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  Field Notes From
Stikine River

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From Author

Wade Davis

Stikine River On Assignment

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From Photographer

Sarah Leen

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Sarah Leen (top) and Jesus Lopez


Stikine River

Field Notes From Author
Wade Davis

Best Worst Quirkiest
   A friend of ours, Travis Price, an architect in Washington, D.C., and an adjunct professor at Catholic University, came up to our lodge along the Stikine. He so loved it that he said "Why don't we get some students up here to build something?" So we gave a talk at Catholic thinking we might get a few kids. But over 130 students volunteered to build stuff and pay their own way. We wanted a spiritual shrine on the property, so they built an incredible temple in the trees. Then Travis said we should do something else, and I replied, "What we really need is beneath your dignity," because we needed new outhouses. So the next year, these kids designed and built the beautiful Cristal Crapper and Totem Turdhouse.
   They were so good that they entered the designs in the Maryland Society of the American Institute of Architects contest. Their outhouses were competing against five-million-dollar homes on the Chesapeake Bay, and they placed third. Since then the program, now called the Spirit of Place / Spirit of Design has tackled projects in Machu Picchu, Kathmandu, Ireland, and the Amazon Basin. And it all started at our lodge.

    A major copper and gold deposit, called Red Chris, happens to be within a mile or two of my lodge up there on Ealue Lake, and a mining company is seeking permission from the British Columbia government to start an open-pit mining operation there. I recently heard that the project has been fast-tracked for approval, which, for me, is a bad sign.
    Some experts believe the mine would need a daily volume of as much as 50,000 tons (45,000 metric tons) of ore a day to be profitable. That would be a huge mine, which means a constant regime of blasting, traffic from large industrial vehicles, and the influx of several hundred outsiders into a valley where the entire population is around 1,200.
    I've seen this happen elsewhere in the world, in Ecuador and Borneo for example, and in this case I totally understand the people's need for economic activities. But the local people rarely enjoy the benefits of a mine like this, and it's always a nasty business.

   The Stikine valley is tough country, and the landscape breeds some amazing people. One of my friends, Fletcher Day, a somewhat legendary outfitter, was shot four times. Three weeks later he was hunting whitetail deer in Montana. He says "I've got so much lead in me that when I take a bath I gotta put a life jacket on."
   There's an uncommon kind of toughness in these outfitters. Give them a loaf of bread and a rifle, and they'll take off for a couple hundred miles without thinking twice.
   Fletcher has built this nice retirement home that is a three- or four-day horse ride from the nearest town. That's his idea of a retirement home. He's emblematic of the region. He had a white father and a Native mother, and he says, "When I was a kid I could play cowboys and Indians all by myself."


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