A hand-made book written as a gift for a Bella Coola Valley boy in the early 1980s was published this fall for wider distribution.
Birch Goes Hiking was written and illustrated by Chris Czajkowski, an author and artist who moved to Canada from Britain in the fall of 1979 as a young woman to follow her dream of wilderness living.
She created the book after Stuie residents four-year-old Birch Kuch, his parents Dennis Kuch and Katie Hayhurst, and his nana, hiked all the way to visit Chris at Lonesome Lake - a trek of about 37 km.
At the time Chris was living in a tent and building herself a home there.
When Chris first arrived in Canada she went to work on a dairy farm in Salmon Arm.
“It was way too crowded there but then I saw this road running west from Williams Lake with hardly anyone on it,” she recalled.
Her neighbour told her about someone who knew Jack and Trudy Turner who were living at Lonesome Lake, 69 km southeast of Bella Coola.
They needed someone to deliver some haying equipment to them.
Trudy was the daughter of Ralph Edwards, known to many as the Crusoe of Lonesome Lake for his commitment to the area’s trumpeter swans who were facing extinction when he arrived there in 1913.
Chris set out in her pickup truck to deliver the equipment. She recalled at the time she was looking for somewhere to call her own and was not at all frightened of the wilderness.
To access Lonesome Lake in the summer one walked from the highway or had to fly in and then walk another couple of kilometres.
She ended up staying with the Turners for a few days, impressing them because she could milk a cow by hand.
“Not my bush skills, nothing, just that I could milk a cow,” Chris said. “I had been milking cows for years by that point and had worked at dairy farms. Trudy had to go out of the area and Jack said if I could look after their place then he could go with her.”
When they returned, the Turners offered Chris the opportunity to build a home for herself there.
Birch Goes Hiking illustrates the journey, the challenges and the fun he and his family had along the way to Lonesome Lake.
There are lots of little details in the book.
“I noticed Susan, Trudy’s daughter, always wore cowboy boots so I drew them there,” Chris said, chuckling as she pointed to a page in the book depicting Susan leading Birch for a ride on a horse.
Katie said she loved how Chris drew herself into the story.
“It’s fascinating. I don’t know how she knows how she looks? This is exactly her with the holes in her shirt,” she said of another page in the book where Chris is waving goodbye to her guests.
Chris said she moved out of Lonesome Lake years ago, and in 2004 a fire destroyed much of the area.
“When Chris lived there she explored all the mountains and the upper country and fell in love with a lake some people called Square Lake. She ended up getting a lease and settling there,” Hayhurst said. “She built cabins and it became Nuk Tessli.”
Chris lived there for 20 years and then sold the lease in 2011 to a father and son who today run it as an off-grid ecotourism centre offering hiking and canoe trips.
Now Chris lives at Kleena Kleene an hour’s drive south of Anahim Lake.
“I bought Ginty Paul’s place. I wrote a book about it called Ginty’s Ghost,” she said.
With 14 books published to date, Chris said she has been focusing more on painting lately.
Birch Goes Hiking will be available at a few local fairs, including Bella Coola Valley Arts Council fair Nov. 25, 26, and possibly some stores in the valley, Katie said.
They are also available at the Station House Gallery in Williams Lake and on Chris’s website at www.wildernessdweller.ca.
Katie said the original copy of the book, which is hand-stitched, sits on the library shelf at their home in Stuie to this day.
In June 2023, Georgina Odi, a friend of Katie’s from Santiago, Chile was visiting and Katie showed the book to her.
An author and illustrator herself, Georgina decided it should be published and helped make that happen.
She did the design and layout, to produce the book featuring Chris’s original drawings and text.
With a file from Caitlin Thompson
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