The Eastern hemlock is a force of nature in Nova Scotia by virtue of its age. Foresters past and present have ignored it in favour of more valuable spruce, pine and myriad hardwoods, allowing hemlocks to become the oldest member of our enduring forests, accounting for almost all of our remaining old growth.
Where, do you think, is the most intact forest on Earth? Your mind might take you to the solid green canopy of the Amazon Rainforest or perhaps to the Congo, places being undervalued into oblivion but which are still, mercifully, vast, possessing of remoteness it seems can only be found in a good book these days. The world’s most intact forest, however, is much closer to home. In fact you’ve probably walked through it, blissfully unaware of its global significance.
One of Nova Scotia’s oldest standing forests can be found down a logging road in Lunenburg County, on a steep slope tucked behind a wall of young spruce. What’s more, we almost cut it down.
The entire global population of Atlantic whitefish is restricted to a single watershed in southern Nova Scotia, and in the minds of many, even this haven is no longer safe.
I was caught off guard recently when someone assured me that invasive species are no big deal; that, when it comes to the mass extinction we humans are driving forth, taking a couple thousand species from one unique ecosystem and plunking them in another won’t matter much in the long run.
The dawn chorus, as it’s known, takes place at first light particularly in spring and early summer, a consequential time for the myriad species of nesting bird across Nova Scotia. It begins timidly, with a few of the more light sensitive species piping up first, marking territories, attracting mates or carrying out any number of mysterious biological functions. Within minutes more chime in, until the air is lit with hundreds of ethereal voices.
There are precious few old growth forests left in the Maritimes, mere postage stamps surrounded by oceans of abused wilderness, altogether constituting less than 0.01 per cent of our regional landscape.
It was the 18th of August when I gained the summit of Mont Jacques-Cartier, an alpine peak of shattered stone and meager vegetation some 1,270 metres above Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. Several stones were organized into mounds marking the trail all visitors were obliged to follow, and just beyond them, lounging in no-man’s-land with a mountainous backdrop, were the very last of the Atlantic caribou. Here was the end of a very long pilgrimage, for me, but more so for them.
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.
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.