Vigil for a Clear-cut

Altar for an old-growth forest cut in 2013 (foreground) and currently being cut (hill in background)

Altar for an old-growth forest cut in 2013 (foreground) and currently being cut (hill in background)

To spend time in an old-growth forest that has been clear-cut is to experience awe, sorrow, compassion, and opportunities to both mourn and heal nature and self.

On this special retreat we visited an old-growth temperate rain forest in Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park on the western edge of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Our intention was to camp at night in the old-growth forest and spend our days visiting and learning from the clear-cut.

However, when we arrived, we discovered that there were actually four types of forest there to greet us. There was the old-growth forest, lush with huge ferns, tufts of pale green moss, moist soil, and noble and gargantuan cedars, hemlocks, and spruces as old as 900 years. Some of these patches of forest are protected, but other blocks have been slated for logging, and we felt the presence of the activists who are fiercely dedicated to protecting the trees. We also encountered a patch of forest that has been reforested, although the trees there are all the same age and planted so closely together that they will eventually have to compete for space and sunlight. Another area, where we all spent much time alone, was a long swath clearcut in 2013. We found to our surprise that, even among these silvered stumps and piles of slash, new plants and trees were eagerly thrusting forth. Finally, on a mountainside, was a recently cut area. We could still hear the saws each day.

Here are some of the things we learned and did during our time in the forest:

  • “Grandmother Cedar” told one participant her story, then asked her to read that story to the young, replanted trees
  • A startling burst of compassion for the loggers who come to this ancient forest only to have to destroy it
  • A set of altars made in the four directions for each of the four types of forest visible from the clear-cut
  • A ceremony done in honor of the past loves of one participant’s life, acknowledging the energetic presence of each, which now has faded
  • The act of lying down in the logging road, “three years too late to join the protest,” but made in sympathy for the activists who tried and failed to protect the forest
  • Plunges in the cold, clear “Emerald Pool” at the foot of a long slope

We found all these aspects of the forest to be powerfully alive, and they evoked transformations in those of us who attend them with openness and a willingness to push old boundaries of what’s beautiful and what’s not, what’s acceptable and what’s not. We found healing in ourselves, beauty in the forest, and a new sense of purpose about how to be with wounded places. We were sorry to leave.