I can’t recall how I acquired Bob’s number. However, I do remember making the call, explaining who I was, my intentions, a request for his time, and why I’m photographing random strangers across the country. Anyone I request to feature for my Back To The Land series, I still find asking the question stressful, which in my head sounds like, “So, do you mind if I invite myself to your home, force you to hang out with me, ask you some personal questions, and if you don’t mind, allow me to take your portrait?”. I have thoughts where someone pulls a twelve gauge on me.
As my wife and I drove to Bob’s home, we found ourselves counting the number of lefts out loud, with one failed attempt in the bag from Bob’s solid directions. We noticed a small break in the trees with only enough room for a single vehicle and drove down towards the river’s edge through dense forest that blanketed the property. Within seconds we saw grazing chickens, turkeys, and horses each with their own living quarters and pens. Their home was modest, practical with a sizeable Irish wolfhound half asleep on the wet deck from the light drizzle coming down. What I presumed was Bob’s shop, was only meters from the main home with logs stacked chest high outside the front door of the weathered structure that was the product of its own time outside. It all sat high on the banks of the Kispiox River with perfect views and natures sound. Bob and his wife Kathy greeted us with open arms and warm smiles when we pulled up to the house. After a few pleasantries, Bob and I departed into his shop where I could already hear the cackling laughter of Kathy and my wife in the distance making the best of a random encounter.
Bob is a rod maker and makes fly fishing rods, spey rods, and his material of choice being bamboo. It’s a type of rod that allows you to cast farther due to its size and flex compared to the more common fly rod. His workshop came with all the bells and whistles: dented weathered workbenches, machines of unfamiliarity, scrap and spare material in all corners, and the randomness that comes with shops organized chaos. Nothing special except the capacious aroma of the lingering mid-day spring shower.
I asked Bob not to break his habits or routine on account of me. I watched him work as I took some photos and asked the odd question. Ok, I asked a lot of questions and mostly just got in the way. He went on to explain his process, methods, and his love for labour and craft. “It’s a love-hate, and you soon find out your mistakes make good kindling.”
Before making rods, Bob and his wife guided for years before he sold his company and dedicated his time solely to making rods. They’ve been in the Kispiox since 1977, built the home they currently live in and what started as a hobby, turned into a living. They raised four children, and Bob shyly mentions, yet with pride, their love for the outdoors. After seeing his process, I set up my camera equipment and took his portrait. What followed was an invitation to join him and Kathy for lunch. I happily accepted.
I like to believe I’m a fly on the wall with all of my encounters, minus the assault with a roll of newsprint. It’s the invitation to observe, listen, ask, and this repeats over and over with each encounter. Bob and Kathy shared stories of past fishing trips, their children and their lives, building a home in the valley, and some of the highs and lows while living in the Kispiox Valley. We talked about the river systems, the surrounding communities, and how a vast majority of the population in Northern BC depend on the balance of Skeena watershed where there is a continued threat from the energy industry. “We have a special place here, and we must not upset the balance.”
Northern BC is nothing short of breathtaking where it’s hard to distinguish what fills the soul more, it’s people, or it’s the landscape of breathtaking mountains and the static hum of the river systems. I hope never to find the answer.
You can read more about Bob and see some of his beautiful work here: https://www.riverwatchrods.com