Guest Column

Experiencing eternity in Clayoquot Sound

The only reason the lumber industry is getting away with clear-cutting is that few see what we’re seeing

Katherine Govier July 8 1996
Guest Column

Experiencing eternity in Clayoquot Sound

The only reason the lumber industry is getting away with clear-cutting is that few see what we’re seeing

Katherine Govier July 8 1996

Experiencing eternity in Clayoquot Sound

Guest Column

The only reason the lumber industry is getting away with clear-cutting is that few see what we’re seeing

Katherine Govier

I was happy to take a day off from the Canadian Booksellers’ Association meetings in Vancouver last week to fly to Clayoquot Sound for a walk in old-growth rain forest, but I wasn’t keen on chaining myself to a logging truck. I’m funny that way. Still, I joined a clutch of writers, publishers and booksellers rounded up by Tamara Stark of Greenpeace. She was feeling good: last week, MacMillan Bloedel loggers made a new incursion into the 75 per cent of forest not yet clear-cut in the Clayoquot Sound area. After a Greenpeace blockade, the loggers went away. At least temporarily, logging a “pristine valley” has been stopped. A pristine valley has only two-per-cent incursion by man, for your information. And there aren’t many left.

West Coast poet Susan Musgrave, Eden Robinson, a young Haisla novelist from Kitimat, and Calgary bookseller Kerry Longpré donned yellow Greenpeace slickers. We all climbed into a 10-seater plane. We made a cantankerous group. Susan got airsick; I got an earache. At Tofino airport, we stood while Valerie Langer, a Friend of Clayoquot Sound, delivered a 20-minute lecture (coffee shop not yet open). She was very intense.

Susan noted the word injunction was being thrown about a lot. Valerie vowed that when we looked at old-growth rain forest we would experience eternity.

Gogi and Darby, tourists from San Francisco, had been dragooned to drive us into Tofino; en route they complained that too many hotels were being built.

We met Mike Mullins, founding member of the group known affectionately in local parlance as “The Fiends of Crackpot Sound,” and stood some more. Lunch was becoming an issue. They wanted us to eat after the hike; we wanted to eat before. As we stumbled into the oyster skiff that would take us to Meares Island, there was near mutiny and everyone was thrown a cheese bun.

When logging threatened Meares Island, the fight for Clayoquot Sound began. After a struggle, the island was declared a tribal park, but that brought only a temporary respite. Now, we were on Meares’ rocky shore and the photographer made us pose, crying, “Say trees!” Tamara let slip that Greenpeace was seeking out writers after being criticized for using American movie stars in its campaign. Feeling a trifle used, we climbed a narrow boardwalk laid over the forest floor amongst ferns, berry bushes and skunk lilies. The air was cool and fragrant; the sun descending vertically amongst giant conifers into dappled glades. At the fork in the path was a helpful, hand-painted sign. “Big Trees” it said, pointing one way, “Mudflats” it said, pointing the other. We took Big Trees.

Allan Fotheringham is on assignment. Katherine Govier’s new novel, Angel Walk, will be published in August by Little, Brown.

The white spruce lifted off in perfect perpendiculars, disappearing to spikes that splintered the blue sky. Holding hands, 10 of us couldn’t encircle the base of a 1,200-year-old cedar. OK, I saw the point about time: we’ve got 1,500 years of hemlock, cedar and spruce live on their feet and centuries more of it underfoot, serving as compost and nursemaids for baby trees. The variety in height allows light to penetrate and other species to flourish beneath the “canopy”. Reforestation doesn’t work; the new trees are all the same size and their canopy blocks out sun.

Valerie’s schoolmarm tone was not winning me over; I am allergic to being lectured. “Just because you’re from the east,” said Susan, “she shouldn’t assume you don’t know what a huckleberry is.” Valerie held up a slime-emitting, bananaspotted slug; one of the denizens of oldgrowth forest. The snail is Very Important, we’re told; it, too, will be a victim of clear-cutting. ‘This is how environmentalists get a bad name,” mutters Musgrave, songstress of sea witches that she is. “Those slugs are the bane of every gardener in B.C. When people see them, they chop them in half with their scissors.”

We reach the hanging garden tree. Over a thousand years old, this behemoth’s base wouldn’t fit in the average bedroom; there are various tiered gardens of ferns, moss, berry bushes and flowers sprouting from its bark way up around the third storey.

Publisher Louise Dennys wanders off the boardwalk and comes back to report on the glorious feeling of walking on 'bare forest floor. We all try it: silence persuades when lectures may not.

Back in Tofino, Susan forages for empty beer cans. “I’m supplementing my poetry royalties,” she says. At 10 cents a can, she already has $1,000 in her daughter’s university education fund.

Flying out, we see clear-cut areas and government-approved “Science Panel” cuts (no different except with a clump of trees in the middle). It’s hideous. And it doesn’t have to happen. There are alternatives: logging only second growth, cutting selectively, making paper from agricultural waste. I figure the only reason the lumber industry is getting away with it is that few people actually see what we’re seeing.

Going home, we talk about how the book industry might ensure that no clear-cut or old-growth forest is sacrificed to make our paper. I find two beer cans for Susan’s collection and ponder how Greenpeace, so dexterous at more dramatic stunts like dumping dead fish on the desks of CEOs, needs lessons in courting the media. But the fact remains: the environmentalists are right.

Three points. One. Nobody should log those thousand-year-old forests. Two. Poets should get higher royalties. Three. Greenpeace should know that writers prefer to experience eternity on our own time. We’re funny that way.