Klondike Letters Project

Translating experience into memory through inspired creation.

Tag: film making

Day 11 – Alohas and reflections at Bare Loon Lake

Day 11
5 July
Bare Loon Lake
A perfectly calm and magical evening.


I spent the morning around Lindeman catching up on my journal and painting the sunny lakeshore. Then the Parks Canada crowd showed up – three rangers with a crew of forestry guys ready for chainsaw safety workshop. Time for me to head out, but not before Rene showed me his map. It’s a passion project, meticulous research to find the exact route of the historic Dead Horse Trail over White Pass. He unrolls a large sheet of vellum with careful pencil lines marking the topography, possible routes and certain artifacts he’s found while wandering in the 1 mile stretch or Porcupine Hill. Hand draw from memory by candlelight – the way it was done back in the days when they piled corduroy road over the bodies of horses that dropped dead from exhaustion on the trail. It is a work of art.

A quick lunch and then I pick up my pack – my HEAVY pack! Having shared the load with my sister from Sheep Camp to Lindeman, I’m once again the sole pack horse for camera and camping gear and my remaining food. But it’s the home stretch.


The walk to Bare Loon reminded me so much of hiking in the Sierra. Pines widely spaced dropping their needles between granite boulders, views of blue lakes through the trees, sunshine and warmth! Maybe that was the trigger. The first day of legitimate sun-basking! I arrive at camp sweaty and seek out a private bay to dunk myself. Not as cold as Lower Dewey – still I was happy to get out of the water and tingle my way to warmth while the animals stared at me…


36 people! A full camp and I’m glad I met them all yesterday. After dinner I read them postcards and show off my paintings. Everyone seems so excited about the postcards. Maybe it’s the infectious enthusiasm of the high school girls (who shared their no-bake chocolate-PB cookies with me!), or maybe it’s because a shower and a beer are just a day away, but the mood in camp is buoyant. The wind dies down, cooperating for once, so I pull out Donald and we chat on the record. It is tiring work, being on the record, but I am excited to see how all these puzzle pieces will fit together into film language in the coming year.

One man came up to me after my little presentation and asked if he could write a postcard to someone else, because he knew he would not be alive in a year. I didn’t ask for details, but just took his postcard and placed it with the others. I have become a keeper of secrets, I hold in my hands a stack of confessions, fears, joys and sorrows. Such lovely people, even the grumpy family on their first ever backpacking trip, suffering together.


After everyone has gone to bed I climb up to the helipad and am rewarded with something like a sunset – pink clouds high in the sky at 11:30pm. I had worried that doing this residency might be a bad career move. I am stepping away from my nearly finished film and potential commercial projects knocking at my studio door to chase a vague new project that will probably consume a lot of my time with sorting, blogging and creating. But talking to everyone tonight, I do know that for the handful of postcard writers and talkers, the world is now a slightly more vibrant place. Their trek is a tad more meaningful, their lives a wee bit enriched. So, I guess that makes it all worth it? I’m still a poor artist who doesn’t make enough money to support myself. But there is something new and good in the world because of my existence on the trail. I think I’m glad that whatever it is, it doesn’t entirely belong to me.

Read More: Trail Journal Day 12

Day 6 – The Ebb and Flow

Day 630 June

bestofchilkoot037Typical summit weather: 3०C and white, winds from the SW. Warden Steph says it’s like this 90% of the time up here. The stampede starts soon after breakfast. A shivering group of Spaniards are the first to arrive. We bring over thermoses of hot water and wine gums (a Canadian thing) from the warden’s hut to cheer them up. It’s much more inhospitable up here with the strong wind howling over the pass. The Canadian flag whips and snaps loudly as I talk to people. Over 40 hikers filter over, most staying just long enough to get warm and eat a snack before getting down out of this frozen cloud. 2 families from Juneau and 1 from Whitehorse are the last to arrive. 8 year-old Elin pulls pink gloves off her hands, revealing fingernails painted an array of blue, pink, green and black. Apparently a family trail tradition, the rest of them have similar decoration. With colorful bugs crawling up her purple fleece vest she chatters about Billy the Goat who takes kids packs and carries them up the Golden Stairs. Her mother corrects her, “It’s not a-bout, it’s a-booooout. We’re in Canada now!” Two teenage boys practice their penguin slides on the snowbanks outside.

It’s Day 6 and the halfway mark… I’m trying to decide what to do. Tomorrow 42 people cross over the summit, 20-something the next day. Should I stay here and try to collect all their stories and postcards, or is it time to move on down the trail? Erica is getting ancy here in this white cloud. This is why it’s hard for artists to hike with other people – we linger where others move on.


The Chilkoot is a very social trail. A high volume of hikers all travelling to the same place, camping at the same campgrounds, cooking in the same shelters. It is acceptable, in fact even expected, to strike up a conversation. We look out for each other, wonder how everyone is handling the stairs, ask each other about our experiences of the trail. This one was scared, that one thought it was adventurous… Finding a thread to bind all these mini-stories together will be quite a feat. Somehow, all this material will fold into itself and open up into a recognizable “something”, like oragami magic. It’s a strange place to be at the beginning of a project with no defined direction. Not entirely unfamiliar – too familiar perhaps. More planning might have been beneficial. I wonder where all these people will be in a year and who they will be when they receive their postcards. Judging from some of the handwriting, some of them may never get their postcards!

I am happy about the socialness though. Turns out I like seeing people in the wilderness, when they experience it authentically and respectfully.

I feel a cold coming on and hope I can kill it with extensive eating and sleeping before tomorrow’s big day.

More pictures and drawings on Flikr: The Chilkoot Trail – an artist’s journey

Read More: Trail Journal Day 7

Conversing with Aotearoa/New Zealand

Several people have been asking where they can see more of my animation, particularly the animated documentary about New Zealand. Well, here it is!

The blending of reality and imagination in animated documentaries is so powerful because viewers can easily insert themselves into another experience. Think of how you look at a photograph of someone compared to how you might look at a painting of the same person. Our minds tell us that photo is the real thing and we don’t question it. With a painting, the artist becomes an interpretive intermediary. I am always going to put a piece of myself into my work, it’s impossible not to! And because I’m there, then the viewer feels welcome to enter into another’s experience too and can may it his or her own.

And for the very enthusiastic, more animation on my website.

Testing, 1..2..3.. testing.

Hello, my name is Donald.

I’d like you to meet Donald. He’ll be travelling with me on the Chilkoot Trail. He’s very friendly and LOVES to listen. If you see him on the trail, feel free to tell him your thoughts, dreams, rants, or just sing him a nice little tune.

In all seriousness, this lightweight recorder is going to be a lot of fun on the trail. I’ll be asking some folks to read aloud their postcards and use that as the soundtrack for each mini-animation. It’s also really fun to record the natural sounds inthe environment – water trickling, bird calls, interesting sounds made by moving rocks, breaking sticks, sand trickling through fingers. And of course campfire stories.

For starters, here’s a little poetic sound clip Donald and I collaborated on during one of our wild Montana thunderstorms. Click on the photo to listen. We’ll see you on the trail!

Rain Bath

Oh, in case you were wondering, Donald’s hairdresser is taking on new clients…