That sliver of land connecting Nova Scotia to the rest of North America is known as the Chignecto Isthmus, functioning more as a concept than a bridge with hard borders, its thousands of relevant acres our only defence against islandhood.
There was a time when American beech commanded much of the Maritimes, growing to tremendous sizes with porcelain smooth bark, a generous abundance of seed and autumn beauty to rival any hardwood. But that’s not the American beech we’ve come to know, seeing instead a tree corrupted by black rot, its bark twisted and cankered beyond recognition, stunted and with very few seeds. In little over a century this species fell from canopy heights, now a leper among plants.
In 1968 the United States federal government saw fit to establish Redwood National Park, an outstanding slice of the only Coastal redwood habitat on Earth, stretched along California’s west coast. These trees would lose over 90 per cent of their historic 2 million acre range in time – two thirds of the park itself were logged before its protection – but within these 58,000 acres at least, they would be allowed to recover and persevere.
The concept of biodiversity is relatively new to the mainstream, proposing that ecosystems can be appraised, so to speak, based on the variety of organisms they support. It states simply that a healthy forest cannot contain solely Balsam fir, nor a healthy river exclusively Atlantic salmon.
I grew up with the Eastern white cedar, with the soothing smell of its lumber and the playful snapping of its waxy leaves when tossed into a campfire. The peeling, almost tissue quality of its bark and the swooping structure of its trunk defined the Ontario swamps I walked through as a young man, and when I moved to the East Coast I felt their absence. So when I saw my first local specimen a few weeks back, after years without, it was like catching up with an old friend.
There are no names in this story.
If you’re familiar with the work of Earnest Hemingway you’ll find a piece of his from September 25, 1923 in the Toronto Daily Star beginning with exactly this line, ranking among my personal favourites. As the opener promises, he omits all names from the article, including his own, giving only the professions, genders and approximate ages of everyone he quotes, describing himself only as “the reporter.”
Sometimes us journalists have to write this way, because otherwise there’d be no story. In Hemingway’s case, his interviewees wouldn’t talk unless sheltered by anonymity and that’s the case here, at least in part…but while this literary icon was profiling survivors of a Japanese earthquake, I’m writing about forestry.
Dan Dupont is a fourth generation forester from the Gaspesie region of east Quebec. An “Islander by choice” since 1997, he’s made it his business to re-imagine the woodlots of his adoptive home.
In many ways Island forestry was born from the second world war, he said, back when 70 per cent of PEI was dedicated to agriculture. This historic conflict called away Island farmers and in many cases, they never came home, leaving their properties without a permanent caretaker. Others still returned from the war entranced by the technological advancements of the age, forsaking rural living for urban opportunity.
As the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid threatens the integrity of Maritime forests, government departments, research organizations and stakeholders alike are preparing their defence. And in their search for expertise in combating this invasive insect, they’ve looked no farther than New York State.
Tracking down a specific tree in Nova Scotia is like hunting a grain of sand on Prince Edward Island or a cob of corn in southern Ontario, but I found it all the same, on an undisclosed dirt road in Nova Scotia’s Hants County. Its species once accounted for a full quarter of all tree in the mixed deciduous forest of eastern North America, conquering habitat from southern New England to the Appalachian mountains and northward into Ontario. In front of me was the king of the forest, as it was known, long since deposed – the American Chestnut.
It’s easy to lose yourself in old growth forest, your neck craned back to admire the towering canopy and your voice kept low as to not disturb the silence. Stepping into one is like entering a cathedral, and having its defining features pointed out is like an initiation into some exclusive club. And the more you see, the more lofty your membership.