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Crossing Home Ground: A Grassland Odyssey through Southern Interior British Columbia

By David Pitt-Brooke

Review By Lauren Harding

January 10, 2018

BC Studies no. 198 Summer 2018  | p. 185-7

David Pitt-Brooke is an advocate for the protection and preservation one of British Columbia’s underappreciated landscapes. Rather than looking towards the more iconic mountain peaks and old-growth forests of British Columbia in his search for natural beauty, Pitt-Brooke looks inward, both in a personal and a geographical sense.  He styles himself as a twenty-first century British Columbian John Muir and recounts his long, solo walk from Crater Mountain near Osoyoos to Williams Lake over several summer seasons. He focuses on close details of the ecosystems in the places he walked across and is motivated not only by a search for pristine grasslands but also for “beloved home places” (2). Key to his narrative is his own personal attachment to specific places in the Interior. His writing is rife with lovely and loving descriptions of lesser-known places in the region, and his sheer affection for the landscape carries the reader on his pedestrian journey through spaces which most British Columbians only catch glimpses of from the highway.

His account is peppered with histories of colonial settlement and environmental transformation in the Interior. Like a walker going off the path for a moment or two to get a better view, Pitt-Brooke goes off on various tangents on the history and ecology of the landscape he traverses. These asides follow no set pattern or organization, yet are nicely threaded together by their relation to his own footsteps across the land. Despite a lack of citations (bothersome for an academic reader, but welcome for a non-academic one), he possesses a detailed knowledge of British Columbia history, geography, and ecology. At the same time, many of his tangents can be categorized as rants. He tends to idealize early twentieth-century Interior towns and denounces twenty-first century land use policy. His condemnation of suburban development may strike a chord with many readers. Yet his claim that “the countryside has ceased to be a home for the heart and has become mere commodity”(3) rests upon a romantic image of historic Canadian settlement.  He ignores the fact that market forces and the commodification of natural resources were the main impetus for the settling of British Columbia and for the towns, orchards, and ranches to which he feels an emotional connection. Even though Pitt-Brooke acknowledges his crossing of indigenous territory, he does not connect colonial dispossession and contemporary land-use issues. Furthermore, the people who “desecrate” his beloved places are anonymous, invisible, and directly compared to aliens (15). They are so thoroughly Othered that these evil-doers fall into the tropes of ignorant yokels (ATV riders), indifferent bureaucrats (Parks administration), or evil industrialists (loggers), rather than fellow British Colombians.

This book will be of interest to not only those who want to better understand the grassland ecosystems of the BC Interior, but also the process of walking across them. Although not intended as a guidebook, in many ways it could be used as such. It is refreshing to read the practical details of Pitt-Brooke’s comings and goings: where he set up his tent each night, the coldness or wetness of the weather, and his logic for choosing particular paths over others.  His writing of the more mundane practicalities of his journey (such as where and how to find drinking water) also has the effect of making his journey more tangible for the reader and balances out his more romantic descriptions. Heat, thirst, cold, and hunger and other bodily sensations figure heavily in his narrative, as does his appreciation for a good cheeseburger after a long walk. Perhaps the principal strength of Pitt-Brooke’s account is that it triggers the urge to encounter BC places for oneself – not through taking a drive or looking at a map, but through a nice, long, walk. 

Crossing Home Ground: A Grassland Odyssey through Southern Interior British Columbia
David Pitt-Brooke
Madeira Park: Harbour, 2016. 320 pp. $32.95 cloth