This article originally appeared in Outdoor Photography Canada Magazine.
Most of us have an outdoor environment where we feel at home; a place that is soul-settling. It could be an old farm or a city park, the ocean shoreline or the vast boreal forest, but it is a place where we seem to be able to reconnect with ourselves both physically and spiritually. For example, I love both the prairie and the mountains equally and feel a strong sense of belonging in both environments. But it’s where these two environments merge that I really feel a sense of connection and where the energy of a place runs through my veins. In particular, the Kootenay Plains in the Bighorn Wildlands near Nordegg, Alberta is a special place for me, not only for the confluence of plain and peak, but also because of the indelible stamp of childhood memory.
I spent my sixth summer running wild in the Kootenay Plains under the caring eyes of my grandparents. At the time, the area was undergoing a radical change with the approval and eventual construction of the Big Horn Dam on the North Saskatchewan River. Sasquatch sightings were plentiful that summer as the Stoney people tried to protect their sacred lands and grave sites from being lost under a flood of water. I remember seeing the ‘sasquatch’ almost daily and still have fond memories of the mythical sightings which for me were as common as seeing a raven or a blue jay.
My grandfather was a grader operator maintaining the gravel roads in the area and he also fostered close relationships with the Stoney people. We were often invited to participate in traditional ceremonies celebrating the Stoney’s connection to the land that they loved. I remember dancing under clear blue Kootenay skies dressed in leather, feather and bead and feeling part of the sacred Sun Dance ceremony. The sound of rhythmic drumming and ululating singing still echoes in my mind every time I return to the Kootenay Plains. These early experiences took deep root within me. They are the reason why, whenever I return to the Kootenay Plains, my troubles seem to fall away and artistic expression comes more naturally than at other places.
I think the reason why I always feel at ease when I return to the Kootenay Plains is because part of me has never left. There is still a blonde-headed, tanned little boy whooping through the aspen stands, dressed in his moccasins and pelts, making the acquaintance of every rock, tree and stream in his path. Getting back in touch with the freedom I experienced in that summer, the freedom to be myself and be a part of nature, is a huge fuel for my creative drive. Even if you can’t think of a special place off the top of your head, you may want to consider investing the time to find your own small scrap of paradise. The artistic soul drinks thirstily when you do.