ECO Solutions with Sara Troy and her guest Tayu Hayward, on air from July 11th
The Snake River Trip:
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Back in the late summer of 2016, three of my closest friends and I canoed the Yukon’s Snake and Peel Rivers, coursing our way from the vast alpine meadows and soaring summits of the Mackenzie Mountains, down onto the storied Peel Plateau past the Arctic circle. A three-week journey over 500kms, through one of the most remote and undisturbed watersheds in North America – an area over twice the size of Vancouver Island, without a single year-round inhabitant.
It is home instead to Caribou, Grizzly, Moose and Porcupine; Wolverine, Wolf, Lynx and Fox. A land that is as it has been, for hundreds of millennia, unsullied by our hand. A month’s hike or more from the nearest gravel road, it is a place where the long low arc of the Arctic summer sun sets slow and brilliant. Where the aurora light up the night sky in emerald and crimson as the caribou migrate by the thousands in their thunderous chorus of vitality. It is as wondrous a wilderness there is.
And it is under threat. To feed our ever growing appetites for fossil fuels and ore, burdened as we are by old habits we can’t kick. What’s more, the same Yukon government that commissioned the very study that strongly concluded the Peel Watershed much too culturally and ecologically significant to allow for such extractive industries is now vying for just that. It has turned into a much-publicized clash, between the short-sighted interests of industry and government, with those of the Tetlit Gwich’in and Na-Cho Nyuk Dun First Nations, the original stewards of this pristine land. Now after many years of legal battles and countless appeals, the case finally went to the Supreme Court of Canada just this past March, and a verdict is expected by the end of 2017.
Much more than a river or a part of the Boreal forest is at stake here: with this place comes the possibility of improving ourselves as individuals and a society. To know that such a place still exists, where the waters run undammed and untouched for a thousand kilometres and more, where the wolves have played with their howls in the fading twilight under a million passing moons, where we are but transient guests and the more-than-human world rests in all its superlative grandeur – this is enough to know that the wild world is worth more than we can fathom. And with its potential loss, we risk tearing away that much more from our hearts. We risk our ability to look ourselves in the face and not wince. We risk our sanity – spiritual and physical. For what can be said of a culture that knowingly poisons the well it draws its water from? That sells each and every one of us the myth of the Independent Self? And towards this end, pursues profit at the cost of all other things? We can say that that culture is doomed.
When moving with the river for three weeks, by the rhythms of the sun and stars, one has nothing but time to ruminate on the big and small things. The comic tragedy inherent in so much. Our incredibly inspired yet inept species. And the fate of so much resting in the palms of our fumbling hands. Never have we been so out of balance with the world, and never have we been more capable of remedying that. The tension resides within each of us, and it is palpable: we know deep down that something is awfully awry with our species. There is a pervasive sickness inherent in our collective detachment, disillusionment and disrespect; a crisis of attitude and identity that have led us astray. And if one thing remained certain throughout our journey on the Snake, it was this: that true wilderness is essential to human health. It is our oldest most eloquent teacher. It is where we learned of ourselves, where we gathered our stories and strength. Where we learned fortitude, patience, resilience. Family, community, society. We must reclaim its teachings and spread the ancient word. Without wilderness, we are all truly and totally lost.
Tayu Hayward is a fine-art landscape photographer and budding filmmaker based in Vancouver, B.C. His abiding love of the outdoors, instilled at a young age exploring the natural wonders of British Columbia, has driven his passion and life’s central focus: capturing and celebrating the wild beauty of this most precious planet. For Earth’s entirety is under our hammer, and try we must to change course from our rapacious ways. We are ultimately lost without the teachings of Mother Earth, without communion and reverence for the wilds that bore us – it is our birthright, our most essential story. And Natives though we may be, we are long estranged from Nature’s narrative. So it is his abiding hope that through his work, he can help give voice to this bewilderingly beautiful Home we must do so much more to listen to.