Friday, August 1, 2003

My contribution to this week's Ecotone collective blogging project on trees and place:

Have you ever seen an orange forest?

There is a moment every fall in Ontario when the maple trees turn orange and red and the sky becomes deep blue, the deepest blue you have ever seen, and the air sharpens up a little. I lived for that moment every year for about the first 26 years of my life. For me, living in Ontario was epitomized in many ways by the experience of that moment. When I ask the question to folks out here on the coast and describe the experience, I am met with genuine awe.

The year I moved to British Columbia, I was surprised by how overwhelmed I felt by missing this scene. Here the fall progresses through deeper and darker shades of grey, and the forests become greener and wetter and more pungent. Mushrooms sprout everywhere and the trees seem to sigh and draw a breath to gird themselves against the winter wind storms to come. I was sorely disappointed when my mid fall moment never materialized. I remember feeling totally dislocated.

It took me a couple of years to anchor myself to the moods of the trees on the coast, and it happened in 1995 on Cortes Island, about 150 kilometers north of here. One hot day in July I was sitting on the porch of the cabin we frequent, reading and writing a little when I suddenly noticed that everything had stopped. There was no bird song, no wind, and strangest of all, the tress had stopped moving. Not so much as a Douglas-fir needle stirred. I became acutely aware of a feeling that the season was turning; that everything that had grown and sprouted to this point in time had reached its peak and was now turning towards decay. It was a profound moment, as narrow and fine as a knife edge, and just as palpable.

I have a new relationship with trees, and they certainly define my place here. In the fall there are days when the term "rainforest" seems so appropriate. The rain falls and when it stops, the trees keep it going. They drip and spray water on the forest floor for hours afterwards.

And in the winter, when the Pineapple Express winds blow at speeds exceeding 80 km/h, it's the threat of a Douglas-fir limb coming through the ceiling that puts the profundity into the moment.

So surrounded are we with the big trees of the coastal Pacific rainforest - the Douglas-firs, hemlocks and red cedars - that I almost take them for granted. I don't think of them much on their own, neither their overwhelming presence or huge size.

Once in a while though, like last week when my brother was here from Toronto, the sheer breathtaking girth of them is brought to my awareness again. Out on a walk in Crippen Park last week, my brother pointed to an old Douglas-fir that rose straight and cylindrical out of the forest floor up a couple of hundred feet and said, very quietly, "Look at that."

And it truly is an amazing thing. a tree so huge, five people can't join hands around it. So tall that it rakes the clouds for moisture. So green that the light beneath it takes on a permanently cool hue.

As amazing as an orange forest against an azure autumn sky.

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