(by Claire King)
From my island window
uphold the canvas
of sea and mountain
Douglas fir, stalwart as steel
stands stately to my left
deep rooted fortress of the birds of prey
whose silver crests glint in the shafted sun.
This regal fir
green feathered warrior
arrowing ever skyward
his crown beyond my purview,
And to my right,
across the frame,
I see a queen, arbutus,
bent in lissome dance.
All curves and curlicues her branches are
with shivering leaves,
and bark unfurling, glows
with berries that adorn the boughs.
The fairy birds flit humming
through her outstretched arms
that lace a tapestry
against the cobalt sky.
With every wind that blows
she spins her golden castoffs
a-twirl the bright lacuna
toward her sturdy consort.
of mountain and sea,
arbutus and fir
how you help me start my day!
To see you always from my window,
I only hope and pray.
This poem by Claire King so beautifully reminds me of the two important aspects of our precious BC forests – the economic and the aesthetic. The Douglas Fir is highly valued economically while the arbutus has no commercial value; however, as Claire so brilliantly states in her poem, they both are appreciated for their aesthetic qualities. The prospects of these qualities for tourism are enormous; however, there is much more to the forest than just the commercial value.
When it comes to the aesthetics, there is no place on Earth like walking through an old growth BC forest. The lush vegetation, the rivers and streams that crisscross the forest, and the animals that call the forest home all make hiking in BC a unique experience. I have hiked hundreds of paths and have rarely found this spiritual dimension of the forest any place else in the world.
There is something sacred about a forest walk. We can use all five senses to connect with the forest and clear our minds. We can spend mindful time under the canopy of trees enjoying shades of green from the maples and blue filtering through the canopy from the sky, the two colors which contain nature’s most relaxing energies. We can listen to the wind and taste the air. We can focus our attention in the present moment to give our bodies and minds a chance to slow down. We can move slowly, touching the trees, looking at patterns, and breathing deeply. We can take time to lie down under the trees, look up through the branches, connect to the natural world, and let the healing power of the forest flow through our bodies.
In Japan they have a practice called shinrin-yoku developed in the 1980s, which is literally, a forest bath. In my opinion it is an opportunity for preventative medicine to compliment medical treatment. According to Sherwood in her review of the literature(1), the forest has the power to combat illnesses including cancer, strokes, gastric ulcers, depression, and anxiety. It can reduce blood pressure through a chemical called phytoncides that is released by trees and plants. Forest baths can lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory. As more research has highlighted the benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese government has incorporated it into the country’s health program as a legitimate form of therapy. I have personally experienced the sensations of a forest bath here in my beloved BC forests. It daily gives me an opportunity to take time out, slow down, connect with nature, and allow the forest energy in to heal my body and my mind and inspire my soul.
But the economic value of our forests is also important. In Claire King’s poem I see the economy as being represented by the Douglas Fir. This tree is among the hardest and heaviest softwoods available commercially. A Douglas fir, 160 feet tall, 20 inches wide, can yield 16 foot logs. Out of our hypothetical tree, we can expect about 14 logs and each log will yield roughly 280 board feet. Fir now goes for close to three dollars per board foot for a 2×10 twelve foot board at Home Depot. The value of each tree then is over $10,000. The value added makes them very valuable indeed (which is one of the reasons these trees should be processed in BC rather than shipped as uncut logs). In our efforts to protect the aesthetic value of the forest, we can also be mindful that many British Columbians rely on the commercial aspect of the forest for their livelihood. In my opinion it is necessary to try to see how the commercial and aesthetic views can coexist.
British Columbia has more certified forest land than any other jurisdiction in the world (with the exception of Canada as a whole)(2). The government owns 94% of the land and forest resources which makes it possible to determine where, when, and how forest resources can be used. Regulations are enforced by Natural Resource Officers keeping our forests healthy and resilient for future generations. Their mandate goes beyond the commercial to include social, recreational, and environmental benefits. They are also aware of the value of the forest to combat climate change and the need to protect our wildlife habitats for species at risk. This has resulted in full protection for almost 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) and brings the total amount of protected lands and water in British Columbia to over 15 percent, more than any other province in Canada. Furthermore, BC has one of the largest park systems in the world; its 1,035 provincial parks, recreation areas, conservancies, ecological reserves, and protected areas cover over 14 million hectares.
In our efforts to protect our forests, the BC government and the logging companies often get a bad rap. In my forest walks I have noted the changes over the years. There is now a much more conscientious effort to apply the latest scientifically approved methods for reforestation and maintaining the health of the forest. Of course there are exceptions but most of the people involved are conscientiously doing their part to protect our forests. However, there is enough land now under commercial management to maintain healthy economic enterprises through good forest practices for years to come without destroying any of our remaining old growth that is so valuable for the equally important social and aesthetic aspects of our forests.
1. Take forest baths. Leave your phone and camera behind. Walk aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Savour the sounds, smells and sights of nature and let the forest filter into your soul. Stop to hug a tree. They call us tree huggers so let’s make it literal. In the process you will share in the amazing calming vibrations and chemicals of our dear friends the old trees.
2. Renew your commitment to keeping the sacred old growth forests and the precious paths that wind through second growth forests along our rivers and creeks. Also protect the waterways that feed these forests and protect the animals that share the forest with us. They are all part of the unique flow of life energies that we can absorb through the forest.
3. Recognize the commercial value of the forests for maintaining our way of life. Realize that the sacredness of the forests is lost on lands that have been clear cut and turned over to commercial use and are now serving a commercial purpose. Accept that and take note of the good things the government and these companies are doing to maintain these commercial forests, and praise them for their efforts when praise is due.
4. But also monitor their efforts and be willing to consciously object and petition when officials and some companies fail to live up to the standards as outlined by the BC government.
5. Take measures to praise our forests around the world and be willing to share this precious physical, mental, and spiritual resource. Encourage the expansion of the tourism industry to include healing experiences such as forest baths that can be made available in our beloved forests.
(1) Sherwood, Harriet. Getting back to nature: how forest bathing can make us feel better. The Guardian.2019. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/08/forest-bathing-japanese-practice-in-west-wellbeing
(2) Farming, natural resources and industry – British Columbia. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/forestry/managing-our-forest-resources