Today is Easter Sunday. There has been a great full moon this week, huge and bright, the sea shining silver brightly in the night, and shimmering away so calmly on the big tides flowing in and out of Skidegate Inlet. After so much wind, and snow and frost at night, the spring sun has risen this morning spilling golden light everywhere.
So, I walked into the forest to see if it felt any different today.
I don’t hike through the forest as if it was a pathway to somewhere. I don’t have a destination. I don’t actually need to get anywhere. Walking in a young forest is so easy. Where the canopy has closed over and the foreign deer have browsed out the undergrowth, it’s like a Sunday walk in the city park. Walking through an old growth forest— now that is a very different matter. It is very rough going. Up and down over fallen hemlock trees, over and under great buttresses of spruce roots, back and forth and around massive root wads upturned in some great storm. Sucking mud up to your knees in low running streams. Whips of devil’s club and thorny salmonberry bushes to lash you along. And that’s just the beginning — to test you.
So deep in the forest, it seems best to just come to rest.
The forest is one of the best places in the world in which to practice silence, to be at peace, to be safely insignificant. At least that’s what I imagine it to be … mindfulness. But sitting quietly in deep green sweet-smelling moss warmed by the sun, leaning up against the smooth bark of a cedar tree, I am more likely to simply fall asleep, and dream dreams that I am never able to remember.
Somewhere in memory though, something stirs, a deep resonance, a nameless sound just beyond of the range of hearing. It’s like the beat of a distant drum, or your own heartbeat. And even in all the drowsiness of the warm sun, and soft buzz and burr of the insects, the sigh of the wind, and flutter of raven wings, something becomes so very alert, so acutely present. I don’t know what the “something” is exactly. It’s just the presence of the forest— all of it. In its thousands upon thousands of years of being; the forest is so very old and immense. The vastness reaches up and out toward the edges of my comprehension, and my understanding falters. It stops up my thinking.
I can’t call it a vision, or a conscious revelation even. I don’t feel particularly wiser, or more special in the world, and it’s not even me that manifests awareness. It’s everything else around me. And I am caught up in it. Which, of course, is true in the most literal sense.
So, after all, it seems to me that the forest is a daily and simple truth, and a grand mystery both at the same time. It’s the axis around which belief revolves that changes.
So does the forest feel different today? Well, the forest has its own ways to keep to itself. But I feel differently about the forest today.
I didn’t realize how much I was affected by a very real fear that all the forests of Haida Gwaii would be destroyed. In the years when large corporations were logging to beat the band, with no regard for anything but profit, I was actually terrified. When I lived in Port Clements a number of years ago, at night, all night, we could see across Masset Inlet, the glow of floodlights on the mountainsides as heavy-duty industrial logging was going on 24-7. On a quiet summer night you could hear the distant clank of the rigging and the far-off moan of the grapple-yarders. In a very short time, all the forests to the north, as far as I could see, were levelled to the ground.
No wonder I got involved in environmental work.
In the many years since, I wasn’t sure that all the talking and all the politics would ever be able to bring any real end or resolution to the destruction. But, today, I feel much more hopeful. After listening to our Haida and community leaders, together with provincial government people at the Haida Heritage Centre last week, I finally felt that our communal relationship with the forest had changed in some significant ways. It was a day that I did not think to see in my lifetime.
I believe we really are looking at a new beginning in the Kunst’aa guu- Kunst’aayah Protocol. As the Haida Gwaii Management Council tells us, after years of meetings and negotiations involving everyone who lives here, a new path has been written out, agreed to, and a way forward has been charted out according to Haida law and principle, in consort with the Province of BC.
There will be a working forest on Haida Gwaii, and there will still be logging jobs and a logging economy. But many land areas have been set in reserve, the amount of logging that can be done in any one year has been reduced by almost half, the methods of logging will be respectful of Haida cultural rights and environmental needs. And most importantly, notwithstanding ongoing disputes with federal and provincial governments, the rightful stewards of the land, represented by the Council of the Haida Nation are present at the table and on the ground.
Nevertheless, I am still haunted by the past and the ghosts of the juggernauts still show themselves as scars on the landscape. It has been a long and traumatic story. When all the numbers were collected, by the Gowgaia Institute, the sorry tale to be told is that in the past century, 100,000,000 cubic metres of raw logs, representing a value of $ 12 billion dollars, have been taken away from these Islands.
The resulting damage done to Haida Gwaii is immense. The losses are mourned deeply: of streams and rivers, the wildlife and all the places where they live, the heritage of medicinal plants and huge cedar trees, the bears and salmon. The list is so very long.
It takes at least a thousand years for a forest to reach its full status, from young forest to ancient forests of the age and complexity as we know them here. Trees 1200 years old have been cut down on Haida Gwaii.
There is much to celebrate in all that has been achieved by so many, over such a long time. The time horizon over which current forest management is planned is 400 years. This is a pretty good start. Nevertheless, what we are also looking at is nurturing a recovery of a thousand years into the future—40 generations of stewardship for those areas that have been logged and will remain in conservancy.