The Next Chapter

Bruce Kirkby unplugged from the modern world and travelled to the Himalayas — and wrote about it in a new book

The B.C. photographer and author spoke with Shelagh Rogers about nonfiction book Blue Sky Kingdom.
Bruce Kirkby is a wilderness writer and adventure photographer based in British Columbia. (Douglas & McIntyre)

Bruce Kirkby is an adventurer, photographer and author from British Columbia. He undetakes expeditions to remote wilderness areas, and his achievements include a 40-day, 1000-km crossing of the Rub' al-Khali desert by camel and the first contiguous descent of Ethiopia's Blue Nile Gorge from source to the Sudanese border.

Kirkby's life had become one of distraction — he realized he was looking mindlessly at his phone and social media for hours. It was a cycle that he was determined to overcome and break. 

He wrote about the experience of avoiding modern distraction in Blue Sky Kingdom.

With an eye on refocusing his life, Kirkby in 2014 embarked on a six-month journey with his family, travelling to and living in the Himalayas. Their destination: an ancient Buddhist monastery in the remote Zanskar valley, one of the last places where Tibetan Buddhism is still practised freely in its original setting.

Kirkby spoke with Shelagh Rogers about why he wrote Blue Sky Kingdom.

Bruce Kirkby, the B.C.-based author of Blue Sky Kingdom, pictured here with his family in the Himalayas. (Submitted by Bruce Kirkby)

An epiphany

"I had bought a new iPhone. As a society, we understand how distracting mobile devices can be — but at the time it was brand new to me.

"I got sucked in, like a tractor beam, to using the device. My children were talking to me and my son, Bodi, said, 'Dad, you didn't just hear a word I said.' I knew he was right. I knew instinctively something was wrong, that I wanted to be a better father, and to do better. 

As a society, we understand how distracting mobile devices can be — but at the time it was brand new to me.

"I could sense this wasn't the way I wanted to live — and this powerful new force was affecting it.

"I have been charged with a small amount of overreaction in taking the children to live at a Buddhist monastery. But Christine and I both shared an interest in Buddhism. We tossed around this idea that it wouldn't do any harm to the kids to go and live in a monastery. Within a few months we were on the road."

Bodi, son of B.C.-based Blue Sky Kingdom author and photographer Bruce Kirkby. (Submitted by Bruce Kirkby)

The things that matter

"It was one of the most beautiful, most simple times I can remember in my life — and I'm trying not to just simply see it through rose-coloured glasses. 

I felt like this is where I wanted to be. This is how I wanted to be living.

"At the time, there were moments of homesickness, but in general, I felt like this is where I wanted to be. This is how I wanted to be living. A lot of this trip was about getting away from distractions. Our attention is being strip mined and we're becoming more and more aware of that. 

"All these little distractions on our phones, the bright lights, the advertising, they're easy. I always talk to my boys about how the difficult things in life are always the things that stay with us."

Bruce Kirkby's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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