Friday, January 21, 2005


While working on my computer in front of the large picture windows in my cabin, I heard a loud crack. Thinking that a branch, high above me in a fir tree, had broken off under the weight of snow I ran to the doorway in case the windows were smashed by the falling branch. A crash followed by a thud confirmed my suspicion but the cabin had not been struck. I shone a flashlight through the front windows and could only see what appeared to be a large chunk of wood laying outside in the snow. We have had about 16 inches of snow fall and stick here in the past few days which is very unusual for our climate.

Later, when I went outside to investigate I saw that the top 60 feet of a 100 feet tall old growth Douglas fir tree had snapped off and was now lying in the snow in front of my cabin.

12 feet in circumference, this tree survived the forest fire of 1885, living to the age of approximately 500 years which is about half of the life expectancy for this species. Many years ago this tree had suffered a lightning strike leaving it with a rotten top composed of several giant limbs. The rest of the upper branches were healthy and grew to be very thick but deformed by the stunted crown. The trunk showed significant conks from a laminated form of fungi, which probably saved if from logging that took most of the other trees in the area. Now only a trunk of about 40 feet is left standing.

My parents and I moved to this property in April 1975 and I have always admired the largest tree for its thick wrinkly bark, shape, and strength. At that time this tree towered over the forest, a giant compared to all other trees in both height and girth. This tree seeded many of the surrounding trees which have grown to be taller than their parent. I have made many discoveries from this tree and have been inspired to investigate the history of forests by its presence.

I have seen many birds spend time on this magnificent wildlife tree including: Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Red-Breasted Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Winter Wren, Mountain Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Cooper’s Hawk, American Robin, Spotted Towhee, Varied Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, American Kestrel, Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Stellar’s Jay, Pine Siskin, European Starling, Crow, Raven, Bald Eagle, and even a Great Blue Heron landed in it to make some outrageously loud squawking. I watched a female Rufous Hummingbird gather cobwebs woven across the deep cracks in the bark, to use in constructing a nest. One night I listened to a pair of Barred Owls call each other from distant trees, slowly moving closer to each other. They met in the Old Douglas Fir tree in front of my cabin where they began to make noises that I had never heard them make before or since. That was the first year that those owls nested nearby and brought 3 fledgling into this world.

I witnessed the death of a friend tonight, a friend that stood before Europeans came to conquer this continent. I will miss this beautiful tree but it will be decaying for hundreds of years providing life for a multitude of insects, plants, and other trees. Birds will continue to benefit from this fallen giant and the colossal snag that still remains, standing firm. Its carcass will hold moisture during the dry season, providing habitat for amphibians and germinating seeds. We will leave the broken piece to rot where is lies and watch the standing truck decay naturally over time. The cycle continues, the succession of the forest.

In his letter to the Editor “Protection is ongoing” (The News Jan. 14) WLAP Minister BIll Barisoff compares this natural process of the forest to the ravages of clear-cut logging left by industrial corporate giants. A stump field is being offered as a park while a primeval Douglas Fir forest with trees that are hundreds of years old, evolved over millenniums will be logged by Weyerhaeuser in the Cameron Valley. I would like to see Cathedral Grove Park expanded to include all old growth trees in the Cameron Valley but somehow the BC Liberals put politics and greed ahead of the protection of the environment.

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