The things you bring home

One day on the road tends to be very much like another. It’s the same routine, the same questions, the same grind. It just happens against a changing backdrop. The routine is punctuated by moments of  generosity, or serendipity, or hospitality that make you exult in the human.

Sometimes, there are unexpected gifts- book, pieces of music, ephemera that people you run across think might interest you.

By way of example, here is a  print of a photograph of the Canadian Rockies taken in the 1890’s by William Henry Jackson.

IMG_7106 In the two decades between 1880 and 1900, Jackson travelled extensively in the western North America, capturing the landscape photographically. He was a pioneer  and an icon of western landscape photography. You can see echoes of him in Ansel Adam’s work, for example.

This  print of the photo has lived in 3 or 4 of my houses. It was given to me one night in the Southern US. I had played two nights of a three night stand at a rather lovely cafe. On the third night I arrived to find this print  propped  up onstage, against the wall, near my stool. The cafe’s owner, Mary, had put it there.

Mary pointed to it and asked, ” Do you know where that is?”

Anybody who was raised in Southern Alberta would have recognized the vista in the photo.

I said, “Yeah, that’s about 60 miles from where I grew up. That’s the bend in the Bow River below Bow Falls, near the Banff Springs Hotel.”  Bow Falls is unseen in the picture, it would be out of frame to the left, but the whitewater is clearly visible in the centre of the river.

Mary smiled.  She told me that she had been involved in the cataloguing of a huge number of Harrisson’s glass plate negatives. This print was made directly from one of those negatives. She wanted me to have it. Luckily I was driving  that tour, so i could transport the print flat, rather than rolling it up in a tube. It is an incredible gift. Not only thoughtful, by way of Mary knowing that I would recognise the landscape, but also because the print is a delight to the eye.

When you stare into the print, you can see the rocks on the river’s banks, the needles on the pine trees closest to the camera. To look into this photograph is to journey into the infinite. It’s crazy how sharp and clear and detailed it is. You can almost fall into it.

William Jackson, a burro and camera

There’s a reason why. The  “negative”, as I mentioned earlier, was a glass plate negative. And here is a picture of the camera.


The print is the same size as the negative-18″x22″. This picture is  of Harrison in 1892 on a photographic expedition somewhere in the west. It must have been quite a thing to pack that camera on a mule, set it up, then manhandle 18″x22″  sheets of glass into and out of the back of the camera.

22C Banff Springs Hotel Photo From 1890 Just After it Opened In June 1888 In The Heritage Room Banff Springs Hotel
Banff Springs Hotel Photo From 1890 (note the hiker on the left)

It’s the sheer size of the negative that creates the amount of detail in the print.

It always hangs prominently wherever I hang my hat. It’s my favourite reminder of home and a great reminder of all that’s great about the road.