Tantalus with a Twist 
Enter the wildwood world of Warren and Janice Brubacher, where gnarly tree limbs make for strange bedposts, fantastical railings and loopy lampstands

by Rob Howatson ~ Photography by Ron Sangha

Artist Warren Brubacher cradles 
a burl from an old growth red cedar.

"Basically, we were back-to-the-landers," says Warren, who married Janice in her hometown of Grand Forks, B.C., in 1973. The newlyweds wanted to settle a section in the province, but quickly realized they couldn't afford one. Instead, they headed to Warren's homeland of Nova Scotia and bought a four-hectare farm on the Middle River near Lansdowne. Janice expanded her family roots of floristry to small-scale farming and became a self-taught organic green thumb in the process, while Warren went from horse logging (hauling timber on a stone boat) to horse shoeing to black-smithing to building log homes. He says he has built 20 log homes in his life, but one senses, from the way he and his wife get dewy-eyed talking about the Maritimes, the most precious structure was the one in which they raised their two kids. "We'd still be there," says Warren, "if it wasn't such a hard way of life - no electricity, no plumbing - for an aging couple."

The Brubachers came west in an old converted school bus in 1990, and Warren's fanciful creations have been livening up Sea to Sky country ever since. Look for his benches when you go eagle watching on the dike in Brackendale, his serpentine railings on the pedestrian bridge in Whistler's Rainbow Park or his log cabin tree house that tops a curvy staircase on the Cheakamus River. If you see functional wildwood dancing around these parts, chances are it's Warren's handiwork because, as he says, there are very few artists working in this twisted medium.

People often peer, as we do now, into the giant pole tent where he stores curly candidates for future projects and think they're looking at a stock-pile of driftwood. In fact, Warren harvests only from the forest. 

He gets permits that allow him to go in ahead of loggers and rustle up the stuff that mills won't touch: snags, stumps, lithe limbs. He hauls it to his property and, unlike beachcombers who let the sea do all the bark removal, he power washes every piece. "Cleaning this wood is an art in itself," says Warren, carefully working a 6,500-psi wand across a raft of yellow cedar snags destined to be character poles in somebody's upscale chateau. "Hold the nozzle too long over one spot, and the stream of water chews up the timber. Do it right, and you can expose all kinds of neat things on the wood skin (the hard smooth layer beneath the bark)." Things like "bug art" - insect doodles that resemble alien hieroglyphics; cat faces - elliptical scars on the surface of a log; and burls - giant lumpy growths on the sides of trees that the artist often hollows out to serve as lampshades. And, of course, there are the poles themselves, gnarly and bent.

When we finally trot up the goat trail to our abode for the night, we spot Warren's touch throughout the Brubacher's comfortable two-storey guesthouse - the woven railing around the deck, the writhing floor lamp in the living room, the rustic trim around the windows. Even the bathroom sink is set into a cedar stump vanity. A fully equipped kitchen means we just needed to bring groceries, and soon we're dining beside a wilderness view devoid of roads, power lines or high-pressure sodium streetlights. Later, we ease into the giant hot tub on the verandah, watch the sun slip over Serratus Mountain are entertained by a sky so full of stars we wonder how the satellites and the meteoroids find room to manoeuvre. Tucking into the chalet that night, we fall asleep to the soothing gurgle of the creek, happy to have escaped the urban grid by coming to this less linear refuge . . . this wildwood world.

By prior arrangement

Woodcraft buffs might be able to convince Warren to run one of his log home building workshops. The basic construction methods are no different than the ones he used to build the log picnic table alongside his chalet. Or maybe the artist will let you pick out a burl from his supply, and then (for a price) whip you up a combination bookends table lamp, like the one in the master bedroom - something to remind you of your brief ownership of the Tantalus View

Tantalus View chalet is available year-round. Includes satellite TV and laundry facilities. For more info or to book, contact owners Warren and Janice Brubacher at (604) 849-0431

Wraparound deck with wraparound views.