Mt. Nusatsum

Mt. Nusatsum

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Smoky Summer of 1922

I read a great book last winter, "Surveying Central British Columbia, A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1920-28", by Jay Sherwood.  It's a great book about one of BC's great surveyors, Frank Swannell.  In this book Sherwood documents Swannell's years of surveying the area of BC from Bella Coola to Smithers in the North out to Williams Lake in the east.  His photos of the period are especially important as they show his activities, his gear, their clothing, camps, incredible shots of the First Nations he encountered fishing and drying fish and the general environment and geography he worked in.  I'm certain some of his photos would be extremely useful to people researching glacial issues or the encroachment of forests into alpine areas in the past 90 years for example.

His survey method depended solely on the method of surveying known as triangulation - establish known points usually on mountain tops in this area, then going to another mountain top far away but so they could still see back to the mountain top cairns and carefully take angle shots which could be used to calculate distances (basic trigonometry I believe).  What struck me at the time I read it was the summer of 1922.  Starting in mid June and going throughout the summer they repeatedly noted the difficulty or even some days impossibility of taking shots of distant mountains after climbing all day due to smoke from forest fires.

While working near the Nechako River on July 3, 1922 he wrote, "Heavy wind & forest fires burst into dense smoke again, the sun showing through as an orange coloured disk".  Later on July 26th, "Fine but very smoky & had to abandon reading signals by early afternoon. Fires everywhere from Alkatcho to Ootsa".

Even into the end of August he was still making notes about the smoke, fires and "burnt areas with no water".  It must have been a miserable summer in his line of work, but I can't help but think about the summer of 2010 and many conclusions being reached about the severity of the fires in BC and what it might mean for a trend because we've had 3-4 weeks of smoky conditions in the province which we are not used to and how quick the media and others are to portray this as a unique event.  It seems like we've had some bad summers before and we can likely expect lots more.  If you are in Bella Coola do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of his book at Kopas Store - save it for the long winter nights, you won't regret it.   Grizzly

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