Living life off the grid

The best-selling author shares her pre-solitude life in And the River Still Sings, a book that has hit No. 1 on the B.C. Bestsellers’ List

Wilderness dweller Chris Czajkowski has taken a step back in time.

The best-selling author shares her pre-solitude life in And the River Still Sings, a book that has hit No. 1 on the B.C. Bestsellers’ List.

The author of 11 books is on a tour that will make a stop at the Salmon Arm library branch next Friday.

Located on the shores of a high-altitude alpine lake in the heart of B.C.’s Coast Mountains, remote Nuk Tessli was the subject of many of the author’s books.

Czajkowski created a resort in 1988, and single-handedly built two cabins, adding a third 10 years later.

“I never liked running the tourist business but I had to have a licence to operate on Crown lands,” she says. “I  made great friends, but physically I had bad knees and I couldn’t get around as fast as the tourists anymore.”

Czajkowski’s cabins were 150 miles from the nearest banks, traffic lights, supermarkets and cell phone service and were accessible by an overnight hike, or a 20-minute float plane ride.

“I still live off the grid and I still live in the West Chilcotin,” she says, noting she has moved to a property that is 40 kilometres from a tiny town with a store, doctor’s office and community hall. “I couldn’t live without cities, but I can’t live in them.”

Czajkowski recognizes there are things that are available only in cities and makes the best of the amenities when she visits.

The author says her publisher asked her to write about her days before solitude.

“They said ‘we want to know what you were like as a kid,’” she laughs, noting she obliged because book sales are what put food on her table.

Born in England, Czajkowski says she was always a solitary child.

After graduating from agricultural school, she saw a note on a board advertising a farm exchange, but women were only invited to do housework or tend children.

Instead, an indignant and adventurous Czajkowski filled her backpack and spent the next decade exploring the world, hitchhiking and travelling by cargo boats and occasionally small flights. She met individuals, couples or families primarily at campgrounds and travelled with them for a day or more, depending on who was going where.

“It seemed like every man and his dog was going in an old vehicle from London to Khathmandu,” she laughs of the late 1960s and early ’70s. “The students I was travelling with couldn’t go there because of the monsoons.”

So, Czajkowski met up with another group and visited Nepal’s biggest city before heading to Australia in 1971.

“That was the first place I went hiking alone for more than a day,” she says of the vast country. “It was the most euphoric experience. I don’t know why, it just seemed so fabulous to be alone in the bush.”

Czajkowski worked on dairy farms in Australia before heading to New Zealand, where she worked for five years.

“While I lived in South Island, I started doing solitary trips,” she says. “You see things so much more clearly when you’re alone; you’re so much a part of the landscape.”

Czajkowski, who loved New Zealand, remembers thinking if she remained there, she would always wonder what the other half of the world was like.

So, she departed for South America, living for a time in the Falkland Islands before the brief 1982 war when Argentina invaded the British-owned islands.

Working her way north, Czajkowski was unable to get a visa to enter the US. She returned to Europe for a couple of months to get her papers before returning to North America and fulfilling a childhood dream to travel to Canada.

“Mountains are the draw; the land is higher at this end of the country,” she laughs, noting she grew up in flat lands and saw her first hilly country at the age of eight. “I am an artist and I suppose it’s an artistic response. I  have always loved the wild country.”

Now living a little closer to the grid, Czajkowski still draws water from a well and is without a hot water system. But she does have solar power that allows her to run her computer and travel the world via Internet.

“I do a lot of research,” she says, noting her love of reading and a preference for detective fiction. “I find a reference and go look it up on Internet to see if it’s a fake.”

Czajkowski will share her stories at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24 at the Salmon Arm Library in the Mall at Piccadilly.

In the meantime, fans can follow Czajkowski on her blog at wildernessdweller.ca.