From 1977 to 1987, Daniel James ran Nahanni Reforestation, a tree planting contractor in remote British Columbia in Canada that was hired by logging companies to replant trees they'd clearcut. He'd spend five months out of the year outside, working with a bunch of hippies. In that time, his daughter Nahanni Arntzen was born in a teepee, and spent the first eight years of her life with her parents and their friends doing replanting. Recently, Arntzen, looking for baby pictures of herself, found her father had an enormous trove of Kodachromes from his years running Nahanni. Struck by them, Arntzen compiled Nahanni Reforestation, a book of the photos of this never-before-seen subculture. The striking images of stylish and hardworking '70s hippies in bandanas, denim, plaids, and flannels echo a badass lifestyle that inspires today. GQ spoke to Arntzen about her time as a young replanter, and the long lifespan of the images.
What's the meaning of your name? Your dad named his business after you.
Yeah! I was named after a river in the North West territory; it's called the Nahanni River. It actually means, "people who talk like ducks." I think I found that out in about 3rd grade and was like, "Realllly!" So it's not really anything majestic, it's just People Who Talk Like Ducks. It's actually a Native Indian, a Native Canadian name, and there's a lot of native Canadians with the last name Nahannie—which is the same spelling as my name, but with an e at the end. And they all came from that area.I read somewhere that you had done some research yourself, trying to see if anyone else had done any documenting the reforestation period visually. And that you hadn't found very much.
When all of these photos came out in this huge archive a lot of family was like, "Dan had a camera?!" But he just took photos all the time—he took all the photos throughout the camps and that whole time period, all these photos that nobody knew were around until I dug through them and had them all scanned. Nobody took pictures to the extent that my dad has: the amount of daily life detail and just like the whole movement of hippies that started picking up those contracts and doing reforestation.
How did he preserve them? You guys were out in nature for so much of it!
He would just shoot all of the film while he was out and then when we'd come back into town, get it all developed. The original idea behind taking all the photos was that he wanted to have a slideshow for his crew at the end of the season. So they would work from February till June, and when they would come back, he would get everything developed and he wanted them to have a party and have a slideshow. So a lot of the slides, the ones that were best kept, were still all in slide trays. Still in boxes.
How did this project start?
It started about six years ago. My first daughter was a couple years old and I was looking for photos of me as a baby—just because when you have a baby you want to see whom your baby looks like. And there weren't any photos around of me as a baby or child that I could find. And I was talking to my dad about it, and he said, "Well I have a bunch of those tree planting slides here, you're in a bunch of those. So, you should just look through there." He gave me these big bags full of trays and slides. I held a few of them up to the light and looked at them, and was like, Oh wow, these are really incredible.
And then we got the whole lot scanned. I started sorting through them. I was like, we can post them up and get them seen that way. And then if there's enough interest, then maybe we'll make a book out of it.
You immediately thought it could be a book?
Originally I just wanted to make a book for my dad. Because he hadn't even seen any of those slides from when he put them into the boxes at the end of the '80s, he hadn't even looked through any of them. Originally, I was just going to do a book. I wanted to print one and just give it to him for Christmas, because he was going to be turning 60. As it sort of developed, there seemed to be more and more interest, like if I actually made a book for the public then, wouldn't that be cool, you know! So then I asked him if he would be ok with doing that, and if he would be interested. And he was like " yeah, go for it".
What does your dad think of the response?
I think he's really shocked in a lot of ways. He's not much for computers or phones or technology in general. He's been kind of reluctant to embrace it in many ways. So I think for him, it was kind of like it came out of nowhere in a way. So I think he was kind of shocked, but then really grateful that people have appreciated his work in such a positive way and have been so responsive. And also it's put him back in touch, through the project, with a lot of the old planters that used to work for him for a long time. They had gotten in touch with me and I put him in touch with them. He's actually had his own parties and stuff. He's gone out and visited a lot of his old crew and friends that he hasn't seen in a long time. So that's been super special.
That's really incredible!
Yeah, yeah, It's pretty special. I got to talk to Devaki who is in a lot of the photos, and she was one of the cooks in the camp. I was really close to her when I was a kid, because that's who I hung out with most of the time: the cooks. We got in touch through this project: somebody that she knew saw the photos and put us back in touch. So that was really special to me.
Is your dad still interested in forestry?
Well my dad stopped planting in '86, that was his last contract. He started planting when he was 19 and then he started contracting when he was 22. He ran Nahanni Reforestation for 10 years. So he stopped after he had his second child—my brother—with his new wife. She was not a planter. So I think being away—he was gone 5 months of the year—he stopped planting then. He went more into carpentry and home renovations. He still works outside every day. Some people do it for way longer though.
There are great fashion moments in these images, it informs a very current aesthetic. Your dad's Kodachromes, being in a box for so many years: it's probably now going to end up on mood boards.
A lot of the clothes and stuff that they would get would be from Army and Navy, like army pants and sailor pants and just like button downs and flannels: stuff that was pretty rugged, stuff that was going to last, not get wet, stay dry. They just got what they could together that would last. I am actually a designer myself and I'm quite interested in what they're wearing. And I have a real nostalgia for just that that kind of gear just because it's from my childhood. Just remembering my mom's wool sailor pants. I remember the smell of that. My dad would wear a pair of white jeans, everywhere he went. They were the most dirty white denim jeans. But I always had a love for dirty white denim because of that.
And you have a connection to POLER as well?
Yeah, my husband started POLER. So we've been working on that for that past 4 years. That's his brainchild. A lot of it came from him and I. When we first started dating, that's what we kind of bonded over: camping and loving the outdoors, riding motorcycles, doing stuff that was outside stuff. So that was kind of the inspiration for getting that going.
Being around all those people and now reconnecting with them, have you been able to have perspective about how it has all shaped your life in growing up in this very different way?
Most informative is that I'm outside all the time or as much as I possibly can be. That's where I feel the best, that's where I want my kids to be. I just have a strong constitution to take care of myself: like I can take care of my own injuries and just entertain myself really well. I've never had a problem being independent or being alone or figuring out stuff for myself to do. I'm not bored, never bored! I'm not a luddite necessarily, but I do appreciate not having my space being constantly invaded by modern conveniences all the time. I definitely also appreciate very much sleeping in a bed and being warm!
In so many of the pictures there are so many lovely moments of people entertaining. What an idyllic situation to grow up in, just really enjoying life. How did people entertain themselves? Were they stoned all the time?
What was it like growing up outside?
Generally in the evening, the way you would get clean in the camp is that you had to make a sauna because you'd make camp next to some water: a river, a lake, some form of snow melt. The only way you could get clean is to get really hot and then jumping into really cold water. So there was usually a sauna in the evening. Then people would have dinner, and then play music. Music was a big part of it for sure. A lot of the people who worked for my dad were people my dad was in a band with when he was in high school. He just recruited a lot of his old high school friends and family. That was a big part of it. There was a lot of volleyball. Always bring a net for volleyball! There was a lot of writing letters. Reading books. They would read novels, and tear them in half, so that somebody could read the first half and somebody could read the second half.
Do you have any idea how many trees your dad and his company might have planted in those years?
He planted about 20 million.