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Big Trees and Waves for a Weary Spirit: Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island

"Believe one who knows: you will find something greater in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters." - Saint Bernard de Clairvaux

Instead of reading this, go for a walk in the woods. Ed Boshart.

Along a foggy, wet coastline south from Whistler Mountain, B.C., my fellow traveler Rick Mercer and I wound our way for the first time to the open sea, securing a ferry passage at Horseshoe Bay, north of Vancouver city, in order to cross the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. The weather was cool-cold and windy, but the trip across the strait ended in Nanaimo on the Island without a hitch. After a short 2-night stay in the the Island's largest city, Victoria, and a day's drive up the northwest coast, our itinerary crossed the San Juan Strait, on yet another ferry, and onto the fogbound Olympic Peninsula of the U.S. (Victoria and the eastern Olympic Peninsula will be covered in the next two or three blogs).

Vancouver Island is probably even a bit wilder than mainland British Columbia. Roads are scarce and the forest shadows are long. Trees make deep rainforest sounds, drip-drip and silence, waiting patiently for the next northern Pacific Ocean storm to push ashore. Stumps and ferns and flora of all sorts watch passing hikers, like myself, with a kind of disinterest or even disdain, without curiosity. It is an old place, although Vancouver cityfolk and population overflow from Victoria are evidently attempting to establish a foothold where only native, indigenous North Americans once hunted and fished (and still do in a limited way).

Along the rugged shoreline northwest of Victoria, the very rare, occasional jet flyover is the only noise that penetrates a steady roar of ocean waves as they wash relentlessly across stony beaches, pushing many kinds of flotsam up to the conifer floors, including enormous strands of rope kelp, shattered shells, broken logs, etc.

There are mountains on the island, but I did not see them. The Vancouver Island Ranges run most of the length of the island, dividing it into a wet and rugged west coast and a drier, more rolling eastern coast along the Georgia Gulf.

Vancouver Island was visited on the third voyage of Captain James Cook, who spent a month during 1778 at Nootka Sound, on the western coast. Cook claimed it for Great Britain. British Naval Captain George Vancouver was sent to Nootka Sound in 1792 in order to negotiate disputed control with a Spanish counterpart -- Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra. This land mass initially was named after both men, but eventually the Vancouver nameplate survived, with a nod to brevity.

Wind and waves smother the crunching sound of my feet, as I stumble up the beach savoring the salty air. A lonely spirit emanates from the twisted tree limbs and trunks that have been buffeted by storms endlessly. There is nothing out there on the sea itself, today. Cook, Vancouver and countless other ship captains nosed around along this volcanic coast during the Age of Exploration. Trappers met natives and shared the abundant resources, but the Salish and other loosely knit tribal groups laid first claims to their natural rights. Despite good intentions, numerous controversies still arise as commercial logging and fishing for Pacific salmon flourish and compete with the sensitivities of settlers and tourists.

"When the trees are gone the sky will fall and we and the salmon will be no more." - Lummi prophecy

Port Renfrew

Vancouver Island is the location where the Douglas-fir was first recorded by Archibald Menzies; and some of the tallest such firs ever recorded are here. The northern, western, and most of the central portions of the island are home to the coniferous "big trees" associated with BC's coast — hemlock, red cedar, pacific silver fir, yellow cedar, grand fir, Sitka spruce, and western white pine. It is also populated by bigleaf maple, red alder, sword fern, and red huckleberry (Wiki). The southern half of the island is one of the warmest regions of Canada.

The eyes of the forest

"It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit." ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

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