Blue Sky Kingdom.

Kimberley’s Bruce Kirkby publishes “Blue Sky Kingdom” documenting family adventure to Zanskar

Bruce Kirkby, a prolific and world-reknowned adventurer, writer and photographer who calls Kimberley, B.C. home, has published his third book, which he will launch at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival.

“Blue Sky Kingdom” is an epic tale that intermingles elements of adventure, spirituality and mental health from the perspective of a family journeying across the world to a remote monastery deep in the Himalaya.

Kirkby’s first adventure was back in 1991. After attaining a degree in engineering physics and then landing what many would consider to be a dream career, he decided to ditch the secure but constraining life in a cubicle and embark on a bike trip through northern Pakistan.

Since then he’s been all over the world: guiding in the Arctic and running support on Everest base camp, completing the first modern crossing of Arabia’s empty quarter on camel, rafting the Blue Nile Gorge from Ethiopia to the Sudan.

He’s written two best-selling books and countless columns for the Globe and Mail, written for Huffington Post, Canadian Geographic and the New York Times and shot photos for National Geographic — to merely scratch the surface of his remarkable resume.

“Blue Sky Kingdom” sees Bruce, his wife Christine and their boys Bodi, then 7, and Taj, then 3, depart from their cozy home in Kimberley in canoes to Golden. From there they hop a train to the coast where they head to Asia from Vancouver on a colossal container ship to Asia, where the real meat of the journey begins.

The family unit, who sought a reprieve from the overwhelming presence of technology and social media, is accompanied by a television crew until their final destination — an isolated Buddhist monastery in Zanskar province in Northern India. The resulting product is a series called “Big Crazy Family Adventure,” which aired on the Travel Channel.

You may be thinking to yourself, ‘is it responsible to bring two young children on such a long, potentially risky trek such as this?’ Kirkby is certainly no stranger to these concerns. Futhermore his boys, even at that point, were no strangers to adventure.

At four, Bodi accompanied his dad and a bunch of goats along a high-altitude 100-mile trek along Utah’s Highline Trail. At two, Taj tagged along as the family paddled the Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan.

“We both wanted to teach our boys that travel, just like life, delivers an unending series of challenges — and how we respond is what makes us who we are,” Kirkby writes in “Blue Sky Kingdom.”

The author spoke with the Kimberley Bulletin over Zoom, following a morning of paddle boarding on the rapidly freezing St. Mary Lake, to share some insights on this adventure to Zanskar, and how it represents but one step in a still ongoing life journey for he and his family.

A crucial component of this book is Bruce and Christine’s coming to terms with their son Bodi’s autism diagnosis. In the book, the depth of research the couple did on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) shines through. Just as Kirkby felt an extended excursion and time amongst Buddhist monks would be helpful in his quest to curb his addiction to his devices, he and Christine thought the trip could prove beneficial for Bodi.

“I realize that the book’s in many ways about attention and he’s very good at paying attention,” Kirkby told the Bulletin. “He’s not distracted like the rest of us. In a way, he’s like the Himalayan Buddhists in that he abhors distraction and he’s kind of right in the burning reality of the moment.”

Kirkby acknowledges the fact that disclosing a child’s autism diagnosis is a controversial issue.

“A lot of people are like, ‘the child is the one who should decide and so parents shouldn’t ever tell about a diagnosis’ — I don’t agree with that,” he said. “I can see why people get that, but I mean, what are you teaching your child if you say this is the thing that’s the most central to who you are, but we’re going to keep it a secret until you’re 18?

“I mean that just seems ludicrous, it’s just such a shaky foundation. It’s who Bodi is and he has nothing to be ashamed of.”

Kirkby deftly weaves numerous themes together at once throughout Blue Sky Kingdom. At Karsha Gompa, the monastery that became the family’s home for three months, he sees tremendous growth in his son who begins interacting with his parents and other children in ways they didn’t think were possible just a few months earlier.

At the same time, Kirkby sees a wave of modernity encroaching on this ancient valley, threatening its very culture and way of life as a massive highway project inches closer and closer through the Himalaya.

“I was witnessing Zanskar on the cusp of it being colonized, not in an overt act of colonization, but by the very fact that the massive weight and momentum of modernity once that road was open would unavoidably swamp this culture that had developed over 1000 years and decimate it,” he explained.

“In that I started to realize that there was a resonance between my and Christine’s perhaps unwitting colonization of Bodi.”

That may sound a bit weird, Kirkby admits, but he says he sees more and more parents who have children with a variety of diagnosies, be it ASD, ADHD, dyslexia or anything else, deal with the pressure of helping the child “navigate the world that we see as normal.”

“But in that process we’re kind of bending them towards us, we’re kind of saying, come this way,” Kirkby said. “And that’s important, but there also is a really important part of meeting them over here and being where they are.

“And just in the way with Zanskar, yeah they need the education, they need the medical advances and technology but we need to go there and bend towards them and say ‘oh my god, they’ve got a lot of beautiful skills and abilities and talents, which are exactly what I went to Zanskar to experience. That shouldn’t be lost in the bending of Zanskar towards us.”

Throughout the trip and following the return home and ensuing period of culture shock, Bruce and Christine observed profound positive changes in Bodi’s behaviour and state of mind.

However, just as the journey to that point wasn’t without its hurdles, more challenges were unfortunately in store for Bodi, now 13, not long after returning.

He caught a cold at school, which moved into an ear infection which ledd to an operation which then shut down his digestive track. The past few years have consisted of about 25 hospital trips, 15 to the Calgary Children’s Hospital, trips to Mexico, Switzerland and Texas for treatment and about $70,000 spent on treatments beyond the Canadian healthcare system. In the process, Kirkby said their son, who had progressed so much, started disappearing from them.

“He flourished after this trip,” Kirkby said. “This is the hardest part, he came home, that trip was amazing for him, I think there was a lot of stuff that went on, because he was in the land of non-verbal communications and we all communicate very easily verbally and that’s a challenge at times for Bodi. So he just had this extraordinary period of growth at Karsha Gompa that was so beautiful and so it really was tough to see him struggle after.”

Though this particular trip had to be put on hold for now, Kirkby said “there’s only so many years we have and I want to spend a year surfing and write about it and I’ve known that for 20 years.”

So look out, some time in the future, for a potential fourth book from Kirkby. What made reading Blue Sky Kingdom so captivating was that, despite leading a lifestyle foreign and perhaps extreme to some, there are elements throughout that can resonate with anyone, as Kirkby demonstrates a true talent of being able to capture and distill profound moments of the human experience.

You can find “Blue Sky Kingdom” on Amazon and at select local stores. The book was launched at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival and Kirkby is also a finalist for their book award in the Adventure Travel category.



paul.rodgers@kimberleybulletin

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Just Posted

The City of Cranbrook and the Ktunaxa Nation raised the flag of the Ktunaxa Nation at the arches entrance into the city’s downtown core during a ceremony on Monday, June 21. Photo courtesy City of Cranbrook.
Ktunaxa Nation flag raised at downtown arches entrance

The Ktunaxa Nation flag was raised at the Cranbrook arches — the… Continue reading

Kimberley Search and Rescue were able to quickly respond to a call for service and transport an injured mountain biker to East Kootenay Regional Hospital over the weekend. Kimberley SAR file photo.
Kimberley Search and Rescue respond to injured mountain biker on Bootleg Mountain

Kimberley Search and Rescue responded to a call for service this past… Continue reading

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

City of Cranbrook, Ktunaxa Nation to host flag ceremony on National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Corey Bullock file)
City of Cranbrook, Ktunaxa Nation hosting flag ceremony on National Indigenous Peoples Day

A temporary road closure and speed limit reduction will be in effect during the ceremony

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Most Read