The Meadow: Paradise in the Purcell Mountains

by Raymond Parker on January 31, 2011

in Adventure, Autobiography, Photography

“If we leave things to nature … every process is partially and totally interfered with by chance, so much so that under natural circumstances a course of events absolutely conforming to specific laws is almost an exception.” ~C.G Jung, Forward to The I Ching, Zurich, 1949

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Yoginis, 1974

Carl Gustav Jung coined the word “synchronicity” to describe that special state of grace that seems to animate one’s life in extraordinary times.

In the spring of 1974, my life took a fated turn, as I followed intuition—and three lovely Graces—from my job at an anarchist book shop in Calgary, Alberta, to the heights of the Purcell Mountains, in southeastern British Columbia.

There, I joined an international band of gypsies occupying a clearing in a picturesque little valley at 1,200 metres, enclosed by mixed pine and larch forest, topped by 2,500 metre peaks. Whether it was Jung’s “acausal connecting principle” at work or our own search for meaning, the Meadow seemed a magnetic circle of coincidence.

One summer day, a family of hikers stumbled on our “village”—a ring of log cabins hewn from larch by prospectors in the 1920s.

“You live here?” one of them marveled. “It’s paradise!”

We put a kettle on the wood stove and opened a tin of fresh-baked cookies.

Other visitors were less welcome. The nearest Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment (in Cranbrook) were particularly irksome. Bristling with fire-power and conspiracy theory in equal measure, they invaded lotusland several times. One raid was pure Keystone Cops, consigning to history for all who witnessed the farce the force’s “mounted” fame.

Their intended quarry—the American draft dodgers who lived among us—slipped into the forested maze of foothills, while the pursuing posse clung desperately to rented horses, bouncing at awkward angles on unfamiliar saddles.

The story resonated deeply with one of the old-timers, Joe Blake, who with his brothers had outfoxed the Mounties in the same country, avoiding conscription during the First-World War. On one harrowing stakeout, they avoided an RCMP trap only because they smelled the cops’ tobacco smoke, as they descended towards Skookumchuk to gather supplies.

Legend still circulated during our stay of a magical valley discovered by the Blakes—a Purcell Lost Horizon, hidden among the outliers of the Findlay Creek massif.

The Meadow itself, established 1921-1922 by the Blakes around the Silver group of placer claims, was certainly the closest I’ve come to Shangri-La, though it was no Utopia; we carried with us our human flaws. But we were more fully human for the enfolding wilderness and the bonds that untamed place wove between us. Its lessons were for life.

The Meadow’s heyday lasted for us not more than six seasons, yet its memories have followed those who sojourned there into the autumn of our lives.

(A 1997 return was disquieting: the “road”—never much more than a muddy track—was nearly impassable; bridges out; cabins gone, the root cellar collapsed and filled with abandoned car parts. Much of the surrounding forest had been compromised by logging and the great fire of ’82. Only the craggy twin summits of Mount Scartooley stood unchanged, proud at the head of the valley, and there, in the trees beside rushing Lavington Creek, where my cabin once stood, I found one of my winter moccasin covers.)

If I have any lasting regrets, it is not making a better photographic record. I carried my old Kodak Brownie 127 and rationed film as severely as the winter bean stash.

During our final days there, New Zealand native Barry Lay, who was ridding himself of material attachments, donated a Russian Zenit camera to the cause. It was a proletarian machine with screw-mount lenses and a hefty cloth shutter that sounded like a Kalashnikov. Beggars can’t be choosers and the camera was my introduction to 35mm photography.

The selection of photos below are a glimpse of a fleeting Age of Innocence that blossomed, in British Columbia and the Kootenays in particular, at the end of the tragic Vietnam War.

To read related stories, click on “the meadow” tag below.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Lynn February 1, 2011 at 7:57 am

What a treat! I have some of these, of course (though fading now). I can provide some information: in the “Spring Mud” photo, the young man second from right, noted as “?,” is Dirk, Denise’s son.

Thank you so much!

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razzapa February 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

What memories this brings back, The Meadow was indeed a wondrous place.
I will always remember our visit.

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Barry Lay June 3, 2018 at 3:07 pm

Hi razzapa. Neat name, but doesn’t ring a bell with me. Could you be the elusive Scotty?

Barry

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Raymond Parker June 5, 2018 at 3:07 pm

Hi Barry, “razzapa” was my father. He passed away in 2013.

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Raymond Parker February 1, 2011 at 11:54 am

I scanned these from original prints. I don’t have a medium format scanner for the 127 and the negatives have more colour shift than the prints.

You’ll notice certain layers have discoloured (like some greens). I’ve done a quick re-colouring in some areas that were very distracting, but I wanted to preserve the overall “vintage” look. One exception is the photo of Morgana in front of the cabin, which was so degraded it works better in B&W.

Lynn, thanks for identifying Dirk–I should have remembered. The other chap, with the Samoyed (not Morgana) has me stumped. It was his jalopy as well. We were trying–unsuccessfully–to get out to a doctor’s appointment in the valley. How many hours did we spend trying to free bogged-down and snowed-in vehicles?

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Barry Lay February 22, 2011 at 8:05 pm

WOW. That is amazing. So cool. My teepee was a work of art, eh? And the denim jacket was my old motorcycle jacket from NZ – he he.

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Raymond Parker February 23, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Your teepee (or tipi) was indeed a work of art, Barry, and a practical shelter as well, as we found out living in it, after you returned to the Antipodes. Thanks for the colourful home!

I remember the hunt for end bolts of cloth in the valley and the sewing bees.

Unfortunately, it fell prey to the dreaded West Coast mildew when we brought it here. That’s why Coastal natives built cedar long-houses.

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Richard Didsbury May 12, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Wow, Barry sent me the link. I must have been there since there is a photo of me. What a treasured time of personal wonderment. So Raymond, what else is new?

It will be great to hear from you.

Richard

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Raymond Parker May 13, 2011 at 8:36 pm

What a hoot! How the hell are ya, Richard?!

Have to credit Barry for the detective work. Admittedly, he’s much better at keeping in touch than I am.

Glad to be the catalyst here though. BTW, I have more photos 😉

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Richard September 18, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Love to see more photos. Can you send them to my email address? Hopefully I can get communication on a more real time level. Things haven’t changed much, but I sure look different.
Love and God Bless,
Richard

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Lynn Hirshman November 27, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Hey, Richard — I’d love to get in touch. Can’t find your e-mail address — Ray has mine. Please write.

Lynn

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