Table of Contents

The point of all this yard out back business? All is revealed.

Discussion || Kari Medig

Unless you ask what you're missing, you'll see nothing different.

Conversation || Joel Robison

He'd be among the first to tell you that magic is everywhere. But not everyone makes magic come alive like Joel Robison.

Discussion || Bruce Kirkby

Going further makes you appreciate what you have at home.

Reflections || Nadine Sander-Green

A backyard is something to take care of. Find pride in. A moment of feeling like we are connected to something larger than ourselves.

What has thousands of birds, purifies water and flows towards 15 million people?

Bruce Kirkby

Leaning into the meaning of the yard that never ends.

To fence or not to fence? A colourful row shows no offence at seeing the forest for the skis.


Backyard Manifesto

Bruce Kirkby
Bruce Kirkby
Writer, Photographer || Ass Kicker

Bruce is a wilderness writer and adventure photographer, recognized for connecting wild places with contemporary issues. He's a Mountain Equipment Co-op Ambassador and reportedly a pretty rad dad.

@brucekirkby  ||

1st Rule of Backyard Club: Everyone is invited. We all have a backyard. I'm not talking the white picket fence and flowerbed variety, but rather a familiar geography that stretches beyond our back doors.

The ground we walk on every day; the scents, the shifting light, the sounds, the characters that share the landscape with us.

We all have a backyard... but we don’t always know it. Perhaps this is because a backyard isn’t something we own. Instead, a backyard is something we enter into a relationship with. And like any relationship, it requires two simple things - time and attention - both of which are in short supply these days.

I spent my earliest years wandering a small swath of grass surrounded by a chain-link fence and untamed lilacs behind a redbrick home in downtown Toronto. I haven’t returned for forty years, but I still remember the cool shade of the cherry, the ants in the sandbox, the musty tool shed, the gate where I waited for my father and the press of his stubble.

In an era when children roamed free, my backyard grew steadily with passing years. A feral pack of us soared along the streets atop purple bikes with banana seats and tassels, collecting pungent black walnuts. We crept into a nearby ravine, tiptoeing through abandoned heritage homes slated for destruction, returning with rat traps, yellow newspapers and strands of colourful electrical wire, which we wove into bracelets.

Backyards are like relationships. One is never better than another. City, beachfront, urban park, wild mountain; it is not the landscape that matters, but rather our connection and interaction with it.

By the age of 10, when we moved to the suburbs, my backyard had expanded to include anywhere I could pedal my BMX bike. Which was pretty damn far. On weekends I would follow power lines behind our house; north to the airport where 747’s screamed overhead; or south to Lake Ontario, where noisy mallards hid amid dry bulrushes. When summer thunderstorms flooded a nearby creek, we launched air mattresses and were swept through the forbidden grounds of a private golf club. Occasionally, angry groups of men in paisley sweaters chased us wielding putters. It seemed they wanted their backyard all to themselves.

More forest for the trees. A walk in the woods with a pack on the back. @brucekirkby

The sunset lasts longer at higher elevations. @brucekirkby

Snow what? It doesn't take much for kids to kick up some fun in the snow. @brucekirkby

And if they're on their game, it doesn't take much for adults to skin up some fun in the snow too. Climbing the hill with friends near Canada's highest city. @brucekirkby

The golden rule? The trees that have the gold, rule. Tamarack, just beyond the backyard, in fall. @brucekirkby

Even something as simple as cooking a meal can be a big deal for little adventurers. @brucekirkby

2nd Rule of Backyard Club: You will forget you’ve been invited.

What happens to our laps when we stand up? Do they disappear? Or are they still there? Is it simply a matter of perspective? And what happens to our backyards when we stop paying attention? For many years - while attending university in Kingston, and later, while chasing dollars and promotions and girls in Ottawa, Calgary, and Vancouver – I hardly knew my backyards at all. Of course, I still walked the streets, ran and biked along urban trails. But I was just too darn busy to notice much. So I missed the towering riverside cottonwoods getting buzzcuts by city crews, the blue robin’s egg that tumbled from a spring nest, the screaming cicadas on summer nights. I missed the budding of the leaves, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the morning dew, the stars.

3rd Rule of Backyard Club: Membership isn’t free.


Out the backdoor, and into the wild, with child on board in a backpack. @brucekirkby

More than a decade ago, I moved to a small town tucked between the Rocky and Purcell Mountains. And something changed. Maybe it was the new landscape, but I suspect it had more to do with pace of life. An indistinct trail enters the forest directly behind our kitchen. I’d spotted it even before signing the mortgage papers. Something calls me this way most mornings, coffee in hand. During spring, glacier-lilies bloom here amid tangled underbrush. There's a flash of yellow that evaporates before the hummingbirds arrive. A family of ground squirrels natters from a hollow spruce, a waist-deep mat of pine nuts spreading below. Last winter, a pack of wolves passed this way like ghosts, leaving prints the size of saucers and taking down an elk, devouring all but the skull by dawn. But my backyard is more than just the quiet forest behind my house. It includes the local ski hill; wandered in summer in search of huckleberries; climbed in winter, before the lifts open. It includes the small creek that runs through the heart of town, where one can still don a wetsuit and snorkel and watch trout darting about shallow pools.

My backyard stretches into the Purcell Mountains, where overgrown logging roads lead up unnamed drainages. Not long after we moved to the mountains, my wife and I slipped out our back door, 12 days of food and a tent in my pack, our 16-month-old son in hers. Setting off down the trail we knew so well, we reached the end and kept going, pressed deeper and deeper into the silent peaks, crossing high alpine ridges, fording frigid streams, camping under the Milky Way, occasionally finding shelter in abandoned homestead cabins, stumbling through snow, awakened by thunder, stumbling across avalanche paths clogged with alder, feasting on thimbleberries. Two weeks later we emerged upon the shores of Kootenay Lake. And somewhere amid those forests and peaks, we’d left our backyard. There was no clear boundary, no sudden awareness, but the verdant land of hemlock and cedar we’d arrived in was not home. This was not our backyard. It was someone else’s.

4th and Final Rule of Backyard Club: Rewards grow – with time.

Backyards are like relationships. One is never better than another. City, beachfront, urban park, wild mountain; it is not the landscape that matters, but rather our interaction with it.

And every backyard is a product of the beholder. Your neighbours, even your spouse, will know the surrounding area differently than you. They may notice the play of light, or hear birdsong on the wind. You might see a standing dead pine, and make plans to return with a chainsaw and drop it for firewood. Where the trail diverges, they might jib while you jab. You may be entranced by the ever-changing wonders underfoot. They might stare at the forest canopy. Or deeply breathe that tapestry of scents.

A backyard is the product of our curiosity, our wanderings, our attention, and our time. It remains a contradiction of familiarity and discovery; a place we know intimately well, yet are routinely amazed by new wonders. A backyard is not so much a place we explore as something we burrow into. And given time, it is something that burrows into us.

The backyard promise? Furthermore, there will be further, and more. @brucekirkby