Wharton’s Icefields

August 27, 2008

Wharton's Icefields

Wharton’s Icefields,
originally uploaded by ocean.flynn.

In a seamless blend of mountaineering, history, botany and fiction, Edmonton author Thomas Wharton revisits the shifting social and cultural events that took place on the edge of the Columbia icefields in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1898 while on an expedition in the Columbia (Arcturus) glacier, doctor and amateur botanist Edward Bryne fell through a crevasse where he was held upside down in the icy grip of the narrowing walls of the chasm suspended in a liminal state between reality and dreams.

Using Adobe Photoshop I created this digitage inspired by descriptions and interpretations of the angel in Dr. Bryne’s icy vision. I layered images of ice taken at the Glenmore reservoir in Calgary, a Calypso orchid taken on Heart Mountain in June 2008 and my mother’s portrait from the early 1900s.

The Calypso orchid was elegantly selected as a character in the novel, as the origin of its name signifies concealment. It is a fragile plant with a wide, circumpolar distribution, that requires a highly specific ecosystem. Once it was an edible and medicinal plant for the First Nations who gathered plants in the Rockies but with increased traffic on what were once remote montaine trails, it is now an endangered species. At a certain height on Heart Mountain Trail when the scree became too difficult for me to manage, I was looking for an easier route a bit farther back from the steep edge of the trail when I came across a couple of these tiny purple orchids in a delicate floral embrace.

stoney, concealment, edible, circumpolar, ethnobotany, fairy slipper, Venus’s slipper, tagging, taxonomy, walkingtrails, wildflowersnorthamerica, wfgna, rockymountains, rockies, geotagging, geotagged, geotag, creativecommons, calgarydaytrips, alberta, CalypsoFairySlipper, Calypso.Bulbosa,


“bare, windswept slope of ice … projecting spine of ice … stepped backward into the abyss . . . (Wharton 1995 [2007:2]) . . . deep blue gloom p.3 . . . ”
“I prefer words on a page. They don’t gesticulate.”

“restless crowd with its panoply of cameras (Wharton 1995 [2007:274]).”

Wharton, Thomas. 1995 [2007]. Icefields. Nunatak Fiction. NeWest Press. Edmonton, AB.


1. The calypso orchid The Calypso bulbosa, Calypso orchid, Fairy’s slipper, Venus’s slipper or Plantae < Magnoliophyta < Liliopsida < Asparagales < Orchidaceae < Epidendroideae < Calypsoeae < Calypso < Salisb. < Calypso bulbosa

Nunatak is a word in Inuktitut meaning “lonely peak,” a rock or mountain rising above ice. During Quaternary glaciation in North America, peaks stood above the ice sheet and so became refuge for plant and animal life. Magnificent nunataks, their bases scoured by glaciers, can be seen along the Highwood Pass in the Alberta Rocky Mountains and on Ellesmere Island. The Nunatak fiction series are especially selected works of fiction by new western authors. Editors for Nunataks for NeWest Press are Aritha van Herk and Ruby Wiebe.

Sexsmith’s expedition is based on the 1859-1860 expedition undertaken by James Carnegie, Earl of Southesk.

Bibliography of research resources acknowledged by auhtor Thomas Wharton

Adassiz, Louis. 1967. Studies on Glaciers. Trans. Albert Carozzi. New York: Hafner.
Carnegie, James. 1875. Saskatchewan and the Rocky Mountains.
Gadd, Benn. 1987. Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, Jasper, Alberta: Corax.
Kagami, Yoshiro. 1951. “Edward Bryne: a Life on Ice.” Journal of Alpine Exploration. ii:6.
Stuffield, Hugh; Collie, J. Norman. 1903. Climbs and Explorations in the Canadian Rockies. London: Longmans, Green and Company.

Uploaded by ocean.flynn on 26 Aug 08, 3.16PM MDT.

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