Poetry saves trees

Forests are big in B.C. So is logging.
B.C’s history of clear-cutting vast swathes of trees to feed the ever-hungry forestry industry is legend. In this year of the 21st century the battle to protect precious trees goes on. As I write, a petition is circulating to demand the BC government put a moratorium on logging ancient trees.

I started out wanting to tell the story of activism that worked to save trees including an act of poetry-driven environmentalism. Today’s news comes to remind me that we must remain vigilant. The lungs of our planet need us to protect them.

Standing with the trees

Soon after I moved to BC in 1980, I joined environmental campaigns to convince governments at every level to end clear-cutting of ancient first-growth forests and to introduce more sustainable logging practices. One such massive effort to protect trees played out in Clayoquot Sound through the eighties and nineties. The “War in the Woods” began in 1980 when local First Nations began peaceful protests which grew in size and support. In 1993, after the provincial government published a land use plan which allowed logging in two thirds of the forest in Clayoquot Sound, protests became huge and emotions and determination ran high. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and put on trial. These protests in support of the Nuu-chah-nulth people’s rights to protect their unceded land and waters drew world-wide media attention. In 1995 the BC government accepted the recommendations of the scientific panel on Clayoquot Sound. In 2000, Clayoquot Sound was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Meares Island Tribal Park was established in 2014. Now, in acknowledgement of indigenous Canadians’ sovereignty the re-named Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, has management of the land.

Poems in the trees

McLellan Forest, Langley, B.C. A small forest compared to the vast growth in Clayoquot Sound , the fight to save it no less important and I proudly took part in an action with poetry at its heart.In 2012 McLellan Forest was threatened by a cynical claim for land development. The local Township had the land up for sale to make way for the building of private estates.A protest group, Watchers of Langley Forest (WOLF) was hard at work trying to raise the $3 million to buy and protect the forest which held a 240 year old cottonwood tree at its centre. A valiant but not easy task.

In stepped the poets and artists!
Led by renowned BC poet, Susan McCaslin, artists, dancers, poets, photographers and student film-makers arrived at the forest to defend and protect it. Susan knew they needed to garner broader attention and that was when she remembered the ancient Chinese poet Han Shan of Cold Mountain. He was a recluse who wrote his poems on rocks and also hung poems from trees. Susan followed his example. She used social media to call for tree-inspired poems and received hundreds. She strung the poems together and draped them from the trees that now people from across Canada and the world wanted to save. My poem, Guardian Pine, hung from a cedar. Artist, Susan Falk embarked on a project to paint the forest and she included words from poems on 13 paintings. I was thrilled when she chose words from my poem.

I have listened to the chatter
of souls in the snap-snap of seeds
breaking from its cones in spring.

Artist-driven activism works. The BC Ministry of Environment declared McLellan Forest an “ecological reserve.” But provided no financial support. Over to the Mayor and Council who, in the fall of 2013, preserved part of McLellan Forest as a municipal park, now known as McLellan Forest Natural Park. A private donation secured the remainder of the land, now also a conservation area.

Maybe its time to send tree poems to the BC government. I believe I will do that.

Guardian pine

Nights, I’ve shut out the dark,
the real or imagined voices
percolating from beyond the window, 
pulled a shawl around my need for warmth,
blanket to my chin, grateful for latches,
locks and blinds.

This night, the blinds taken down,
the pine looms. Feathered-edged,
its silhouette presses toward the room,
black as the pupil of the watchful spirit
legend tells crouches in its branches
arms stretched over the living
and the dead.

I have listened to the chatter
of souls in the snap-snap of seeds
breaking from its cones in spring.
Now, winter’s deep and silent well 
has me submerged and I turn,
entreat that dark-eyed spirit
watch over me.

PG. From Passing Stranger (publ 2014 Inanna Publications, Toronto)

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