Sunday, October 01, 2006

Carmanah: If you go into the woods today....

On Thursday night Linda gave me the percentage chance I could go fencing on Friday: 2%. For some reason she was convinced I would start fencing before I was fully healed, that I would stay too long and strain myself and that I would come home as bad or worse than before. Gosh, she sure has a distrustful nature. She believed I would somehow wreck both myself and our special trip to the Carmanah Valley the next day, and was willing to use leg irons to get her way.

Six weeks ago in an online auction to raise money for Breast Cancer research we had bid and won a trip to Carmanah Valley. When Linda and I first met (and fell in love)in Winnipeg she took me on a trip through the “forest” and kept referring to anemic shrubs as “trees.” “Those aren’t trees” I told her, and so one of the first things I did after she moved in with me was to take her to Carmanah Valley. There, in an original watershed, stands the Carmanah Giant, the largest Sitka Spruce in the world at 313 feet tall, 31 feet diameter; Carmanah is where the Western Red Cedar and Sitka Spruce number in the hundreds; where the biomass (plant growth density) is double that of a tropical rainforest in a valley housing trees up to 1000 years old. “That,” I said, as she gazed up, “Is a tree!”

This would be our first time back and as the auction allowed three people to come, my father tagged along. To get there required a genuine 4 wheel drive and driver. Trevor the co-owner of a computer company had donated his jeep, his driving and his guide services to the auction we had won. It was a three hour drive each way, and we got an early 7:30 start. The last 90 minutes was done on unpaved logging roads, which Trevor raced over at 50 mph, sliding around turns, changing gears constantly as we entered potholes larger than the jeep, which threw sheets of water completely over us. Trevor seemed to be experiencing a rally road race fantasy; while for us, we were all glad we had taken Gravol before leaving.

Carmanah is the best example of the 2% of temperate rainforests existing in British Columbia, most of which have been logged into extinction. On this dry, overcast day, we would only see three people in our 4 hours of valley hiking, but many, many slugs (giant slugs). On the way into the valley we came across a LOT of bear poop.

“Bad berries?” I said.

“GOOD berries!” Linda replied. We did not, sadly, see any bears.

With the giant trees looming above, the valley floor is dusky, but a thousand shades of green (Vert and Verdant were there in plenty) amongst the plants growing out of the loam and fallen trees. When a giant tree falls, it becomes a nursery for dozens of new trees, which, over decades, jostle each other for light and nutrients until a few remain, their roots surrounding the slowly decomposing spruce tree, until they too reach the canopy above. I like walking in these woods as it is one of the few times I feel truly small. To a 300 foot tree, everyone is “shorty.”

Surrounded by gigantic ferns, oversized mushrooms and slugs over a foot long, it is easy to believe that you have stumbled into the Land of the Lost, and a dinosaur will soon burst out of the foliage to hunt you down for dinner.

Down in the valley we left the Carmanah Giant and the equally large, Heaven Tree and continued over walkways, under fallen giants, over root systems and along the bark of fallen trees, following the meandering path the three kilometers to The Three Sisters. These three Sitka Spruce trees are joined at the base in a massive root system, each over 20 feet in diameter yet growing over 200 feet tall in a triumvirate.

Because, the root systems of these giant trees rest above ground, they are particularly sensitive to human interaction (like stomping all over them). Stephanie Hughes, now living in Tofino, studied the trees in the valley and spent two years developing the walkway systems to allow people to visit and interact with these giant trees yet without permanently damaging them. Linda raced up to the platform to peek back out at me from between the trees.


Carmanah exists as a park only through a movement of popular protest. The BC government had secretly given the permission to clearcut Carmanah to the logging company Macmillan Bloedel but in 1989 a series of protests around other original growth forests on the island convinced the logging company to try and cut this valley, previously considered too remote for logging. The Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC), its members numbering only a few hundred, decided to try and save the valley, bringing attention by staging street theatre and protest in front of the parliament. They also brought together environmentalists and native band leaders to create a united front. In an inspired act of creative resistance, they took over 100 famous artists to Carmanah, creating the Carmanah Art Project; the creation of a book which brought the beauty of the valley to the general population, winning numerous book prizes and increasing the WCWC membership numbers into the thousands. Carmanah was saved and the population grew aware, and interested, in the irreplaceable beauty it was losing to logging each year. By 1993, in the fight for Clayoquot Sound, 12,000 protestors came together to recognize a unique environment too valuable to lose. Nearly 900 people were arrested, including teenagers, for civil disobedience, but the logging stopped. Seven years later, the area was recognized as a UN Biosphere reserve.

Walking in an original growth rainforest, where six month old trees sprout in the shade of 800 year old giants, while a entire system of biodiversity erupts from below your feet to above your head, it is hard not to face that here, humans are the intruder, and that the only gift humans can bring is destruction. As Trevor pointed out, many of these trees were alive when Columbus landed in America. “Yes, but they didn’t have a very good view.” I reply. Trevor mutters that it is probably why they are still standing. There are a lot of potential boat keels, Japanese temple beams and tables & chair sets in these woods.

Smaller trees are completely covered with climbing moss while the ground is covered with salal, deer fern and hackberries along with tiny toadstools to gigantic brown, yellow and purple mushrooms, all being munched by banana and freaking gigantic black slugs (you step on this sucker, and he is taking your shoe with him for pissing him off). On the way back we stop at a stream to watch the steelhead trout and salmon as big as my arm.

Back in the jeep, as I held on to the overhead bar for dear life while Trevor shifted gears his road rally race toward civilization (with Linda in the front seat egging him on), I reflected how renewing, even for an urban loving dweller like me, it is to see and remember how good the unplanned, unorganized, slow life, death, murder & decay of nature really can be; till the humans screw it up.

8 comments:

kathz said...

Sounds absolutely marvellous - and I reckon Linda was quite right about the fencing. You couldn't have risked missing this trip.

Yoga Korunta said...

Elizabeth, what a beautiful forest you have!

Oh, and let those sore muscles heal!

Sober @ Sundown said...

Another well written post. You have me completely convinced to fly up there to hike in the Carmanah forest.

Good luck fencing tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Beth, should I ever come visit....we're going there!

Don't ya just love how I invite myself, and then tell you what we're doing while I'm there? (G)

kathy wc

GayProf said...

You had me until mention of foot long slugs. I am happy to wait for you all to return from your hike in a nice chalet as I sip cocktails.

Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

I love the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

deanie said...

Beth,your writing is so interesting and descriptive. I felt like I was on the trail with you. Thanks for sharing the awesome photos. Yeh! for those who cared enough to save such a beautiful place.

Anonymous said...

Alanna- Nice Job! I'm doing aproject 4 school on the Carmanah rainforest. You've been a great help