When Melody Hessing, the author of Up Chute Creek: An Okanagan Idyll, moved to Naramata B.C. in the early 1970's, stucco motels, benchland orchards and fun-in-the-sun tourism were the main ingredients of the South Okanagan lifestyle. Today 'wine country' includes estate wineries, golf courses, casinos, cycling trails, and triathlons, attracting residents and tourists alike to a diversity of upscale venues and activities. Yet there are few published accounts of the ways in which rapid growth, diminished biodiversity, and social change have shaped the contemporary South Okanagan. This story provides a glimpse of the Okanagan region in transition, celebrating its unique character and contributing to its cultural heritage.
This story is about landscapes - the way we change the land, and the ways that the land changes us. The author moved to the Okanagan Valley with her husband in 1974. Late-comers to the back-to-the-land movement, they built an unobtrusive house by hand on a rocky cliff near Naramata. Young and naïve, they ignored the inevitable (dis)connects between romantic ideals and rural pragmatism, topography and age.
The story is a creative non-fiction account of this experience, beginning with a post-evacuation return to the 2003 Okanagan Mountain fire zone. The narrative flashes back to an earlier discovery of this property, encounters with neighbours, and the heroics of a do-it-yourself construction project on a remote house site. Living in a wild place, paid work and a baby force the first evacuation of the Granite Farm, followed by a quarter century of coming and going to a home-away-from-home. The author remains tethered today to the vulnerability and beauty of this arid, rocky landscape.
Up Chute Creek is a story about "landscaping" the South Okanagan, about how you forge relations with a place while it creeps into your bones, infiltrates your psyche, and shifts the geography of your soul. Building a house, the emotional and physical challenges of rural settlement, the contrast between early settlement patterns and those today, comprise the social and ecological curriculum; the learning curve is bumpy and steep, the trajectory up and down.
The narrative is about the continuing 'development' of this province - the spill of people into place, and how the place changes. It explores timely themes relevant not just to the Okanagan, but throughout Canada: gender issues, urban/rural tensions, historical settlement, community cohesion, economic transition, and declines in biodiversity. Its humorous narrative style contributes to a discussion of contemporary landscape that tries to reconcile development with
preservation, past with present, neighbors with friendship, marriage with autonomy, body and soul.