Words: Nathaniel Atakora Martin
The Journey of a Lifetime
Photographer Nathaniel Atakora tells us how his father passed on the passion for outdoor activities and the discovery of an entirely new part of Canada.
Prairies were all I’d know at the age of seven. I was born in the same quiet farm town as my father, and we spent my early years moving around central Saskatchewan. Back then my adventures took place in the streams that ran behind our apartment building, on the rivers that would freeze in the winter, or on the cracked, grey-faded roads that would carry me to some new place. I would spend my summers reading books like “The Hatchet" and "My Side of the Mountain", dreaming of one day scaling some lofty precipice. So when my father secured a job teaching in an alpine town called Jasper, I was ecstatic - it meant finally seeing mountains for the first time in person.
My dad piled my brother and I into the car one early summer morning, pillows and blankets from our bunk bed stuffed into the back seat. He grabbed a double-double for the road and we were off. I remember watching the shifting landscapes become less familiar every time we’d stop to gas up. Between sips of coffee my dad would regale us with stories of his time spent out west, or share some bit of knowledge about the surrounding area. It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by peaks on all sides, our blue Nissan Multi weaving along the valley floor. I remember seeing turquoise lakes through the trees, such a vibrant shade of blue-green it seemed almost impossible.
The area was teeming with wildlife. Elk, mountain sheep and goats trafficked the highway shoulders, staring blankly at my brother and I as we hung out the window. The thing I remember most of all was the sheer scale of the terrain. It was overwhelming. I’d never dreamed something could be so immense, so beautiful, and did not want to turn my eyes from the mountains for even an instant.
Every once in a while my dad would pull over to take some photos of my brother and I. As long as I could remember he’d had this old black Fuji point-and-shoot. I loved photos growing up; having everyone gather round and smile, winding the film and dropping it off at the lab, holding the negatives up to the light and watching my mom carefully place them into photo albums with neat little labels.
At some point on our trip my dad handed the camera over to me. That’s when, to my glee, I became the “family photographer”. The photos probably weren’t all that good, as most of the ones that made it into mom’s scrapbook are of me, but I did manage to take a great portrait of my dad that I’m still proud of to this day.
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I sometimes wonder what those moments were like for my father. Seeing the awe and the joy those experiences brought me, I wonder if he knew that those memories were a seed planted. That they would stay with me all my life and shape my pursuits as I grew. That one day I would build a career taking photos in those same places.
My father has always been a patient and encouraging presence in my life, always there to motivate and support my creative endeavours. I still try to be like him now. With recent events and travel closures, I haven’t seen him or most of my family in some time. Though bittersweet, I know this separation will give me a new sense of appreciation when we are reunited again. One day soon, I want to take him on a road trip to the mountains and reintroduce him to the world he opened for me.
Those roads and lakes that seemed so foreign to me back then are now the spaces that feel most like home. Now I’ll have stories of my own to share between sips of coffee as we weave between the hills. We can swap the blankets and pillows for sleeping bags and tents, and that gas station coffee for a tin cup around the fire. Until then I’ll carry these old memories with me.