‘It’s a very peaceful place’: Sask. The photographer embraces the province’s wilderness in winter

Saskatchewan’s long winters are notorious for its vicious winds, severe blizzards and prolonged cold spells. These conditions often inspire people to cozy up indoors, but others choose to embrace the seasons outside.

“The boreal forest is beautiful in the winter,” says CJ Lessard, a wildlife photographer near Prince Albert National Park.

He routinely bundles up and treks (or snowshoes) through the frozen woods in search of a quiet spot to wait for a fox, elk or otter.

“You’re very calm, normal, and calm. You’re becoming a part of what they’re doing. It’s an amazing feeling,” Lessard said.

He first immersed himself in nature photography as a form of healing after trauma.

“I was so badly injured with physical injuries – including head injuries – that I had to just sit down a lot of the time,” he said. “One of the health professionals recommended that I spend time outside in nature, so I started doing that.”

He’s been at it ever since. The photographer embraces the boreal forest in all seasons, but said there’s a special kind of beauty that emerges as frost coats trees, sunsets come early and fog changes the landscape.

“It’s a very peaceful place,” he said. “I think everyone should experience it.”

An elk stands on the snow in the winter forest.  The animal has patches of ice on its snout.
Lessard says the key to watching wildlife is to stay calm and still. (Submitted by CJ Lessard)

Lessard is trying to spread the love of nature through photos she posts on social media under the name “Forest Woman”.

“You don’t need to know who I am. You need to know about these animals and the wilderness and this beautiful forest of ours.”

Like Lessard, Robin Campis is encouraging people to layer up and head outdoors.

“There’s something for everyone,” said Campes, executive director of Sask Park’s Visitor Experience Division. He said the staff is working hard to create more experiences for the season.

Interest has been noticed.

“I feel like the Grinch at the end of the movie, where the heart just grows and grows multiple times,” he said. “There’s such a passion, and to witness people enjoying the park and the families and all the memories, it’s incredibly rewarding.”

An orange-brown fox crouches on the snow.
Lessard says it’s one of his favorite fox photos he’s ever taken. (Submitted by CJ Lessard)

Campes said people can visit parks across the province for skating, skiing, disc golfing or tobogganing, among other activities.

For those who want to learn to navigate outdoor fun in the winter, Campes says there are plenty of guided experiences on offer.

“The winter here can be harsh at times. Sometimes, when you go into the forest, especially in the winter, it all looks the same, and so this guided experience helps people get that comfort level and really learn some new skills who are experts in that area.”

Some of the new experiences offered this year include skidooing at Duck Mountain Provincial Park, snowshoeing among chickadees at Pike Lake, or learning how to cross-country ski at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park.

“People get a lot of stress relief and enjoyment from coming to the park,” Campes said.

“The more activities we can promote and expose to people, the more we’re improving people’s lives.”

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