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Review

Ever-Changing Sky: Doris Lee’s Journey from Schoolteacher to Cariboo Rancher

By Doris C. Lee

November 4, 2013

Review By Megan Prins

Doris Lee’s memoir, Ever-Changing Sky, offers readers an account of the nearly twenty years she and her husband spent as owner/operators of Big Lake Ranch, deep in the heart of British Columbia’s Cariboo country. Freshly married in 1950, the pair uprooted from the sunny bustling climes of postwar California to an isolated cattle ranch with few modern comforts, much to Lee’s shock and dismay. A self-described “dude” who knew nothing about cattle and ranches, Doris struggled with the environment, work, and loneliness. Through stubbornness, necessity, and determination Lee gradually began to appreciate life at Big Lake. She soon established dedicated friendships, raised two boys, and evolved into a sharp-shooting ranching woman who eventually acquired the skills to shepherd her own 1,500 plus head of sheep.

The warp and woof of Ever-Changing Sky pulses from Lee’s environmental observations, and this is only fitting: much of Doris’s ranch work, camping excursions, or social events were dictated by the Cariboo’s wildly swinging seasons. Indeed, Ever-Changing Sky is, in many ways, a love letter from Lee to the region’s nature. Her descriptions of the welcome first green of spring, the plethora of flora and fauna she shared the ranch with, the booming violence of Cariboo thunderstorms, and the heavy silent whiteness of winter are carefully rendered.

Ever-Changing Sky is akin to late nineteenth and early twentieth century gendered pioneering narratives. For Lee, coming from urban California, her journey to Cariboo may have felt like a visit to the past frontier. Through historical vignettes, Lee links her move and early years at Big Ranch to the historic Cariboo ventures of the fur traders, miners, entrepreneurs, and ranchers who put down roots, becoming, as the Lees did, Caribooites. Such narrative gestures remind readers how near and dear the settler-colonial narrative is to Westerners in the twenty first century. Others interested in the social and economic history of ranching in the region will be gratified with the general outlines of the work, as well as tempted, and occasionally unfulfilled, by shadows of conflict between ranch owners and labour, cattlemen and the market, and ranchers and the provincial Grazing Department. For those interested in the imbricated relationship among nature, people, and place making, or those who want to know more about a personal environmental experience of the Cariboo after the gold played out, Ever-Changing Sky is a fine read.

Ever-Changing Sky: Doris Lee’s Journey from Schoolteacher to Cariboo Rancher
By Doris C. Lee 
Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2012. 269 pp. $24.95 paper