Tag Archives: Sechelt

Time Is Running Out for the Old Growth Forests of the Pacific North West.

It is commonplace for leaders in tropical regions to receive criticism for their inability to conserve natural forests, but in northern temperate regions politicians have not been made so directly accountable, and the felling of swathes of grand old trees has passed largely without comment.

West of the Rockies in the Pacific North West, there is a particular problem, especially in coastal regions where old growth forests have been felled without much concern for environmental consequences. The timber trade has played an important role in local economies since the arrival of Europeans and the resultant destruction of virgin forest has continued without pause for over 150 years.

2011: Photographing impressive old trees amongst secondary growth in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. If the felling of old growth forest had ended around a hundred years ago, the surrounding area would still have ancient trees and forests, but that didn’t happen and the trees are now gone, but the felling continues in remote places where old trees still stand.

The ecological importance of old forests in temperate regions has never been adequately considered, but given the longterm consequences of the loss it is difficult to understand why so little has been done to halt the widespread destruction. When it comes to forestry it is understandable that trees are measured by their $ value, and that makes big old trees an economic target.

The forests’ of the North West however are important in a way that moves their significance far beyond making a fast buck, because old growth forest here locks up more carbon than does a similar area of Amazon rainforest and this makes their rapid loss especially disturbing.

I stand  by a tree named ‘The Lonely Giant’ to demonstrate how small I am in comparison, it isn’t he biggest tree I’ve visited, but  standing tall amongst the secondary forest, it’s certainly impressive.

On the 23rd May 2019 Jen and I were in for a treat, visiting a small grove of old trees on the Sechelt Peninsula: at over 700 years of age, some of the Douglas Firs to be found here are impressive; and today very few trees of similar stature can be found within a short distance of our home on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

We started by visiting a lonesome tree that had somehow managed to avoid the saw, and still stands in what is now called ‘The Hidden Grove’ not far from the town of Sechelt. Our journey was undertaken mid-week and off season when things were agreeably quiet. Admittedly, going to gawk at a single tree seemed a little odd and it reminded me of a cartoon I saw in the 1970s featuring a queue of people waiting to see the last tree standing on Earth – it didn’t seem funny then, and is even less funny now – particularly in a temperate region of the developed world where people consider themselves well informed about environmental issues. Something is not quite right with old growth forest, because despite huge losses, old native trees remain inadequately protected.

Most of us will get upset when a large mammal species is threatened, but old trees growing in places other than tropical rainforest, don’t arouse as much concern, especially in the Pacific North West where the native trees are amongst the largest organisms existing on Earth. There are of course activists who tie themselves to significant trees to prevent felling, but few of us behave quite so proactively – we risk being labelled ‘tree huggers’, and that’s not a good look. Whatever our reactions, nothing can alter the fact that trees many hundreds of years old that were once an important part of human experience, are no longer standing in great numbers.

Forestry regards it as anathema to let old trees fall over and rot – it’s a waste of resources, but ecologists will confirm that this is exactly what needs to happen for the maintenance of healthy forests.

The indiscriminate felling blossomed in plain sight, a tragedy that either happened because people failed to notice, or felt powerless to do anything about it. The losses were certainly noticed in the early 1900s when there was concern throughout the North West over clear cutting without restraint; but a precedent had been set some 50 years earlier when railroad barons were gifted huge tracts of forested land to incentivise railroad building, putting much of the old growth forest into private ownership and with no legal protection the trees began to disappear.

Now, we clearly understand the importance of old growth forests to natural environments and their usefulness in locking up Carbon (some recent research suggests that older bigger trees capture more Carbon than do smaller trees); so why are big old trees still being felled? To be honest… I have no idea why anybody would do something so stupid, but the general indifference of the public at least, may be down to a general inability to distinguish between old growth and secondary forest, especially when viewed from a distance.

In the Vancouver area there appears to be no shortage of trees; the problem is that most of them are youngsters. Sometimes it is difficult to judge the age of a tree on a rocky outcrop because such trees can be stunted, but usually the virgin forest long gone and what we see today, almost without exception, is secondary forest and plantation trees that are part of a short term commercial forestry cycle.

For most of us, trees are just trees, but in ecological terms their age has significance: old growth forest provide more environmental complexity than any secondary forest can achieve, unless the latter can remain standing for hundreds of years, which isn’t the way things usually go, as most trees are now harvested in cycles that run considerably less than a hundred years.

When areas re-seed naturally, they will one day become forest, but if planted selectively by man, things usually get worse before they get better, because it takes time for trees (acted upon by natural forces) to compete and eventually sort out which will ultimately become successful. When trees are planted for commercial purposes alone their ecological value drops significantly… yet we still keep thinking  – there’s no shortage of trees, and in some cases that’s true, but many of the wooded hillside we admire are destined to have a short term existence: they’re entirely unnatural, lack diversity and create poor environments for other species. 

To those who are not much interested in environmental issues it is important to say that this is not a rant about saving every last tree in the forest; the logging of secondary forest planted specifically for cropping is necessary, and done properly it should allow the remaining old growth forest to be more easily conserved; but  unfortunately, this isn’t happening and if we continue to lose old growth at the present rate, it is with the knowledge that once gone such areas cannot be easily re-created and as each disappears, so do the many organism associated with them.

Old trees provide habits for a great many species and some become complete micro-environments in themselves.

Once the old trees have been felled close to places where we live – which mostly has already happened – but logging continues in out of the way places and less easily observed. Most of us remain clueless about the activity, with the losses having consequences to both ourselves and the natural world. If we were better informed, perhaps we would question the situation more thoroughly.

 Any time a road comes near a natural forest, big trees that have commercial value will usually be targeted; clear cutting is usually the most economical way of getting them out, and this results in the complete destruction of viable ecosystems.

This disregard for nature has resulted in the loss of many great forests in a comparatively short time, causing widespread soil erosion, problems with water quality, and changing climates not just regionally, but across the Planet; and we’ve come to accept the situation without complaint or very much thought.

Trilliums growing at the base of an old tree.

Visiting The Sechelt Heritage Hidden Groves. is for Jen and I like travelling back through time. Here a handful of ancient Douglas-firs stand amongst a secondary growth of much younger trees. The original forest was once largely made up of Douglas-fir and red cedars, both long lived trees that when left alone will achieve a considerable age and grow to an impressive girth and height. In short these are trees with the potential to grow as Donald Trump might say’ big league’, or is it ‘bigly,’ because ‘bigly’ is a word but along with our moral judgements relating to big tree, has fallen out of use. 

Beneath the canopy where we are walking the understory is lush with ferns, mosses and lichens. Close by, a maple wetland adds diversity and all is set amongst impressive rocky outcrops, but it is our arrival at a scattered stand of ancient trees that raises most interest, not just because they are majestic, but because their survival has been tenuous, and tenuous has become an all too familiar story.

In 2002 a local resident visiting the grove noticed coloured tapes in place, indicating preparations for the felling of what is now ‘The Hidden Grove’. A logging company was about to clear cut the few trees that remained here, destroying the last vestige of original native forest in the area, and at the beginning of the 21st Century this seemed extraordinary. There followed a protracted battle during which a group of local people worked diligently to keep the trees standing, involving thousands of hours of fund raising and voluntary work; but the persistent conservation effort paid off; and we are indebted to a small group of proactive people who suddenly came to the rescue, because without their efforts this majestic group of trees would no longer be standing. 

Jen photographs one of the most impressive trees in the grove – its burnt surface demonstrating that a fire has passed through at some point during its long life. These old trees have accumulated a thick layer of bark and have survived various trials by fire over the years.

This small grove of old growth Douglas Firs is comparatively small; and a resident of Sechelt told me they had survived because the area had been too waterlogged to allow felling. I can’t find any definitive evidence from other sources but it does seem a reasonable explanation.

There are other stands of trees in the Sechelt area that have grown to an impressive size and those in the Hidden Forest are certainly impressive, but there are even bigger Douglas-firs in existence with girths that are nothing short of jaw dropping; however trees like this are few and far between and we must make do with far younger trees, inferior in scale to those known to our ancestors… It is as if our destructive habits are steadily moving into line with our downgraded notions of awesome.

When an old growth forest is cut there is always a hope that the  companies involved might leave a stand of old trees to maintain the integrity of at least a small area of original forest; but this rarely happens because any tree left standing would be considered a waste of valuable timber – essentially it is a question of perspective. 

I have met commercial foresters who think that any tree left to grow old and fall over is a waste, whilst others regard a rotting tree as a valuable part of the ecosystem. Opinions aside, it’s worth remembering that estimates of tree cover are mostly done by those involved in felling them, and consequently figures are often skewed to demonstrate how much first growth forest remains. Large areas of bogland that contain stunted little trees are often incorporated into the figures; certainly these areas will not have been cut, but it is disingenuous to consider ‘bonsai trees’ first growth forest.

There is a lot of potential profit tied up in any tree that makes durable wood and grows to enormous size, especially when such a tree has been standing for five hundred years or more, locking up considerable volumes of heartwood, which greatly increases their value. Unfortunately, as the number of big old trees is reduced, quality timber becomes scarcer and increasingly sought after, and inevitably most will  and be felled unless we put the long term environmental impact over short term financial gain.

Few places in the world allow the felling of 600 hundred year old trees as a matter of course – such trees are clearly not a renewable resource in the short term. Now most of the old forests have gone from British Columbia, the new growth will not remain standing beyond a felling cycle of 60 or 70 years, a tenth of the time that would be required for a red cedar or Douglas fir to reach its full potential.

It understandable that some people will gain pleasure from seeing old tree, and certainly this was the case on April 20th 2013 when Jen and I crossed The Strait of Georgia to see an impressive grove that stands against the odds on Vancouver Island. 

I had imagined Vancouver Island would have extensive virgin forests of giant Red Cedar and Douglas Fir; and prior to European settlement this was  the case. But really, what must I have been thinking… bar a few remnants the grand old forests are gone. Only 20% of old growth forest are now thought to remain and why these are not protected isn’t clear, because forestry might easily be sustained from the 80% of productive secondary forest that remains. The fact that the old growth forest can still be cut is scandalous to some; because if this continues it is difficult to imagine how the remaining old forests can be preserved, with less than 10% existing under the protection of National Parks.

Cathedral Grove is located in a central forested region on Vancouver Island and over the years has attracted a great many visitors. This small remnant of old growth forest is made up predominantly of Douglas-fir and red cedar. The trees here are more than 800 years old and there is a striking parallel with the trees in the Hidden Grove, because not only have these trees escaped the saw, they are also survivors of a great forest fire, in this case one that passed through the region more than 350 years ago. It is nevertheless more recent attempts by lumber companies to fell them that has proven their greatest challenge. Today felling any tree close to the grove would be bad news because big trees that have grown most of their lives in forest need protection; when exposed they become vulnerable in particular from high winds, any trees growing around them provides shelter, even when such protectors are a quarter their age, and in some cases much younger.

 I take my turn supporting one of the great old trees in Cathedral Grove and I’m frightened to move incase it falls over. 

The most recent challenge to the Grove came at  the turn of the Century when a section of surrounding forest was logged: this might have been expected at the end of the 19th Century when old growth forests were being felled at an extraordinary rate, but these were trees felled at the end of the 20th Century which in more enlightened times seems almost unbelievable.

Jen is dwarfed by the trees in Cathedral Grove, but the area it covers is comparatively small when compared with the secondary growth that surrounds it.

 When I first came to live in B.C. I assumed Vancouver Island’s old growth forests far too consequential to have been logged out, but that was silly, because ‘logging out’ is more or less the way things have been heading since European’s settled –  it seems to have been regarded as a fundamental right to chop down almost any big tree regardless of the environmental consequences. Ken Wu Executive Director of The Endangered Ecosystems Alliance states that since 1993 more than 250,000 hectares of old growth forest has been logged on Vancouver Island – an area more than 20 times the size of the City of Vancouver.

There is however some hope, but legislation would be required to bring change, based upon the research of a group at The University of Victoria which is calling for the greater protection of British Columbia’s naturally growing trees. The recommendation is that that 30% of the Provinces old growth forests should be protected; although deciding where to start measuring from is tricky: should it be 30% of the whole island’s remaining cover, or 30% of the natural cover that was present before European’s arrived. 170 years ago most of the land in the Pacific North West was almost entirely covered by forest; if it is 30% of what now remains, then once again it will be slim pickings for the natural world. Personally, at the rate of loss so far experienced we might consider ourselves lucky to get anything at all. The report however is unambiguous, it recommends that 30% of the original old growth forest should be conserved despite much of it having already been felled; it sounds like something from our wildest dreams, because to regrow what was originally present would require a project that runs successfully for hundreds of years. Nevertheless it is impressive that a science based group is sticking their necks out, by saying that it is necessary and should be attempted.

The City of Vancouver –  as seen from Cyprus Mountain – was built on the lumber industry. Between the City and the water is Stanley Park; there are some trees here that are more than 500 years old, but from a distance they are not discernible from the secondary forest that surrounds them. What is certain is that all of the ‘old growth’ forest in the region has gone. The trees on the mountain slope in the foreground add interest to the picture, but these are very young trees that fool many of us into thinking that things are ‘alright’.

‘Beautiful British Columbia’ is what a lot of us have written on or number plates which demonstrates a certain unwitting hypocrisy because most of the Provinces ancient native trees are afforded no protection outside of National Parks. The first Douglas-fir Pseudotsuga menziesii ever recorded was discovered on Vancouver Island by Archibald Menzies in 1791, but it was his rival David Douglas who recognised the tree’s potential as a timber resource, although the popular name is wrong – it isn’t a fir, or a spruce, or even a pine, it is a false hemlock. This is the tree that many of us will use as a Christmas tree, but when fully grown the coastal variety is the second largest tree species in North America after the giant redwoods found further south and perhaps best represented in California. An entire industry was built on felling the virgin forests West of the Rockies and sheltered coastal areas like Vancouver City grew to prominence distributing this valuable resource.

I have heard older people who have made their living from felling these incredible trees, say that  if they hadn’t chopped them down, we’d all be walking around in the dark interior of a forest… but age isn’t always a measure of wisdom… because of course we wouldn’t. Certainly a lot of trees would have been cut for commercial purposes, but there was never any obligation, or entitlement to destroy a whole natural ecosystem just to keep us out of the shade. Undoubtedly, it is more about pocketing money and less about a fear of the forest that has driven the industry to fell so much of the original forest. An unfortunate combination of greed and ignorance has brought us to this unacceptable situation and we’ve labelled it progress – who would want to get in the way of that?

If we are thinking straight it isn’t difficult to come to the conclusion that the preservation of old forests has enormous value because the losses have put natural ecosystems under threat, and that’s before we start worrying about the water table and climate stability – all of which are essential to our continued existence. If we continue to view the natural world as something to be destroyed purely for economic gain, then we are in for a hiding. You don’t need to be very clever to exploit natural resources to make money, but when they run out and you’ve screwed nature into the bargain, something has to change.

In future big countries with enormous resources, without exception will need to find more inventive ways to run their economies. People who make their livings by directly exploiting whatever the land has to offer are not inclined to change their approach, but this is lazy thinking and they are going to have to. Before we start considering about all the different technical ways we might lock up Carbon we should first consider the Carbon scrubbers that nature has already provided, they’re called trees and the present rate of Worldwide clearance makes no sense. People who wish to continue to mercilessly take advantage of the environment in the present climate (quite literally) have not yet touched base with the present reality. In the case of Canada (given as an example only because this is where I presently live), one future industry that continues to develop is tourism, and it seems counter productive to continue destroying the very environment that people come to see that’s moose, beavers, bears and big old trees.

Before we leave Cathedral Grove I looked out of the long drop window that stands in the car park and in the worlds of the old song noted, ‘Is that all there is?’
Stumps from the old forests are commonly seen in the few small natural areas that remain – stark reminders of how impressive the original forests must have been.

On our return to the Lower Mainland, the lack of anything that resembles old growth forest is jarring, because none remain standing – the last having been cut within living memory.

This coastal strip has a generally fertile soil and as Europeans settled in greater numbers, forests were quickly cleared for agriculture; and more recently much of this has been covered by urban development.

Where old growth stumps remain, cut notches are still present; these for boards knocked into the tree to support lumberjacks, allowing a cut to be made above the splaying area where the root system begins. Secondary growth can seen on the tops of the stumps where fallen seeds have germinated.

It seems ironic that some of the biggest trees ever to grow in British Columbia once did so on the Lower Mainland, where no old forests are found today. But here, in the small areas of secondary forest that have been left for their ‘amenity value’ (a euphemism for ‘somewhere to smoke cannabis and empty the dog), the occasional big old rotting stump is a stark reminder of a recently lost majesty that once ran from the mountains to the sea.

If I wanted to over emphasise the size of the grand old trees that once stood, I’d get my wife to stand in the background, and take a picture on a wide angle lens… but there’s really no need to do that.
A tree nearing the end of its life in Cathedral Grove demonstrates there is no need for exaggeration.

We all have an idea of what an old growth forest should look like, but few of us have the opportunity of such an experience, because opportunities are now so few and far between.

Should you come to the North West Coast, you might be lucky enough to stand in a remnant of virgin forest, or perhaps just get to see a very old native tree… If you do, then please take a photograph as a reminder of how things used to be, because outside of National Parks there is no guarantee that the next time somebody visits, that wonderful old tree will still be standing.

 

 

 

 

 

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A walk on the Wild Side – Smuggler’s Cove.

I can’t remember exactly how many smuggler’s coves I’ve visited, but it’s a lot –

their appeal is irresistible. In the Caribbean they are perhaps at their most romantic; whilst in the Britain they’re the sort of places you might expect to see on an episode of Poldark. Along England’s  south west coast, where men in tricorne hats once shot unreliably at one other with flintlock pistols,  smuggler’s coves are two a penny.

Lulworth Cove has extraordinary symmetry and several quite exceptional geological features.

My favourite cove is Lulworth in Dorset, it is amongst the most beautiful of any to be found in Britain and part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. There’s even a cave close by – what could be more perfect for smugglers?

Through geological time, sand and clay deposits were scoured out by marine erosion, and this continued into the surrounding limestone until this area was  breached on the seaward side: the resultant cove formed an almost perfect circle  surrounded by chalk cliffs.

A couple I did not know discussing a fossil conifer base provided a good sense of scale.

Every old cove has history, and Lulworth is no exception. On its eastern side are the remains of a fossil forest: the stumps of 140 million year old conifers (gymnosperms) named Protocupressionoxylon purbeckensis which make up perhaps the most complete fosilised forest so far recorded.

Lulworth Cove as it appeared on June 1st 1995 looking towards the west where my family are on the beach having a picnic. Nothing much has changed over the years, other than we now live too far away to make a day visit.
Dark Green Fritillary feeding on chalk grassland flowers on the day of our family visit.

 

Britain’s shores are invariably beautiful and display many geological wonders, especially along the Dorset coastline, producing bays and coves that have formed over millions of years to eventually become hiding places of importance for smugglers during ‘the golden age’ of smuggling – running from the late 1600s through into the 1700s when smuggling and piracy were at their peak. Such events are viewed today in a romantic way and also retrospectively, with the actuality more disturbing than many of us could imagine: those involved were often desperate, violent men who thought nothing of murdering anybody who might threaten their illicit activities or reveal their identities. Back then life could be desperately harsh and for those living on the coastline, smuggling was a serious option as a part-time job especially for those worn down by poverty.

On  1st June 1995 my family accompanied me to Lulworth Cove when I was making a film about Dorset: back then Jen and I were younger and our children smaller and like fledgling gannets on the rocks they needed constant feeding.

Twenty four years later Jen and I would visit another smuggler’s cove, this time –without the children, as they are now able to feed themselves.

This ‘Smuggler’s Cove’ is on the Sechelt Peninsula in British Columbia and it carries that name. When ‘the golden age” was at its peak in the Atlantic region, smuggling wasn’t happening along Canada’s Pacific coast, not because of any shortage of locations – Canada has the most extensive coastline of any country in the world – but because back in the 1700s the indigenous people of the region had better things to do than tax imported goods. European settlers were in short supply and it was a while before this new wave of immigrants would sweep through bringing with them authoritarian habits, and placing taxes on anything they could get away with.

Smugglers Cove – Sechelt Peninsula. British Columbia.

We were to visit on 21st May 2019  a place that is noted for more recent smuggling events – such activities didn’t become consequential here until after the American Civil War. In the 1880s the cove was used to move Chinese railroad workers short of work in Canada, into the United States; they would pay for the privilege in the hopes of a better chance of employment. The one question that troubles me about recorded events is: did ‘King of the Smugglers’ Larry Kelly, really incorporate his version of ‘Chinese whispers’ into proceedings by tying railroad workers on a line of rope which he attacked to a block of pig iron, then threatened to push it over the side if there was any chance of discovery by U.S. customs officials – was this a bluff or did he intend to do it? Later, during the 1920s and early 30s, rum running provided further opportunities for smugglers looking to make a different sort of killing, by  running moonshine during prohibition.

Arriving at the cove by sea involves coming in through the north end of Welcome Pass, but walking in is the option that most people take. Our visit involved a drive out of Sechelt on Brooks Road to arrive at Smuggler’s Cove Marine Provincial Park in about 15 minutes. Once there we walked through three distinct habitats. Initially, shaded by trees, we passed through a small section of forest, which soon opened out onto an extensive freshwater wetland which we crossed by means of a boardwalk: without this it would have been impossible because the water level is well maintained, most likely by beavers. To be honest, I’ve seldom encountered a more impressive example unless in Maine on the opposite side of the continent. Finally we ascended into a wooded coastal area where it was possible to walk around the cove as far as it’s entrance, along the way gaining spectacular views out to sea.

The wetland area is extensive, the water levels maintained by resident beavers. We are hoping to see one when walking out as they are more likely to be active later in the day .
A Pacific Chorus Frog gets its picture taken on the boardwalk.

 

This wetland supports a wide variety of plant and animal species,  there was a lot to see and we toke our time. Insect bites weren’t too much of a problem which is different from the way things usually are in such places, especially over on the East Coast where at certain times of the year you can expect to be eaten alive by black fly and mosquito.

A Pacific Chorus Frog.

This is a colourful place,  even at noon with the sun at its highest, the sky held its azure blue intensity and  good landscape pictures were easy to achieve; usually, morning and evening light will provide the most interesting photographic images, but with the surrounding forest creating heavy foreground shadow when the sun was low, the middle of the day provided the best opportunity for taking pictures.

A Four-Spotted Skimmer.

 

Birds are certainly less active, during the heat of the day, with insects such as butterflies and dragonflies more easily captured in full sunlight. The only problem is that the warmer it gets the more active they become and most  won’t hang around long enough to have their portraits taken, although dragonflies will usually return to a favoured perch.

Bogland Blueberry Flowers.

When we come to the end of the boardwalk, the track rises through a forested region which brings us steadily closer to the rocky coastline; the path twists through dappled sunlight until eventually we arrive at a sudden reveal of Smuggler’s Cove which is down a wooded slope to our right, sheltered and surrounded almost completely on all sides by rocky outcrops. The entrance point is very narrow making this an ideal place for clandestine activities and unless you are aware of this hidden place, it is not so easily noticed from the seaward side. 

Smuggler’s Cove is interesting, but not an ideal place for a picnic.

We have become used now to the rugged nature of many beaches along the BC. coastline, where there are good opportunities to look into rock-pools, and the surrounding sea-life is amongst the most diverse to be found anywhere in the world. However walking barefoot, or just sitting on the beach is not a pleasant experience; not only are the rocks jagged, but the barnacles are razor sharp and certainly this is not a beach where you can appreciate the freedom of the sand between your toes.

There isn’t very much shade down in the cove at this time of day, it has become an amphitheatre of heat which is probably unusual so early in the year. We eat our lunch and then Jen quickly moves off to find somewhere more comfortable to sit, she selects a shady area overlooking the cove. I wander further on around the headland and under the trees, once the open sea is visible, a gentle breeze blows in which is very agreeable after the stifling heat down in the cove.

Looking up from the sea this habitat does not appear to be that varied, but high up on the rocks on the wooded coastal border, the light pours in and there is considerable diversity.

We leave this coastal area during early evening and walk back along the boardwalk and cross back across the wetland. I wasn’t expecting to see a beaver so early, but suddenly I notice one clear of the water in startling evening sunlight and unprepared for the moment I didn’t manage to grab a picture before the animal slipped quietly away into the water.

We waited and watched, but the creature had done a favourite beaver trick, disappearing beneath the water and was unlikely to emerge again until well out of site, so we moved on. We hadn’t travelled more than a hundred metres before I noticed a second: this one in the water gathering water lily buds and anything else within arms reach – it moved slowly forward cramming any floating vegetable material that it encountered into its mouth .

A busy beaver isn’t a misnomer. At this time of year when they are not felling trees to build dams or sorting their accommodation, beavers will be eating. Essentially they are nocturnal creatures, but will emerge early from their lodges during daylight hours if they feel secure from potential threats or persecution.

Sensing our presence the creature became still and remained in this state for a couple of minutes: it was one of those moments that you often get with vegetarians; deer for example will freeze in an attempt to assess danger before deciding what to do next; sometimes they will look up and stare directly at you, and if you are the sort of person who is bothered by insects and begin to windmill your arms, all will be lost; but if you refrain from moving a muscle, it is possible to be in full view of such an animal and get away with it. There is no need for camouflage clothing – I never kill anything and what I wear never smells of death which is important when observing animals that have a good sense of smell – and beavers do. I am thinking about such things as we continue through our beaver imposed age of immobility. Then, as if bored by keeping still, or perhaps, having forgotten why it had become frozen in the first place, the beaver was once again aware of the boundless, irresistibly lush, freshly washed salad that floated around it and began feeding again, this marking a change of behaviour – as it was now seemed disinclined to stop for anything.

An older man and woman who had arrived by  boat came walking along from the direction of the cove, they could see I was photographing something and stopped several metres short of where we were, then, after a short wait, walked slowly past. By then I’d taken rather more pictures of the rodent than was necessary and I thought it polite to point the creature out to them. The minor disturbance of another two people faffing about on the boardwalk didn’t appear to bother the beaver unduly,  as the animal was long past the point now where it was bothered by our unthreatening presence, and continued to relentlessly drag food into its mouth with both forepaws.

‘I’ve never seen a beaver before’ said the man, ‘it’s most unusual’. ‘We’ve seen two this evening’ I replied, which was a polite way of making the point that not seeing an animal isn’t necessarily an indication of scarcity – it may be that you just don’t notice what’s going on around you. Many people behave as if they are congenitally unobservant, and in doing so are gifted with a series of sudden interesting discoveries of the obvious –  and soon the process becomes a regular feature of their lives. It’s a bit like being religious, and by no means a bad thing… Living in a state of continual enlightenment can be very rewarding.

You don’t always see beavers, but if they are present it is usual to notice a lodge.
For a Brit, a North American robin is a colourful blackbird but it is not a top notch songster.

 Apart from a couple of robins and a red winged blackbird; this was a day when most feathered forms were avoiding the heat and remained inactive.

What you see always depends upon the prevailing conditions, but it would be difficult to come to such a delightful place without noticing something of interest no matter what  the weather was like. We had visited on a wickedly hot, blue sky day with intense colours and sparkling waters, but not an especially good one for viewing wildlife, although the privilege of being in such a beautiful place should be enough in itself, and with climates everywhere becoming increasingly unpredictable, we might in future just have to make do with that, unless of course we all suddenly wake up and start doing something about it.

 

 

 

 

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The Skookumchuck Narrows – Going With the Flow on The Sunshine Coast.

My daughter thought that her mother and I could do with a break from the human clutter of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, and kindly booked us accommodation for three nights on the Sunshine Coast: a pleasant destination that lies across water to the north west of Vancouver; and we would benefit by visiting during May – arguably the best month to be anywhere that is natural in BC.

Waiting for the ferry, it’s nice to find accidental maps in the concrete of the ferry terminal – looks like we’re off to Italy which is a bit of a surprise.

Jen hasn’t been well, so this will be a pleasant break for her; I was just pleased to escape the tedious chore of fencing the garden, and it wasn’t long before we were driving through early morning sunshine on our way to Horseshoe bay just east of Vancouver. Fairly soon we were driving up onto the ferry and forty minutes later were on the Sunshine Coast – a place so different from the Lower Mainland that it is as if we’d crossed to an alternative Universe where the pace of life was completely different – not that anybody, anywhere on the West Coast seems to be in a hurry, especially when traffic lights are changing. ‘It feels a bit like Hawaii’,  Jen, says ‘but without predictably good weather’. To be honest on a cool, wet day you might wonder how this place got it’s name, but when the sun comes out, it becomes rather special.

We drive on to Sechelt, which is a gentle seaside town that most consider a great place to visit, and if you are lucky enough to live there, so much the better. Once you’re over the gravel extraction thing, that ruins the view along the beach in one direction, Sechelt seems very pleasant. The locals are friendly and usually find time to talk to visitors without any sign of resenting a sudden arrival from another world.

A dull day in Sechelt and not so bad really, but the pier that is associated with large scale local gravel extraction at one end of the beach is not an attractive feature.

We stay not far outside of the town close by Porpoise Bay Provincial Park on a bend in the Peninsula. Our accommodation is very agreeable and made all the more special by a wonderful view of both water and mountains that Jen at once recognizes as a Bob Ross painting, although this one clearly hasn’t been knocked off in half an hour.

You know how it was with Bob, he had a way with mountains, with his paintings often working well right up until the last five minutes when he would suddenly add his happy trees and their friends. Unfortunately Bob’s trees were often indifferent – people would write in and and tell him so, but he’d paint them anyway and you’d have to watch until the end of the show just to be certain that you were going to be disappointed. He’d suddenly get uncharacteristically animated and say, “Now you know me”, and off he’d go with his filbert, and the trees would go in… However, the trees we are looking at are somewhat different, framed through a large picture window they’re mostly a vivid green which Bob’s seldom were, and these were really well done, no doubt with the advantage of years of development. In contrast to a Bob painting, the whole composition was working especially well, and would continue to do so until the foreground trees grew up to wipe out the view. 

In certain lighting conditions this pleasant view of distant mountains might be revealed as a single mountain range, but as is the case with many mountains away on the horizon, this is rarely the case. One of the peaks visible to the right of the picture is Mt Louie which is just over 31 Km away. On the other hand the tip of Mt Alfred which is almost central is more than twice as far away at over 79 Km. To be honest Mt Alfred appears quite faintly and you’d recognize it as distant, but most are less easy to judge. As is often the case in our own lives – when things get farther away, we begin to think two dimensionally.

At least you do get a fair go here, which you don’t in many places – if your neighbours are in agreement, you can top some trees to maintain the value of your property, and in doing so, exert a little control over nature. We’re human and we all like do that… when we’re not extracting gravel, or ringing oil out of tar sands for profit, maybe we’ll be out shooting a moose or bringing down the occasional tree because to leave a natural resource without taking advantage of the situation is very un-Canadian. In fairness, it’s a world thing, we’re ripping the heart out of the natural world, which would be fine… if there weren’t  quite so many of us doing it.

But Jen doesn’t want to rip the heart out of anything. All she wants to do is drive around 50k north to see a natural event at the Skookumchuk Narrows where a mid-day ebb tide will create whirlpools that move along with a disruptive flow of water. Today is the 21st May 2019 and a little after mid-day will be one of the best days of the month to see an ebb tide disturbance.

When the Chinookan people used the word skookum they meant strong and powerful, and any reference to chuck meant water. So, we drive north along the inlet road that runs up the Peninsula to the Narrows, where the entrance passage into Sechelt Inlet – essentially a fjord – is restricted by a bottle neck which causes a twice daily event when tides are at their peak.

We park at the entrance to Skookumchuck Provincial Park and begin the walk in. The mossy temperate forest we encounter is for me the high point of the day, because this really is a beautiful place, once you’ve passed the information boards that tell how best to behave if you happen to meet up with a black bear or cougar: this must be unnerving for some visitors, but we carry bear spray and an air-horn and pretend we aren’t bothered by such  interesting possibilities.

The temperate forest floor is busy with ferns whilst the trees we are walking through are draped with mosses and lichens.

It is difficult to overstate how agreeable our surroundings are, although this is not the way the forest once was, and this is the case for many coastal regions that have nearly all been logged out in recent history – all the trees that we are seeing now are comparatively young.

When Europeans first saw virgin forest they saw dollar signs rather than great natural beauty and cut the old growth forest without any concerns for the environmental consequences, and this major occurrence passes today almost without comment – there are still trees here, and for most of us that’s all that matters, although the difference this has made to our Planet is considerable. I’ll discuss this further the next time I write and will confine my present comments to the Skookumchuck Narrows.

It is just over 4K through the forest to our destination. We walk along slowly – it takes just over an hour, but this is not a difficult journey, with only the slightest undulation along a well used trail.

The beauty of a stream running through the forest.

You can hear the tumult of water before you see it, which prepares you for a reveal as you come out of the wooded area onto a rocky platform on the inlet, elevated above the rapidly flowing water that will peak on both ebb and flood tides. There are others who have made the journey to watch the present event on an ebb tide. The drop in water elevation from one end to the other can be a couple of metres, with a flow that reaches as much as 16 knots (around 30 K/hr), and is certainly the most impressive tidal rapids I have seen.

Jen going with the flow at the “Skook”.

On the ebb tide we are watching eddies and currents of choppy water that start predictably in one or two areas and then move rapidly along to  form whirlpools that increase in intensity as they flow on past us.

Some distance across the country Canada offers an experience on a completely different scale: Niagara Falls. Back in January of 1987 when I took this picture I was more concerned about freezing to death than containing my enthusiasm. I understand the falls may also be seen from the United States and that there are three of them, unless of course this is all fake news and I’ve been mislead.

Back on the West Coast around 30 years later we are still at Skookumchuck Narrows, the other viewers have now gone, but we stay and watch as the water disturbance begins to subside. The whole event attracts a variety of sea life to feed in the area, but from our vantage point above water we have seen no sign of this.

Small boats and boarders do occasionally venture through, but did not while we were there; only a single boat took the chance during the hour and a half that we were viewing and certainly took a wide berth of the most active area. Personally, I wouldn’t be inclined to attempt the journey on a board as there is ample opportunity to end up in a whirlpool on what for me would be the wrong side of the surface, and it would be a long time before you get spat out at the other end of the experience.

Whirlpools form and flow as they move from right to left before us. If it was possible to make the event look more dramatic, then sadly I didn’t manage it. 

The background scar on the landscape also distracts from the event: there is some form of extraction on the opposite bank. We don’t appear to be able to escape at least some form of natural plundering on the Peninsula and if we waited long enough, a barge carrying gravel away from Sechelt might also pass through here as this is the only waterborne exit from the inlet.

On the full tide rather than the ebb, the water is said to become rougher and more choppy, but I haven’t witnessed such an event as  one visit is enough for me. The experience is interesting, but not one of the most dramatic events that nature has to offer: a video provides a little more drama than does a still which unfortunately cannot capture the power that the constriction on the water flow exerts at the Narrows.

Don’t get me wrong 200 billion gallons of water flowing through the Narrows between the Sechelt and Jervis Inlets during such a short period of time is impressive, but sometimes a picture is just not enough to capture a dramatic event – you really do have to be there. If you do decide to make the journey, then check the best days and times to do so, because observing the tides at their peaks will make all the difference to your experience.

 

 

 

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