Issue No. 5 // Environ/mental

Photographer: Jason van Bruggen

Location: Northwest Territories, Canada

Editorial  //  by Jill Macdonald


Uncorrupted, beautiful, powerful – throughout history we have decided to beat back the wild, unruly environment and alter it to something less frightening, more civilized. Over generations our responses to nature have moderated, fluctuating between fearful and reverent, immersed and removed. Yet we have both changed and been changed by its force.

Today, true wilderness exists only in ragged strips and isolated pockets, scattered across various continents. Its daily transformative and healing effects are experienced by a rare percentage of the entire population. As recreationalists, we cannot deny a certain rationalization that involves fossil fuels, plastics, adhesives and other nasty business to get our hit of grace.

However, emerging lifestyles that embrace technology can live sustainably, on their own grid. Copyright law can be used to block multinational oil corporations. Traditional protests that have created change are on the rise, with new, global targets. In Canada’s north, generations of wisdom are available for us to re-learn what once was normal.

In this digital, corporate moment of human habitation on Earth, our actions will tip the scale toward an irreversible picture of the future. What will that be and who holds the balance? The answer may never be entirely clear. But the path forward is – choose Earth.



"It is the people’s right to have access to the remote places of safest retreat from the fever and fret of the market place and the beaten tracts of life." In 1907 Elizabeth Parker predicted the need for wilderness retreats: Hoji, Lusti and Forrest Coots visit the Alpine Club of Canada’s Great Cairn Hut.



Canada is famous for abundance – of space, trees, wildlife and raw materials. It was normal for everyone to know how to catch a fish and to see mountains free of clearcuts. But that is no longer true – with the exception of the north. What is the normal we wish to create in this raw and fragile wilderness?



Chad Manley, Daniel Irvine and Michael Lis revisit Ski Dubai through the lens of architecture. What the bizarre experience of skiing in the desert made them think about – aside from Oscar Wilde.



"The land is a painting." In the case of artist Peter von Tiesenhausen vs Alliance Pipeline, there was more than the surface of his 800 acres of land in the balance; there was the authorship of his body of work. How the Albertan landscape artist beat a powerful corporation with a clever piece of law.



Outdoor photography demands patience and pushing myself physically and emotionally, but the reward is capturing those moments that transcend everything; they define their own light and beauty.



From the clash of technology with consumer culture and the heartsickness that a busy, overconnected life generates, a new lifestyle is emerging: Homiesteaders. Free of the grid, free to make their own hours, but hellbent on the quality and sport of performance living.



Waving signs and shouting slogans – how uncool, how pre-digital. And yet, how effective. Between 1993 and 2000, the amount of B.C. parkland doubled and has continued to rise ever since. With the undeniable effects of global warming brings a new wave of civil disobedience. Stand by or join in?


"Absolution can be found above treeline."

Photographer: Angela Percival

Location: Great Cairn Hut, Selkirk Mountains, BC

Mountain Culture  //  by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Angela Percival



The Great Cairn Hut is an island of refuge amongst an imposing blue ice and barren rock landscape. With the exception of a pine marten, this tiny, poetic stone shelter is the only sign of habitation, rarely visited and perfect for all these reasons.

Also known as the Ben Ferris Hut, the rustic structure sits at the foot of Mount Sir Sanford (3519m) in the northern part of the Selkirk Mountain range. Apprehensive about future popular culture and how it would affect the role of our mountain heritage, the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) built refuges like the Great Cairn to preserve the opportunity for Canadians to access remote wilderness. Journalist Elizabeth Parker of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote this in the 1907 edition of the Canadian Alpine Journal: "It is the people's right to have primitive access to the remote places of safest retreat from the fever and fret of the market place and the beaten tracts of life."

Great Cairn Hut, Selkirk Mountain Range, British Columbia

What is the state of this essential aspect of our national identity? A new guard of high powered backcountry advocates has emerged: Christina Lustenberger, Eric Hjorleifson and Forrest Coots; all ex-ski racers, under 35 and at the forefront of their sport, are carving out a new way of skiing and being in the mountains. It’s not the internet they need; it is simplicity and an outlet for advanced athleticism.

April 19-27 2014, Great Cairn Hut. Objectively, the purpose of going here was to ski some couloirs and climb Sir Sanford. Without a water source or wood supply, not large enough for six people to turn around in at the same time, the crew descended on the Great Cairn with solar panels for charging iPods and camera batteries, a satellite phone for detailed weather reports, plus a quiver of ski gear that would not have been out of place in Chamonix or Whistler. High powered athletes and kit injected into old school accommodation.



Most days the valley was a cold and hot white soup, swirled with hints of mountains. Christina pitched her tent just above the cabin and immediately it seemed as though she had always lived there. Hers was the dawn patrol, the food cache, route decisions and weather analysis.

The Northern Selkirks are remote, with granite spires and big glaciated terrain where everything sits above treeline. It tends to be stormy, with unpredictable visibility and poor stability. Each day there was much discussion about winds: kabatic wind, anabatic wind and temperature gradients. Christina was the unofficial leader, as a veteran of the area and an assistant ski guide. Her first visit was in 2011, skiing into the Great Cairn from the west. A stressful three day journey, but in the end she tagged a first descent of the South Couloir on Adamant Mountain. "If you keep moving your thoughts move through you, cleansing as you go." Internal focus took her to the 3345m summit and down the 55 degree couloir, alone. Lus-ti.

Restless much of the time, she was most at ease with her skis on. In the hut she was rarely still, constantly cooking, cleaning, checking maps and weather; or she was gone to her tent. It could be that this is an unconscious strategy amongst this new guard – without stillness, certain emotions cannot be experienced. Or maybe they seek landscapes that have greater clarity of purpose.

Take back simple. Wake with the sun; go to bed when you're tired. Push your perspective.


It was austere. With the exception of a pine marten that haunted the hut, the only signs of wildlife were wolverine tracks and one bird. Avalanche activity erupted as soon as the sun came out. On a dawn run day, clear hot weather heat drove the group back early, chased by giant snowballs and slow moving releases. "I feel silent when I'm moving across snow." The Great Cairn was a pebble on a blazing white baking dish. She dug a snow couch, a living room and a chair for the iPod station while everyone else slept.

Ex-Canadian National Team ski racer and Olympic competitor, Lusti is a racehorse, a thoroughbred. She is emotional, flirtatious and powerful. It would have been easy to just be in awe of this graceful and strong, independent person but that doesn't do her justice; she is also reserved and humble. This woman is not one of the boys.

Highly skilled, hard working and vulnerable, she is all about the team and the moment. The pine marten, nicknamed Steve, waited hopefully outside her tent each night, hopelessly in love.

There is a fresh wind blowing in the backcountry.



Born and raised in Canmore, Hoji is a true product of competitive mountain culture. From his days on the junior circuit, he has long been familiar with early mornings, cold temperatures and discipline – which might explain why mischief and opinions just leak out of him.

"Action sports have pushed the human mind farther than ever by pushing the limits of what the human body can do, in time and progression." In context – we were talking about what the technical revolution of the new guard brings into settings like the Great Cairn. Back in the day, Ben Ferris never imagined anyone skiing Sir Sanford or any of the couloirs in the area, much less that they would easily rewrite this austere and lonely landscape with elegant scripts at rocket speed. Everything today is accelerated, compressed, powered by higher efficiency and extremely demanding. It's a volatile combination with an insatiable appetite.

This is why Eric refers to the 'valley bottom blues', the uncomfortable, gnawing feeling that something essential is wrong with the world, but absolution can be found above treeline. "I wake up, put on my boots, Christina makes me bacon and I go skiing." It is worth noting that Eric was in his ski boots (and pants) from dawn until…well, who knows; maybe he slept in them. He reported spending a good part of each night awake, battling Steve Marten over the entrance to his snow cave.

Action sports have pushed the human mind farther than ever by pushing the limits of what the human body can do.


For someone who has risen to the top of a fearless pack, Eric is remarkably unaffected and true to his nature. That is to say he is exceptionally demanding – of his equipment and himself. Within the first 24 hours, Eric had reorganized the drying ropes, the shelf system, made a pot handle and fixed Forrest's bindings. No wonder then that he travels with a tool kit that weighs several pounds and is crammed with spare parts and components that can be made into something better.

"The best way to learn and understand conditions for mountain travel is to be immersed in it." Knowledge comes from experience. Where consequences are high, concerns are real and immediate. In the face of this, ironically, anxiety diminishes. "Wash a fork, shred a line. It doesn't matter. Things don't have to be hard to be valid."

Apt words and reflective of the new way – technology is a tool. Let it do the work, use it for play and then put it away. In the remote reaches of silence, the heart grows three sizes.



"I have a lot of bad habits." At first glance, Forrest doesn't give an impression of his capabilities. Call it the Shasta-zone, his humble, mellow appearance and neutral energy – neutral as in ready to ignite, but on standby. He's introspective, quiet and American, in a founding fathers kind of way: intelligent, caring, and liberal. He was also king of the iPod amplified in a cup and had endless playlists that appealed to everyone. Like Eric and Christina, Forrest spent a lot of years on the competitive circuit, to the point where it was no longer fun and he dropped it after he went off to college.

"The true essence of the sport is moving gracefully through the mountains. Get away from all the bullshit." What brought Forrest back to skiing was an experience of deep personal loss. In the backcountry was the only place he could find peace and move forward. On big mountains Forrest rediscovered an outlet for emotion and freedom of expression. He rips over the terrain, aware of remote triggers, overhead hazards and slabs, using speed to make the least impact. "Climbing scares the hell out of me. I can scratch my way up, but I'm really not comfortable until my skis are on my feet." He goes far and wide, not to accumulate anything or to stand off against unknown dangers, but simply in the pursuit of grace. Usually the front man, Forrest had his pockets filled with chew and candies, not typical for someone who grew up in Mount Shasta with very alternative parents, in a weird mountain culture that could only exist in California. "There are a lot of portals there." Not that he believes in them, but as a summer ranger on Shasta he has witnessed a vast number of lost souls, both literally and metaphysically. This helps explain his generous patience, quiet reticence and largeness of heart.

Get up, go, don't think about it too much.


There are no bad days in the mountains. Sir Sanford was not climbed but no one expressed defeat. At the end of the day, Forrest would often head back first to make the fire, noticing that Christina was quiet, wrapped in an internal process. This too shall pass. Tomorrow is another ski day.

Over 100 years ago, the original founders of the Alpine Club of Canada, including Elizabeth Parker, were already apprehensive about the future of our mountain heritage. The club's original mandate, dated 1906, had five main objectives:

Great Cairn Hut, Selkirk Mountain Range, British Columbia

Admitting that we are uncomfortable, in general, is new. Is it about technology, is it about the pace, or is it the fine line we ride between private and communal. In the digital era, nothing is sacred. The new world tries to enforce that only the publicly personal resonates, but the sharing on this trip was subliminal. Vital. Another night, another memory; no one needed to announce it.

Elizabeth Parker was correct; "It would be a great thing for young Canadians if all the automobiles vanished into space and walking for pleasure became the fashion." We have barely managed to maintain our right to remote spaces. Passing the torch is critical.

On our last night, Steve Marten went on a tear. He threw himself at the windows for hours on end, tried to penetrate the snow cave and haunted the outskirts of Christina's tent. Just before dawn, Eric finally took him on, valiantly defending Christina's honour and letting the cabin residents get some sleep.

Headed back to separate lives and the certainty of valley bottom blues, it was tempting to stay behind. From the Great Cairn Hut there are views of peaks and glaciers in all directions. It is the loudest form of quiet and the deepest sense of isolation. The new guard is pushing all kinds of limits, from technical to personal, translating an essential need into a profound, if temporary, peace.

"As soon as we fly out, it's all over." Eric Hjorleifson

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"Can we strike a balance between extraction, recreation and conservation?"

Photographer: Jason van Bruggen

Location: Northwest Territories, Canada

Environment, Exploration  //  Words and Photography by Jason van Bruggen


For several years I have made regular trips to the north, spending months at a time above the 60th parallel, the invisible border where the land changes from northern boreal forest to barren tundra. Professionally and personally, my immersion in the north of this country has influenced choices I've made in profound ways that living other places did not. I loved Africa's wild and unpredictable spaces; I admired Europe's efficiency and unique social intelligence, but no other geographic experience has meant as much to me as the staggering privilege of accessing unlimited and untamed backcountry.

What happens to me there has caused me to look at our northern wilderness in a more philosophical and meaningful way. Canada's north is one of the few destinations where we can re-immerse ourselves in a wilderness devoid of scars left by humans and be left to discover, explore, and restore our once normal selves.

The North represents the vast abundance that this country is famous for – trees, minerals, wildlife and clean water.

As we move from an age of abundance to one of scarcity, increasing pressure is placed on our northern communities, resources and traditions. The North represents the vast abundance that this country is famous for – trees, minerals, wildlife and clean water – an abundance that has fueled our almost unconscious economic development as a nation and shaped the way that we value and define ourselves as Canadian. The North has been our normal.

But normal is changing quickly. For previous generations normal was a vast untamed wilderness, unknown and boundless, punctuated by occasional frenzied migrations. In my generation normal shifted. It became a set of precious and suddenly finite commodities, as money and people flooded the backcountry. Now it's normal to encounter vast clear-cut forests just beyond the treed edge of highways. We hike and bike alongside busy thoroughfares; make use of 'urban wilderness'; go fishing and catch nothing. In the span of my lifetime, the out of sight and out of mind strategy has normalized a disturbed landscape and alienated us from our impact and interaction with it. The idealized narrative around our birthright wilderness experience has changed. The normal that my father immigrated to this country to discover and understand, stories of which fascinated me as a child, is no longer. Yet in spite of all of this, in the North, true wilderness still exists.

Record numbers of forest fires burned throughout the Northwest Territories.

This year, I started out in Yellowknife. Record numbers of forest fires burned throughout the Northwest Territories, turning the sun into a red ball on the horizon. The city was engulfed in a post-apocalyptic yellow haze and the air smelled like a massive incinerator. Around it, major highways were closing and lodges and communities were being abandoned. The urban centre was being held hostage by nature. In itself, blatant evidence of climate change affecting urban centers is not news. Witness the 2013 floods in Toronto and Calgary. Yet in the north the full brunt of nature is constant, an undercurrent and a force against which human agency is puny.

Flying over the Mackenzie River in a small plane to reach the remote community of Norman Wells, my staging area for six weeks, the waterway dominates the landscape, looking innocuous and sluggish from above, when in reality it is deceptively lethal. At times referred to as Canada's 'Cold Amazon', these yellowish braids of powerful, meanly cold water took the life of a young man on my first night there, reminding me how precarious life is and how quickly things can change in a place that does not give second chances.

Odds are I was the first person to set foot on that bit of terrain.

This cruel austerity is exactly what compels many to journey here. For Canadians, it is also about connecting with our collective heritage and turning back the clock. In a visceral, experiential way we remind ourselves of the hardships indigenous and early European Canadians faced on a daily basis. Making important choices based on weather and imminent risks is a requirement of travelling through this landscape. Very few people who have spent time in this part of the world have not felt how the razor's edge between survival and peril is much thinner and sharper here. In a landscape this remote and unforgiving, we are inevitably forced to question our assurances around the modern conveniences we take for granted: food, shelter and transport. We are reminded of a more perilous and historic definition of normal, one with little hope of intervention, but the great promise of exploration.

Paddling the Horton River to Franklin Bay on the Arctic Ocean was the first leg of my expedition. For over two weeks, aside from those who paddled with me, I didn't see another human. Not surprising on an Arctic River. In fact, as one of only two or three groups on the river this year, no more than 30 people will see that landscape in 2014. Odds are that any time I stepped out of my boat and went for a hike I was the first person to set foot on that bit of terrain. In this day and age that is a remarkable thing, something that one might expect of an unexplored ocean floor rather than a terrestrial landscape in a developed country.

Paddling the Horton River to Franklin Bay on the Arctic Ocean.

As the Territories remain sparsely settled, many potential and active developments here are virtually free of public scrutiny. The remoteness of these areas, which for centuries offered a degree of protection, is now a key factor in an emerging pattern of rapid development. The Peel, home to some of Canada's greatest and most iconic paddling rivers and abundant wildlife, is also the Yukon's largest coal deposit (in the Bonnet Plume basin) and staked with upwards of 8,000 mineral claims. If a significant mineral deposit is mined, it could start a cascade of development. Currently there is very little regulatory structure in place to prevent this from happening. Canadians should acknowledge that the debate around defining responsible future utilization of this wilderness is elevating in urgency. We should be asking important questions about what we want our normal to become.

For many Northerners hunting wild game is a way of life and has been for over ten thousand years. It is one of the most traditional things to do. By hunting and harvesting caribou, moose or Dall sheep, indigenous groups retain tradition, culture and can cut a family's grocery bill in half. These days, pressure on game populations is amplified by trophy seekers from around the world who pay huge tag fees to mount antlers on their walls, a welcome source of income. Coincidentally, the large racks these hunters are seeking tend to belong to the eldest males in the herd, animals that are typically past their reproductive prime and nearing the end of their lives. Many will starve over the course of a long winter.

With their own longevity in mind, outfitters are now focusing clients on those animals to give them what they came for, effectively culling their managed herds. By doing so they have created a model for long-term species conservation that appears to be working; game populations are allegedly stable in the hunting concessions I visited (although not in all parts of NWT). Individuals or families are managing 99-year renewable leases of prime hunting territory, each the size of a small country, striking a tenuous balance between profitability and stewardship. Increasingly, efforts are made to harvest nearly all parts of the animal, feeding staff and guests at game lodges and giving parts of the kill(s) to nearby communities.

The so-called Barren Lands are in fact, an Arctic Serengeti, that is to say a wildlife refuge of global significance. In the more southerly rivers I travelled, Arctic Grayling, numbering in the hundreds, turned a creek near Drum Lake in the Mackenzie Mountains into a liquid flow of blue and silver fish. I walked amongst them just to feel them brushing against my legs, the water-borne embodiment of determination. The abundance of wildlife we saw – moose, caribou, wolves, grizzly, muskox – was only surpassed by what we didn't see; we missed, by a matter of days, tens of thousands of caribou on their migration through the Horton watershed.

In sharp contrast to this abundance, the permafrost landscape often crumbles underfoot. I was amazed by the limestone and colourful sulfur-rich lignite deposits in the upper reaches of the Western Arctic, so delicate that they cannot support extended use by large groups. Game trails, usually barely visible in the tundra, form pronounced troughs through this fragile landscape. With its delicate balance between cruelty and wonder, the integrity and wildness of the North, one of the last frontiers on the planet, is part of our DNA as Canadians.

Can we strike a balance between extraction, recreation and conservation?

We have the opportunity to author an outcome that works for our long-term best interests. Faced with increased pressure from mining and resource development interests, this vulnerable, powerful and raw landscape has boundless potential for remote hiking, backcountry camping, mountaineering and wildlife viewing. Can we strike a balance between extraction, recreation and conservation? How does a nickel mine comfortably co-exist with a world-class wilderness canoe route?

My hope is that normal in Canada's North doesn't change too much or too quickly. Moreover my hope is that a multi-generational perspective is applied to the important decisions about how we view and develop an emerging vision of normal in this region. Very few places in the world have this same opportunity.

The Canadian North is one of the greatest and emptiest canvases on the planet; as Canadians, it is up to us to consciously define what that looks like. The opportunity to be good stewards still exists.

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"Illusion and self-deception are among our culture’s noblest means of processing our environment."

Photographer: Jordan Manley

Location: Dubai, U.A.E.

Skiing, Environment // by Daniel Irvine, Chad Manley and Michael Lis; Photography by Jordan Manley


Freed of the long shadow cast by Dubai Tourism, skier and designer Chad Manley, along with Daniel Irvine and Michael Lis, take a critical look at Ski Dubai – the building.

"We wanted to examine a) Ski Dubai's hyper-responsive nature, its extraordinary production of an environ/mental landscape, and b) its more obvious hyper-irresponsive nature (fridge in the desert!). Dubai is a good example of the kind of shell that humans build around ourselves to incubate us from something other – even if the end results are disastrous. We're looking at how architecture both mediates and conditions our experience between the mind and the environment."


Our story takes place inside Ski Dubai as our two protagonists challenge the concept of indoor skiing in the desert – A Conversation on Architecture and the Environment based on Oscar Wilde’s 1891 The Decay of Lying.


This place is a nightmare... I can’t believe you convinced me to come skiing here.! I am ill with carbon-guilt.


Oh come now Cyril, freshen up! Here we are in the desert and it snows inside every day! I’d say it’s a miracle of nature.


This nature you refer to... It comes at the expense of desalination plants and air conditioning that is causing the loss of real snow – in the real world!


If the real world was more comfortable, mankind would not have had to invent buildings, or fancy outdoor clothing for that matter. Indoors, we feel the proper proportions. And I don’t see you communing with mountains in the nude.


But what of wilderness? The constant challenge to our assumptions, our comfort, our mortality. It provides the opportunity for nourishing contact with what we cannot control.


We had "real" wilderness on the way here. That 50ºC desert we drove through left me with heatstroke as a result of its “nourishing contact,” as you put it.


But it’s a theme park – a mockery of a great tradition!


Cyril, you are such a downer! No point in mourning what is already dead and gone. Perhaps indoor hills are the future of your beloved skiing and in that case, we should embrace them. We should imagine ourselves explorers in a brave new landscape!

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"If I sell a painting to you, you're not allowed to change it without my consent... The land is a painting"

Photographer: Peter von Tiesenhausen

Location: Dermitt, Alberta

Law, Art  //  by Anne Casselman, Photography by Peter von Tiesenhausen


Back in 1990 Peter von Tiesenhausen quit his job as a heavy equipment operator to become an artist in Demmitt, Alberta. That same year he started the picket fence, his longest running piece of artwork (titled "Lifeline"). He began by building an eight foot section, which he painted white, and every spring since, he's added another eight foot section.

Von Tiesenhausen has grown into an internationally acclaimed multimedia artist with more than 50 solo exhibitions across North America and Europe. He is also perpetually famous across the internet, and in art circles, as the man who copyrighted his land to protect it from the oil and gas industry.

In 1996, when the fence was 48-feet long, von Tiesenhausen started to get calls from Alliance Pipeline. Smack-dab in the middle of the gas-rich Deep Basin, his family's 800-acre parcel of land was on the path of a proposed natural gas pipeline. The artist refused to let the pipeline pass and was threatened with arbitration. He still refused. Next, money was offered – substantial money. His answer was still no. What he did next, no one saw coming. "I claimed copyright like I would claim copyright on a painting," the artist explains.

"If I sell a painting to you, you're not allowed to change it without my consent. That's just part of the Canadian copyright law and so basically I claimed the same thing on my project here," says von Tiesenhausen. "The land is a painting." At that point, von Tiesenhausen had created countless pieces of sculptural and conceptual art on his property.

"He has really dedicated a life to this land. The sculptural objects on his land are kind of a philosophy," says Naomi Potts, director of the Esker Foundation in Calgary and curator of von Tiesenhausen's recent exhibition 'Experience of the Precisely Sublime'. "There is no separation between his life and his work; it's all one."

It's a gradation of time. It's a measurement of a life. It's a commitment to a place. It's a consciousness of mortality.


Suffice it to say, von Tiesenhausen's canvas of land has remained intact. As for the fence, it is now 200-feet long. At one end it's fresh and shiny white, while at other it is almost 25 years old, a weathered statement of profound beauty. "It's a gradation of time. It's a measurement of a life. It's a commitment to a place. It's a consciousness of mortality," says von Tiesenhausen. "And I think it ties my ass my to this place, so I can't really leave and I understood that after I finished the first section."

This spring, sometime in May or June weather-depending, von Tiesenhausen will set out with 15 pickets, 2 two-by-fours, a post and a bucket of paint to add to his lifelong oeuvre. The older he gets and the longer the fence, the more profound the experience, he says: "I remove anything that reminds me that I'm part of this society and this time and I just try to be in the light and the wind and in my consciousness."

Just this year someone asked Peter von Tiesenhausen whether the old section of fence was a grave site. "Who's buried there?" they asked him. "Well actually, maybe my previous self," was his reply.

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Photographer: Jeremy Koreski

An iconic symbol of strength lays soaked and abandoned. Without context, the viewer superimposes their own ideas of circumstance.

Photography  //  Photography by Angela Percival and Brian Goldstone


Mountain environments have an incredible number of moods because of the constant changes and interactions between weather, wind, rain, snow and combinations of these events with different light. Often temperamental, they are always staggeringly beautiful and create unforgettable moments; this is what I love about outdoor photography. Working between what is predictable and what is spontaneous.






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"A new global breed that sustains their own grid: more autonomy equals less bullshit."

Photographer: Dennis Owen

Location: Maurelle Island, BC

Lifestyle  //  Edited by Jill Macdonald


The term homiesteader first appeared in my life in a conversation with Keith Berens; he tossed the word out and I immediately knew who he was talking about. It's impossible to be from rural BC and not be able to identify these unique species: hippy rednecks, motorhead environmentalists and... homiesteaders.

Homiesteaders are a new global breed, the product of contemporary and alternative lifestyles merging into each other. Challenged by the restrictions of an urban setting, yet totally dialed into technology and current popular culture, the homiesteader opts for an environment where a person can be close to nature, sustain their own grid and be free to pursue the sport and the art of performance living.

Homiesteaders blend old with new and turn the adage of less is more somewhat on its head: more autonomy equals less bullshit. Read their stories below.


Kootneys, BC


Maurelle Island, BC


Moretown, Vermont


Isfjorden, Norway


by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Ali Watts and Nick Diamond

1985. Keith Berens appeared in the back alley of a suburban Vancouver residential area, camping in a van, fresh off a dirtbag stint in Joshua Tree. He was a friend of someone in the house, another climber probably, who could tell. Six university students occupied the three levels of the house and there were always new faces in the kitchen.

Fast forward a bunch of years and Keith has settled into the Kootenays. His successful Live Metal Works sculpture and trophy business is being operated out of his straw bale home – completely off the grid.

Live Metal Works produced the first stick men candle holders that rode mountain bikes and scaled metal peaks. Keith turned old car springs, huge gear wheels, grates and other pieces of industrial metal into beautiful tables and household furniture. In the early 90's he was cutting snowboards in half and creating the first split boards that fastened together with metal clasps. All the while moving further off the grid and closer to the creative pulse. "I wanted to create a human expression of my experience in the outdoors."

I wanted to create a human expression of my experience in the outdoors.


Like many, Keith credits his outdoor passion with saving his life. It's a metaphorical expression, but only to some degree; there is a hard truth to the calm that can be brought to internal disorder through the rigorous concentration and problem solving that mountain sports require. "What you see online and in magazines is not anything about how you feel or live. Most of it is failed or staged, and it isn't authentic. Through my work I want to tap back into why we actually do this. Why live like this."

It's important to separate the soul of mountain sports from the hype and marketing of it. For Keith, risk is the least attractive element. "Just being alive and keeping up to my thoughts is enough of a challenge." Make no mistake about the romanticism of his life. Homiesteading is a full time job. Keith regularly puts his climbing skills to work 'plumbineering' as he calls it, scaling his waterline back upslope to fix flow issues. Winter requires a no fear approach to plowing the steep switchbacks on his road. Bears and other wildlife populate nights, and trips to town really have to be worth it. But he never runs out of hot water and power outages simply mean putting more gas in the generator.

Plus, he has a cabin that's going to be featured on How sick is that. He has wireless internet, solar powered appliances and some sort of box that turns a portable phone into a cell phone. He runs two computers and plays the latest techno music at full volume in his shop. A geodesic dome tent houses a giant wood-turning tool of his invention, and the on-property mode of transportation is a quad or mountain bike. This life is not hard, but it requires hardcore dedication.

"My work is inspired by what I've learned in mountain sports and by spending time in natural environments… People want something that's real."


by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Dennis Owen

Rob and Laurie Wood are well-known mountaineers in the Coast Range. The Homathko Valley and the venerable Mt Waddington is their back pocket – a place they know as well as their own property on Maurelle Island. When Rob and Laurie decided to move closer to their mountains in 1970, they purchased a share in a 20 person land cooperative. It is a boat access only piece of solace.

The Wood's story is rich, filled with actions to save Strathcona Park, teaching young alpinists and mentoring the most promising. Many friends have been through their lives and many lost. Death is commonplace in alpine circles. Aging is less so.

Only 12 people currently live on Maurelle Island. It is a boat ride through Surge Narrows away from Quadra Island, which is a ferry ride away from Campbell River on Vancouver Island, which is a two hour drive and another ferry away from Vancouver. After a serious health incident diminished Rob's mobility and physical strength, isolation is not as peaceful. Decisions taken 40 years ago begin to have different manifestations. But he still romps around the woods with a grin and a surefootedness that many would envy.

You need to be in an appropriate state of mind to be in the mountains. Perception and awareness have to be tuned into the environment. Ego has no place.


Over the two days I spent with the Woods, we talked about mountains and love. What has come of Rob's health experience and his years of designing houses according to his organic architecture principles is a great desire to share, to connect with the world and to hopefully transmit his wealth of experience. "You need to be in an appropriate state of mind to be in the mountains. Perception and awareness have to be tuned into the environment. Ego has no place."

The connection between the mind, the body and, for lack of a more precise word, the universe – this is what allows the likes of Dean Potter and Alex Honnold to accomplish unwatchable acts of transcending fear. "When we become so engaged in the situation that we become part of it, then our minds open to the environment telling us what to do. We transcend fear-based conditioning and become more fully conscious." This empowers us with heightened performance and survival capability.

He doesn't sound like a codgy old mountain goat talking. Rob recognizes that mountains have not changed; mountaineers have. "If I had talked about buildings creating a feeling, I would have been laughed out of architecture school. The same is true about climbers in my day. We were supposed to be detached."

He left the practice of contemporary architecture because "it was lifeless, imposing order rather than simply revealing the order that is already there. As in mountaineering, you can't afford to place a plan on top of the situation. Alpinism is an interaction between person and place."

Getting it done is not the objective. Setting the stage for a new generation, the Wood homestead is supported by a web of connections that link mountains and people through open doors and conversation.

"No one is entirely self-reliant. You need your relationships."


Words and Photography by Jakob Schiller

A 'weekdays lifestyle' is what Emily Johnson, Brian Mohr and their nineteen-month-old daughter Maiana lead on their wooded piece of land a couple miles outside the center of Moretown, Vermont. By making work and play the same thing, their schedule flexes according to snowfall, sunshine and the need to ride pristine single track around their home.

Brian and Emily have chosen to merge their home life with their work life. Photographers both, they spin their daily adventures into stories and images that celebrate their lifestyle and generate income. If the snow falls they ski, and if it's slow and hot, they can hang out and swim in the pond amongst their gardens and woodlot.

"I've always made it a goal to never have a busy season," Brian says. "I've also made it a goal to try and never sit in traffic."

It has been an evolution getting here. Emily, 37 and Brian, who's 40, met in Boulder, Colorado. He was working as a planner and she was finishing a degree in art and education. They discovered that they both had a passion for skiing and biking and within a couple years of meeting, they'd cycled through Iceland and the Andes and racked up a significant number of shared powder days.

Eventually they moved to Vermont, bought a couple of acres with a stream and a fixer-upper house that Brian has refurbished piece by piece, using mostly scrap materials. But in 2005, they went all in, leaving traditional jobs behind to rely exclusively on the storytelling and images.

"There have been many different times where we had a choice of having our time or making more money and we tend to choose time," Emily says.

Because they don't have to run off of an external schedule, the family cultivates a huge garden on their land. They also preserve foods like crazy so that they can enjoy their produce and fruits throughout the year. Every fall they spend five to seven weeks on the three acres of land they own on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. Just a mile from the coast and great surfing, they live in an open-air bungalow that is completely off the grid. The couple estimates that they have spent well over a 1,000 nights sleeping outside or in a tent, many of those with Maiana. All of this helps keep their pace of life slow and manageable.

Both Brian and Emily know they're never going to have a huge income. "We've been conscious about not taking on too many things so that we can have this life." Vermont style homiesteading for Emily, Brian and Maiana is about the wealth of time and richness of activity.


Words and Photography by Mattias Fredriksson

Less than three years ago Tommy and Renate Soleim lived an hour from Norway's capitol Oslo where they ran a successful family jewellery business. They worked a lot, the money rolled in, and almost all their spare time was spent in the outdoors – hiking with their dogs or Tommy chased his passion for mountain biking. But they were not completely satisfied.

"We were asking ourselves if we should just continue with our lives or try to make a real change and follow our dream of living in the mountains. It became the latter." Renate looks out the window. Rugged mountain peaks are punctuated by Troll Wall, a 1000 metre cliff, the tallest vertical rock face in Europe.

Sitting in the Soleim's kitchen, an old house from 1859 with internet and cell service, listening to Tommy and Renate's story, is pretty surreal. Two and a half years ago they moved to Isfjorden, a remote mountain village with 1300 inhabitants, on the Norwegian west coast six hours by car from Oslo. The region is called the Romsdalen valley and is world famous among climbers and base jumpers.

Before making the move the Soleim's had figured out a new business idea – guiding and accommodating city people in the mountains, people who love the outdoors yet are tied to city life. Tommy loves to host and gives the guests a true mountain experience. Renate is the organizer, with a strong passion for cooking. Through low budget, social media driven promotion, Romsdal Adventure has rapidly developed enough clients to employ several people in the tiny village. This is actually how I found them, through searching for new places to go mountain biking in Norway.

"Some periods it's lots to do, other times it's calm and nice. We have enough free time so we can enjoy the outdoors but we also love to have guests here." Tommy says the guests enjoy the simple, rustic house and relaxed feeling of furniture made from recovered driftwood and recycled planks from a fallen down barn that frame the doors and windows. "That was due to economic and sustainable reasons", Tommy explains. "We simply could not afford to buy new furniture but it was also nice to be able to use all the material we found."

To add even more character to the place, an abandoned shoe factory stands behind their house. Built in 1918, it was the first building in the area to receive electricity and a telephone. Shut down at the end of the sixties, the old machinery, tools, shoes and paperwork are left as if was yesterday.

It is inspiring to hear Renate and Tommy talk about their new life. And even easier to understand how thankful they are that they trusted their instincts in change, especially right now, after the arrival of their first child.

"We could not ask for a better place to raise our son, Alexander." The machinery of lifestyle that separates inhabitants from their environment is the very thing that can be used against itself to create a vision of the world as it needs to be, not as it is. Can we accept what that looks like, are we comfortable with change; how many definitions do we have room for?

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"You'll never change anything."

Subject: Clayoquot Sound protests, 1993

Location: Clayoquot Sound, BC

Civil Disobedience  //  by J.B. MacKinnon


Through most of human history, the forest, beaches and rivers – they were the foundation, timeless and essential. They were there. Nothing was more real.

That was before two-thirds of the world’s flowing fresh water had been dammed on its way to the sea.1 That was before beachfront resort development was named an "international megatrend."2 It was before clear-cut logging razed whole forests to the ground and mountaintop removal mining removed whole mountains. It was before 83 percent of the planet was affected by a "direct human footprint."3

We live in what many scientists now call the Anthropocene, the Human Age. Past epochs have been marked by ice age glaciers or collisions with wayward meteorites, but the extraordinary geological force of our times is us, that rascally species known as Homo sapiens. We book climate-altering transcontinental flights in the name of ecotourism, dig up whole landscapes for the rare earth elements that run our smart phones, and feed 10 percent of the world’s forage fish catch—anchovies, mackerel, smelt—to our pet cats.4 We are the makers and breakers of the world. That’s just how we roll.

Today, the landscapes where we live out our adventures may be there one day and gone the next. It is up to us, an outcome of human decisions. A mountain is a choice. A river is a choice. You get the picture.

And yet, it has become fashionable to pooh-pooh protest movements. Waving signs and shouting slogans has come to seem somehow obsolete, utterly lacking in the postmodern awareness that our beliefs at any moment are, as the intellectual French economist Thomas Piketty would say, "a social construct in perpetual evolution." Real, feet-in-the-street engagement seems almost pre-digital in its lack of cool, as though the decision to stake your visible, flesh-and-blood self to a cause is a form of blindness to the virtual networks our minds are now adrift in. With a simple Google search we can always assure ourselves that there is another way—and another, and another—of looking at every issue. "Protest never changes anything." Or so the story goes.

Let’s take a look, then, at a map. It’s a map of British Columbia, mountains and valleys, the Pacific coast like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle…I can’t do better than to borrow from native-son writer Terry Glavin, who calls it "this ragged place." B.C. is one of the world’s great adventure playgrounds, attracting explorers and fun hogs and weekend warriors. I live here, too, and this week alone I have plans to mountain bike the legendary North Shore, rock climb the legendary Squamish Chief, and canoe a lake that isn’t legendary, though maybe it should be.

But back to the map. Scattered across its surface we see the green polygons that mark parks and other protected areas. Nearly 16 percent of B.C. is preserved from industrial development, more than any other Canadian province.5 If B.C.’s parks were lumped together in a single mass, they would form an area larger than such entire U.S. states as New York, Iowa, and Georgia.

In addition to the nearly 16 percent of protected areas, land use planning has resulted in the creation of special management zones where natural, cultural and recreational values take precedence over development. About 14 per cent of the province has been designated for special management – an additional area of almost 14 million hectares (34 million acres).6

Yet in 1992, only 6.1 percent of the province was protected, a figure that had barely changed since 1960. Not even the invention of Earth Day in 1970, allegedly the birth date of modern environmentalism, managed to budge the numbers. Then, between 1993 and 2000, the amount of B.C. parkland doubled and has continued to rise ever since.

What the hell happened?

Well, for one thing, people started breaking the law.

In 1984, the First Nations7 of Clayoquot Sound, where a lush temperate rainforest meets the open Pacific Ocean, joined forces with a broader community of environmentalists to physically block logging at a place called Meares Island. A line had been drawn against the relentless clearcutting that in many parts of B.C. had reduced ancient trees to stumps for as far as the eye could see. A court injunction soon turned the protesters’ actions into an act of civil disobedience—a nonviolent form of protest in which laws deemed unjust are deliberately broken. (Think Gandhi. Think Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.)

In the decade that followed, dozens of logging road blockades flared across British Columbia and other parts of North America.8 I won’t debate the choice of tactics here; what I will say is that when governments and powerful corporations close their ears to a groundswell of public outcry and systematically ignore legal forms of protest, then illegal actions are likely to follow.

In the summer of 1993, more than 10,000 flesh-and-blood human beings participated in a blockade in Clayoquot Sound, and nearly 1,000 were arrested.9 It was the largest act of environmental civil disobedience in Canadian history. Today, about 60 percent of Clayoquot Sound is protected, but that figure doesn’t come close to measuring the impact of the blockades. Civil disobedience dragged B.C.’s environmental policies into the global spotlight and, under tremendous pressure at home and abroad, the government set a goal to protect at least 12 percent of the landscape. Just seven years after Clayoquot, that figure had been achieved.

Civil disobedience isn’t magic. Many protests, isolated from larger campaigns of public awareness and involvement, sputtered and failed; others achieved only partial victories. But in B.C., the suggestion that protest is "pointless" or "futile" is plainly ridiculous. The map of protected areas here is nothing less than a cartography of struggle. It brings to mind lines from Al Purdy:

say the names
as if they were your soul
lost among the mountains
a soul you mislaid
and found again rejoicing

We can say the names of those places where people faced arrest to conserve the land and waters: Meares and Gwaii Hanas, Strathcona and Slocan, Clayoquot, Tsitika, Carmanah-Walbran, Great Bear and Elaho, Cathedral Grove. The list goes on. Today, these are sacred grounds. It is Carmanah-Walbran where people hike beneath Canada’s tallest trees; Tsitika where they paddle among killer whales; Elaho where they plunge through wild rapids; Great Bear where they gather to watch grizzlies fish for salmon.

Protest is the adventure that came before our adventures. If the word adventure strikes you as suspect in this context, listen to Candace Batycki, a conservation advocate in Nelson, B.C., who was arrested on a 1993 blockade at nearby Lasca Creek, now a protected area. "For me, the word that comes to mind is ‘exciting,’" she says, thinking back on her participation in the protests. "It’s outside of what’s normal for yourself, and you’re expanding your sense of what’s possible for yourself, and you’re by definition pushing the norms of society. You’re pushing yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually."

But why do I bring this up now? Why this little history lesson? Because civil disobedience has its moment and fades. And then its moment comes again.

Not long ago, I watched 13 people stand on the tracks in front of a coal train to keep it from reaching a port where the coal would be shipped to Asia. The people involved weren’t idiots: they knew their actions were symbolic at best. The train would stop, and after the protesters were gone—all 13 were arrested—the coal would reach the port. It would go to Asia. It would be burned and make yet another contribution to the carbon pollution that is driving global warming.

The World Meteorological Organization recently reported that the concentration of carbon pollution in the atmosphere increased more quickly over the past year than at any time since their data set began in 1984. In May 2013, atmospheric carbon reached 400 parts per million, widely regarded as an iconic threshold of climate change—the current best estimate10 is that somewhere between 370 and 540 ppm the planet will be doomed to warm by more than 2º Celsius, with potentially devastating consequences. In April 2014, for the first time in the history of the human species, daily average carbon measurements by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography climbed above 400 ppm and stayed there for three months.

A majority of people worldwide continue to demand that urgent action be taken against global warming, including in major carbon polluting nations like the United States and Canada. For more than two decades, activists have dutifully ticked the boxes of legal protest, from marches to law suits to appeals at global summits. Meanwhile, the fossil-fuel economy becomes ever more entrenched through the expansion of pipelines and tanker ports and drill sites. Governments and corporations refuse to change at a pace in any way commensurate to a hazard that threatens to destabilize the climate at a planetary scale.

The 13-person blockade of the coal train was the first act of civil disobedience against climate change that I have witnessed, but it won’t be the last. Training camps for civil disobedience are springing up around the world, and as I write this more than 95,000 people have signed an online "pledge of resistance,"11 giving oath that they will risk arrest to oppose pipeline expansion—the line in the sand that has been drawn by climate activists in North America. Yet I remember, too, how the looky-loos on the sidelines of the coal train blockade outnumbered the protesters twenty to one. Most sneered that it was all a waste of time. "You’ll never change anything."

And I thought to myself: a planet is a choice.

  1. Nilsson, Christer, and Kajsa Berggren. "Alterations of riparian ecosystems caused by river regulation dam operations have caused global-scale ecological changes in riparian ecosystems." BioScience 50.9 (2000): 783-792.
  2. Ayala, Hana. "Resort hotel landscape as an international megatrend." Annals of Tourism Research 18.4 (1991): 568-587.
  3. Sanderson, E. W., Jaiteh, M., Levy, M. A., Redford, K. H., Wannelo, A. V. & Woolmer, G. 2002 The human footprint and the last of the wild. Bioscience 52, 891–904.
  7. The name given to Canada’s indigenous peoples; in the U.S. they are familiarly known as Native American tribes.
  8. It's worth noting, because history has been stingy on this point, that many of the protests were led by or involved First Nations.
  9. Copeland, Grant. 1999. Acts of Balance: Profits, People and Place. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society.
  10. National Research Council. 2011. Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

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