Struggling to find balance between preservation and recreation, I continue to be drawn to experience these landscapes firsthand.Andreas
Too Close for Comfort
During a typical summer, I often participate in an international trip. Last year, I used my presentation at an academic conference in Devon, England as a point of departure for three weeks of touring the spectacular seaside communities of Cornwall, and visiting exhibitions in London. This year has been different however, as a global pandemic has led me to adventure closer to home.
I am not alone in this endeavour, as many individuals who have never set foot on a trail or spent time in the back-country before have decided that now is an opportune time. My series of posts on Instagram since early July have investigated the role of social media in the popularization of locales that were heretofore off the beaten track. I have also used this time to question an ongoing dichotomy between nature and culture; one that Alexander Wilson so eloquently articulates in his book The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez.
The frequent nondisclosure of the photograph’s location is a strategy to allow the images to speak in a more universal manner, while resisting the image’s capacity to give mass appeal to the site. A narrative through line that questions the role of industry in opening up locations for colonial tourism was important for me, as I question my privilege in experiencing these places firsthand.
A Story of Gold
While the location will remain unspecified, it is a narrative that has played out in many places, pertaining to a variety of natural resources. In this instance, it is a story of gold.
Settlers came to this place in the late 19th century, and the natural beauty of the valley is now marked with the traces of their exploits. To build a mine in such a precarious position is simultaneously a feat and a tragedy.
I imagine what this site would have been like prior to colonial contact, and I consider the ghosts of hardworking miners. Are any of these faces still with us in this world? Where does our fascination with abandoned industrial sites originate? From artistic traditions of the sublime, or our own personal histories?
The extraction of commodities from the land gives way to adventure tourism. Tourism has become the lifeblood for many communities struggling to survive following the collapse of industrial economies. In this case, tourism has also failed the community; at least for the time being.
Authenticity & Preservation
The former miner’s bunkhouse was slated for development into a B&B. Millions of dollars were spent in an effort to revitalize, but the buildings currently sit empty on the hillside. What will become of this place? Will the structures deteriorate and become absorbed by vegetation? Will a new development opportunity popularize the mine once again?
I continue to grapple with questions of authenticity and preservation.
Getting to this place is not easy, yet we were surprised at how popular it was. We drove forty kilometres along forest service roads, then shouldered our heavy packs up a rough trail and into a beautiful alpine setting. The next day, we crossed snowfields to a striking ridge-line and took position on a summit high above a plateau dotted with tarns. We swam in alpine lakes and watched the stars over the mountains. It was easy to forget about the many troubles in the world. We are truly privileged to have had this experience.
Filtered sunlight reveals textures in the delicate under-story. This wood is truly diverse. Anemone occidentalis perseveres following a sudden hail storm. Weather in the mountains is unpredictable and extreme, yet beautiful things make it their home. It is unsurprising that we encountered a black bear; the sound of the creek obscured our voices and the Soopolallie was plentiful. Along the water, we relax around a campfire and read into the night.
Some come seeking the ruins of former mines; other mines continue to thrive. Abandoned machinery and infrastructure are prevalent in the forest if you look carefully, have the right map, and speak with the locals. The community powerhouse still runs today; it is the oldest continuing operating plant in Canada. The collection of tools used by its maintenance staff remind me of my grandfather’s work room. He was a carpenter, and was very gifted with his hands. The sun sets on our trip and I am left to reflect once again on the precarious balance of industry, ecology and tourism.
Struggling to find balance between preservation and recreation within delicate alpine environments, I continue to be drawn to experience these landscapes firsthand. Relinquishing my bike in a copse of trees, I traverse meadows and snowy slopes to attain the skyline ridge of a majestic peak. The view from the summit is commanding. Returning to my bike, I enjoy the descent to treeline. I am the only one staying at the lake partway down the mountainside. The glass-like surface of the water beckons me to swim. The water is warm and soothing.
Another locale associated with development through extractive industry, Kokanee Glacier is one of the oldest parks within the provincial network. The Smuggler Mining Co. built the Slocan Chief Cabin in 1896, and it subsequently provided refuge for back-country adventurers until a modern cabin was constructed on Kaslo Lake in the early 2000s. The old cabin is now an interpretative centre and monument to the history of mountaineering in the park. While COVID-19 has provided motivation for many new back-country adventurers, our experience here was quieter than a typical August, as new protocols have limited the number of occupants at Kokanee Glacier cabin. As the sun set in the evenings, we basked in solitude at this perfect spot to enjoy the Perseid meteor shower against a dark and clear sky.
Dreams of Quartzite
Sometimes the difference between a popular hike and solitude is a few hundred extra metres of elevation change and a few more kilometres. We spent the first night alone at this spectacular alpine lake, joined only by a solo hiker the next evening. The landscape is one of contrasts – rock outcroppings and jagged summits reveal an intricate matrix of vegetation if you look closely. I dream of traversing quartzite summits; they are giant puzzles that lead to rewarding vistas. Back along the plateau, the light constantly changes and sets over natural reflecting pools. This may be the last night spent in such a setting for some time, however I can relive the experience through photographs and memory.
Andreas Rutkauskas was born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1980. He currently resides in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. His projects involve photography and video, often focusing on landscapes that have undergone changes due to a range of technologies; examples include surveillance along the Canada/U.S. border, cycles of industrialization & deindustrialization in Canada’s oil patch, and most recently, the aftermath and regeneration following wildfires in Western Canada.
Rutkauskas is the inaugural recipient of a residency with the Fondation Grantham pour l’art et l’environnement, which is forthcoming in December, 2020. In 2018, he was a Research Fellow with the Canadian Photography Institute, and he was a finalist for the Gabriele Basilico International Prize in Architecture and Landscape in 2016. His work has been exhibited in artist-run centres, public art galleries and museums across Canada, as well as internationally.
All images: Andreas Rutkauskas, 2020, photography.