off the land, sustainably, to see where moose mate, where they calve, where bear like to go for berries, where the great waterways spawn salmon and artic char and fish like people down here have never seen.

      This is my home, and yours. I bet you, like me, have been further north, have a very keen firsthand knowledge of what is at stake if those damn corporate pigs get their way.

      I now refer you to this post I wrote last year :

      “This is the time to say enough. And mean it. No more settling, no more rationalizing, and no more excuses.

      It is not enough to stand on the sidelines and say you watched and supported while others fought for your future. It is not enough to read the stories I bring you and say: ” Wow, that sucks- the government really is corrupt!” because what if next time it is your house in the way of a road? What if it is your business their overbuilt, over-priced project will run into ruin?

      Who will fight for you then?

      You must take your future into your own hands and fight for what it right and show this government they work for us – we don’t work for them.

      After all, we are all Egyptians.”

      I might be in PG during that review panel – I would love to hear more from you on that, email me via the contact page, ok?

      I will be writing a post on Enbridge shortly, since I have been writing about it since 2009, off and on, before it was the pressing peril of the moment. I have no doubt Harper is going to make it happen, all of this is a sham to appease the people. I would be more than honoured to stand beside you in front of some dozers Karen. Hands locked. This is a deal breaker of a project.

  6. Trailblazer

    I’m guessing you lived on Chief Lake Rd?
    I spent my first years in Canada living on ‘the Hart’.
    Living on Vancouver Island ; I miss the Northern Lights..
    The colderst weather I have ever experienced was -51 in the winter of 1974.
    As much as the dry north suited my aches & pains I still would not trade it for Vancouver Island.
    That said, PG played an important part of my life & i’m glad I experienced it for twelve years.

    1. Laila

      Haha! Nope, not Chief Lake road, but I did have a lot of friends out there. In fact, my best friend and i ran half way down the latter part of it from a black bear one afternoon, slipping and sliding on the tent caterpillars that were so think that year in migration, they were shovelling them off the doors to get into the house!

      Very honoured to have a fellow PG’er on the board! Wow..-51 eh? That’s pretty cold! I can recall one winter, would be about the early eighties, New Years Eve, and my grandparents van in the carport caught on fire… the whole end of the house was on fire and the fire department came – thank god they were on city water, closer in to town, but it was – 46 and wind chill, and the water was freezing nearly instantly on everything that wasn’t burning.

      I agree wholeheartedly about the dry cold though. Woke up to – 10 and it felt so warm to me… came back home, the first day I walked the children to school in the rain, and + 6, I thought I was freezing to death!

      I love the island too… Courtenay Comox area in particular. Would love to move there…

  7. Ree

    I enjoy your writing very much. Although I’ve lived on Vancouver Island for 25 years, I grew up in Smithers and still think of it as home. What I miss most are the mountains, the river and of course the sky. I remember the night sky being so alive, from the vivid northern light shows, the meteorite showers in August and the millions and millions of magical stars. I remember when a boyfriend and I would take our sleeping bags and sleep in a field far away from any street light just so we could watch the stars all night. I’ve been thinking about home even more lately now that its under threat of attack from the tar sands, enbridge and the government. And I will be back there standing in front of a bulldozer if it is allowed to go that far.

    1. Laila

      Thank you so much Ree!

      Smithers is a gorgeous town! Lovely, the statues along the main street, the flowers, very beautiful place to live with the river, mountains and valley. I can see you would have so much to miss… but Vancouver island is so gorgeous too, in a different way, but just as wild in some parts… loved hiking in Forbidden Plateau on Mt. Washington! WOW!!

      I think maybe I have been so homesick for the same reasons as you. Lovely image of you and past boyfriend in sleeping bags under the stars..lol.. that is something I am familiar with..( hope dad isn’t reading! )

      I think you can count on it going that far, too much money has changed hands, been invested and as mentioned to Karen above, I will be posting some thoughts on this shortly, some things I never thought about before talking with a friend back home about Enbridge….

      See my reply to Karen, and that old post… .It is no longer enough to say you sat on the sidelines and say you watched and supported while others fought for you. What if it is your house next time, your back yard, your land? You will fight for you then?

      Enbridge is everyones fight who cares about saving what we have left of this province, inland and along one of the most pristine coasts in the world. I will not back down, and I hope none of you will either.

  8. bernadettekeenan

    Sounds like it was a wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful experiences.
    Words and music to one of my favourite songs extolling the virtues of a distinctive Prince George landmark.
    Can relate to the stars. Drove up to Kamloops over spring break with my daughter and her friend, late at night. Highlight of the trip up? Stopping the car en route some where along the Coquihalla and looking out the window up at the night sky. My daughter had seen it before as have I, but we all three were still very impressed.

    1. Laila

      Haha! I have never heard that one Bernadette!! That is hilarious! True about the metal replacement,but he is still looking worse for wear.. I think a giant logger moose might be a fine replacement..lol…

      Sounds like you had a fun spring break too! Those stars really are something.I wonder how many people born and raised in the city don’t even know the night sky looks like that…

  9. katharina heitzmann

    that was beautiful laila thank-you. it sounds like a cold paradise. i would be proud to stand arm in arm with the rest of you in front of the bulldozers. this time harper has gone too far and must be stopped. enbridge will be stopped.

    1. Laila

      Thank you Katharina. Cold indeed, but a different kind of cold, doesnt chill you like the wet cold down here! I agree Harper must be stopped,before he sells off have this country to overseas interests and turns us all into Americans…

  10. Awesome post! Definitely love the night sky here throughout the winter. Eskers Park is another favorite place that could be on the list perhaps, its one of my favorite places for ice fishing.
    And just a few days ago we were driving along the University Way and saw a cow moose with her newborn calf. Gotta love PG!

  11. beachboxer

    Thank you Laila for a lovely trip HOME. I was born & raised in PG too. You took me right back to my childhood, although I was down here before those awful pine beetles. I remember the 40-50 below days. Even then school wasn’t ALWAYS cancelled. I Love being a Northern Girl as well. Don’t think I’ll ever lose it – I like it. I miss the REAL snow – the kind that squeaks when you walk on it, and the Winter Sunshine compensates for the cold. Then there are those warm Chinooks that tease you into Spring… so many good memories. jj

  12. Dale

    Hey there lovely lady….thanks for this. Sounds like we’ve spent an eternity in the outdoors, as reading this brought back so many memories of my own childhood Laila. My trips north where of my own relentless yearning of the outdoors, hunting, fishing, quadding and the like, often through PG onward to the Alaska Highway. It was on a trip home after an unsuccessful hunting trip (no game but an awesome time as always) I being on my own pulled over, as I felt I’d never see the sight that was bestowed upon me, that being the Northern Lights as I’d never seen them before. Moving with a fluid motion, mainly green in color, which would then turn to looking like car headlights in the sky. I was mesmerized, and it’s a memory burned into my grey matter. I watched for nearly an hour…when I finally thought I had many miles to put on that evening still.
    With so many trips to, and through PG I found the people living there to be a gregarious bunch, full of life and always helpful. Work has taken me to…and through as well, and will continue to I’m sure…so many more memories to come in the future I’m sure.

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