REVIEW: EARTH AND SKY
PHOTOGRAPHS AND STORIES
FROM MONTANA AND ALBERTA
Review by Tera Swanson
Stephen Legault’s Earth and Sky spans 200 pages of stunning images of the Alberta and Montana foothills, paired with captivating narratives of lives that have interacted and developed meaning with these lands over centuries. A conservation activist, writer, and photographer, Legault provides a distinct perspective on the geology and history along the Rocky Mountain front – through national parks, iconic destinations, and everywhere in between.
Few books have managed to stir up a long-remembered nostalgia and appreciation of what it means for me to have grown up with a connection to the foothills: from family trips driving across Alberta’s vast prairies that undulate into the skirtings of Waterton Lakes National Park to a nearly mirrored view from Yamnuska`s upper ridge line just this past summer, the receding ranges eventually flattening out to the prairies and Calgary’s miniature cityscape.
Found in the shadows of their neighbouring mountains, the foothills are often overlooked as an equally intriguing region.
Earth and Sky: Photographs and Stories from Montana and Alberta conveys how these landscapes – from Kananaskis Country to Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front – have shaped so many of us, and how they are shaped themselves. Blending First Nations’ oral tradition and cultural significance, the author’s own experiences, and the story in between, the book takes the reader on a visual and narrative journey along the Rockies’ backbone.
Referred to as ‘The Front’ or ‘The Old North Trail’, this passage of foothills and emerging mountain faces have served nomadic tribes, such as the Niitsitapi, for tens of thousands of years, provided tribes with guidance and sustenance, sprouted ranches that contribute to the livelihood of those regions, and remain unique landscapes to be discovered by curious minds today as they were in centuries past.
Earth and Sky illustrates how we interact with these landscapes physically and spiritually – the feeling of trying to absorb the entirety of a prairie sky divided by a Chinook arch, the pain of an ascent distracting you from the very reason you’re there, a river’s calming presence in re-grounding and letting go. Legault invites us to remember what it means to slow down, to retrain our eyes to absorb the vastness of beauty around us, and to redevelop our attention span beyond a text or a tweet. He shows us how to take in new surroundings as a photographer does, over days, weeks, months, years.
Environmental battles over these landscapes tie in hand-in-hand with these narratives, explaining how a connection and appreciation of an area is inseparable from the realization of how quickly they can be destroyed, and the sense of responsibility to help protect them.
A beautifully portrayed tribute to the foothills, Earth and Sky brings the reader an appreciation of what these lands bring to all walks of life from the past to present-day, and how important they are to protect for the future.
Tera Swanson is a freelance writer and graduate from Mount Royal University’s Journalism undergraduate program. Whether laced into hiking boots or clipped into skis, her favourite way to explore the mountains is on her own two feet. She’s always up for anything that will end in the telling of a good story; be it through photography, from pen to paper, or over a locally brewed amber ale.