Illustrated by the much-honoured and beloved artist Roy Henry Vickers, Cloudwalker is a visually glorious book. Vickers and oral historian Robert Budd joined forces on last year’s lauded Raven Brings the Light, and with this follow-up – part of a series retelling First Nations legends of the Pacific Northwest – the duo once again uses a human character’s supernatural experiences to explain the origin of a natural element.
Cloudwalker tells the story of a young hunter who ties a flock of trumpeter swans together by their feet and is taken by surprise when they draw him up into the clouds. Desperately trying to find his way home, he comes upon a cedar water bucket, which he carries with him on his search, occasionally stumbling and spilling some of its contents. Upon his eventual return to his village, the hunter discovers that the spilled water (or “juice from the clouds”) has formed new lakes and three large rivers – the Skeena, the Nass, and the Stikine.
Vickers and Budd pack their story with many elements and layers of significance. The blending of heroic narrative, legend, history, geography, biology, and art reflects the holistic and ecological approach advocated by Vickers and is characteristic of the coastal First Nations from which he descends.
Of the 20 illustrations in Cloudwalker, 18 are new, and the final image, “Chief’s Dream,” is one of the most haunting and atmospheric of Vickers’ earlier works. The luminous colour, imaginative blending of traditional and contemporary design, and use of layered printing techniques are well represented here. A picture book, an ecologically minded adaptation of a traditional legend, and an art book all in one, Cloudwalker can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age.