Archive for the ‘Chris Czajkowski’ Category

Cabin at Singing River by Chris Czajkowski ~ 1991. This edition: Nuk Tessli Publications, 1997. Foreword by Peter Gzowski. Softcover. ISBN: 0-9681775-0-6. 149 pages.

Chris Czajkowski, born in 1947 and raised in England as the only child of a British mother and a Polish war refugee father, grew up surrounded by industrious creativity. As a young woman, Chris travelled the world, hiking in lonely places and working on farms, eventually fetching up in western Canada in 1979, milking cows near Salmon Arm, B.C.

Salmon Arm – with a population of 17,000 people not a particularly large metropolis – proved too crowded for Czajkowsky’s liking, and she headed even farther west, across the Coast Mountains and into the remote Bella Coola Valley some 250 miles out of Williams Lake, where she was invited to build a cabin on the Trudy and Jack Turner wilderness farm near Lonesome Lake, a day and a half’s hike on foot from the nearest road.

This is the story of Chris Czajkowski’s first cabin, how she built it mostly by herself with mentorship from the Turners, teaching herself to fall trees and erect log walls and finally, two years or so after her start, put on a roof. The eventual cabin was more than a modest log shack; it turned out to be a handsome and very livable house, where Chris spent the majority of her time for a number of years, occasionally going out to civilization to work and earn some much-needed cash.

Czajkowski was already an accomplished visual and textile artist, and she eventually found her writer’s voice as well, when her lyrical letters to Peter Gzowski’s Morningside CBC radio program caught the imagination of Gzowski and listeners across Canada.

Cabin at Singing River is a fascinating depiction of an adventurous life beyond the ken of most of us, but those of us familiar with the region are perhaps the most aware of the magnitude of what Czajkowski and her fellow wilderness dwellers accomplished in making themselves a viable home in the bush; this really is The Wild; one truly is alone and in charge of one’s destiny out there beyond the end of the last road.

Upstream from the Stillwater, the river splits and runs in braided skeins through dark strands of cedar, an Emily Carr landscape of green and gloom, a prime place for mosquitoes in the summer and grizzlies in the fall. Pale cottonwoods send vast, corrugated trunks into the canopy, and devil’s club writhes like a mass of spiny snakes beside the boggy creeks. The remnants of the settlers’ trail are visible in places, but it is rarely used and no longer maintained. Great windfalls cross it in hopeless tangles, and much of the original route has been obliterated by the vagaries of the river…

Chris Czajkowski is a highly individual and very opinionated person, and this comes through loud and clear in Cabin at Singing River and in subsequent books. She has little time or patience for dilly-dalliers, and visitors coming into her solitary domain had better keep themselves up to the mark or risk a keen critique in her writings; she’s not averse to publically calling out those she considers na├»ve, pretentious or unprepared.

To me, city people are frighteningly alike, aspiring to be carbon copies of each other. Their programmed world gives them no chance to grow as individuals; not only are they unbelievably ignorant about what goes on beyond the limits of their lives, but they also surmise that anything outside their range of experience is inferior and not worth knowing.

Yeah, there’s a strand of judgementalism running through these pages, taking away some of the shine on what is otherwise a deeply moving appreciation of the natural world, and the truly admirable exploits of the memoirist. But more often Czajkowski is deeply appreciative of her neighbours and friends, the unique individuals who make their homes way away from the easy-come amenities of the more “civilized” parts of the world.

This first beautifully written account of her life-so-far is in my opinion one of Czajkowskii’s best, though every one of her subsequent books – Diary of a Wilderness Dweller, Nuk Tessli: The Life of a Wilderness Dweller, Wildfire in the Wilderness, A Mountain Year, And the River Still Sings, among others – follows much the same pattern. All are very readable.

Full disclosure: I’ve had some brief interactions with Chris Czajkowski over the years, and several prized pieces of her artwork grace my walls. I admire her greatly but find her a bit intimidating, too. I suspect she is a stalwart friend to those she allows into her inner circle. I happily purchase each one of her books as they appear, for personal pleasure and for knowing how much she depends on her writings to put food on her table; she’s perennially struggling to make ends meets, because even the most self-sufficient of remotely lived lives require resources from elsewhere and infusions of cold hard cash.

My rating for this one: 8.5/10

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