There were five of them growing in close company, dominating a gentle slope of explosive greens and soft moss, tall and wide and straight as arrows, each tipped slightly apart as though to avoid direct competition for sunlight. One look at their tableau of co-existence would be enough, even for the layman, to tell that this ongoing compromise had played out over several centuries.
Our canoe was laden with all the necessities of outdoor life, and sloshing with water carried in by our socks, soaked every time we were obliged to leap overboard and carry our craft over rocks and beaver dams and the simple shallows of August. The intense sun of afternoon scattered the clouds and laid claim to Sporting Lake ahead and around us, the easiest paddling of the day, its depths presenting few if any hazardous boulders through red tinted water. In this lake I saw an island, drawing my eyes with supernatural sureness and speaking to a deeply spiritual segment of my rigidly rational mind.
Hemlock Woolly Adelgid – the invasive aphid-like insect noted for its destruction of Eastern hemlocks throughout the eastern United States – was discovered in Kejimkujik National Park in August of 2018, and now Parks Canada is doing something about it.
I found my first Ram’s Head Lady Slipper while on hands and knees along an obscure walking trail in Hants County, Nova Scotia, its delicate purple flower, no larger than my fingernail, now the focal point of a groundbreaking lawsuit in the provincial capital.
It was too cold even for insects, the glassy surface of Lake Superior faithfully reflecting a ruby sky as the sun rose over Pancake Bay Provincial Park, crisp beams of light cutting through the branches of old growth maple, birch, oak, spruce and pine. The mist burned away and birdsong swelled to fill the open chambers of this lakeside wood. I was alone.
Let’s go back to 2013, when our provincial government, in partnership with numerous stakeholders, created the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. It was an inspired document, identifying huge tracts of land which were ripe for formal protection either as wilderness areas, nature reserves or provincial parks, most of which were mapped, surveyed, studied and consulted upon ahead of time, gift-wrapped and, in most cases, simply awaiting a order in council to make them official.
In 2008, Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources (now the Department of Lands and Forestry) set out to create The Path We Share, a natural resources strategy setting long term goals for our province’s forestry sector and its biodiversity, among other things. This document, released in 2011, attempted to strike a long sought balance between economic demand and ecological realities, and its formation had several steps.
It was the 3rd of June, 2018, when I drove a rental car four hours into the central wilds of Vancouver Island, searching for a single gigantic tree. Stories of this arboreal titan came to me from locals who, at least on the surface, weren’t all that excited or impressed that I was going out of my way to find it, just as a Maritimer might scoff at tourists eager to see the ocean. Who cares about one more giant tree, they seemed to say.
I never thought we’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel like this. While Nova Scotian forests once yielded European fleets and world class lumber, today they have been degraded so completely that, in our desperation to continue the roller-coaster ride of clearcut forestry, we’ve begun chopping down the scraps and torching them for electricity, a process known commonly as biomass.
Clearcutting, in my mind, represents everything that’s wrong with forestry past and present. Yes, there are nuances to this industry I will never fully grasp and the economic drivers involved are powerful, but through the lens of sustainability, clearcutting is absurd.