Whispering Creek and our Crisis of Character
I say Cha-ULT-na-wich but I am not from the Squamish Nation. This is the name they have given the largest of the emerald isles that fill the funnel-shaped arm of the Salish Sea that we now call Atl’katsem Howe Sound. Both the island known by many as Gambier and the Sound that cradles it are the traditional territory of the Sa-qu-ome-mesh (Squamish) peoples. This has been their home for over 9,000 years and, unlike so many others who came later and took what they could and left, these people – the Squamish have stayed.
On this large, hand-shaped island of topographic twists and turns, secret worlds await those who seek out the last remnants of Gambier’s former glory. Those were the days when this was part of the greatest temperate rainforest on Earth and its peoples took from the land and waters only what they needed.
Hidden away in this rumpled land of rugged contours are clandestine creeks, lost lakes and pocket forest cathedrals of big trees. Here in this world of the wild, balance, beauty and biodiversity reign. For forty years I have wandered all over Cha-ULT-na-wich hanging out with the ravens and eagles up on the high bluffs and home to big picture views. Sitting atop these bedrock bumps the southern scene is dominated by Gambier’s forested fingers reaching for the Salish Sea. Northward, the blue waters of Atl’katsem Howe Sound breach the Coast Range allowing maritime air to find its way inland. Ten kilometres from Vancouver city centre this wild neighbour of an urban world continues to offer me sanctuary.
It’s covid spring 2021 when I discover Whispering Creek, one of the few remaining salmon-bearing streams on the island. The Gambier Guardians, an island-based group of activists have sent smoke signals out into cyberspace alerting the world that the unthinkable was happening in their backyard. The ancient web of life in their home creek headwaters was under attack. Massive machines were punching out a road through big trees and across a drainage divide into the Whispering Creek watershed where a delicate beauty was now in peril. As Edward Abbey penned years ago … everything changes and nothing is more vulnerable than the beautiful. But when change is a choice that impoverishes the commonwealth it needs to be challenged, resisted, and if need be, stopped. The Gambier Guardians were clear on that. They drew their line in the sand and so I wanted to go and see where they had done that and why. Brother Bob, a videographer is with me. We want to learn more about the story unfolding here and with video recorder and camera perhaps add another chapter to this book in the throes of being written.
We pick up Whispering Creek at the government dock in West Bay. It is low tidewater as it meanders across a broad expanse of beach delta on its way to the sea. Once through the forest edge, umbrellas of salmonberry, cedar and big leaf maple keep us in shadow as we begin our ascent hopping back and forth from one creek bank to the other. A perfect four metre ribbon of falling water appears between white granite boulders ahead. The magic of this place has already gripped us as we continue upstream. Lichen mosses hang from overhead branches like stalactites in some subterranean cave.
Above the falls, white pebble and boulder fill the hollows in the stream bed where pools spill through tight channels in the bedrock. It is a crystal creek and quickly I find myself in push-up position ready to drink. A head dunk follows and the chill is immediate but refreshing. Sweet immersion. Deep drafts of this supernatural beverage are swallowed … slowly. There is little now that distinguishes me from the creek. I am part of this forest flow like everything else. I sit up and take in this jade jungle of joy that surrounds me. It too is an expression of this magnificent stream that whispers its way into the cells of every living being – plant, animal or other, that make this valley home.
Water striders, daddy-long-legs on skates, fritter to and fro across a glassy pool as we negotiate a slippery green bedrock canyon carved by the creek over the eons. The gradient is steepening and the flow is faster. The whisper of these waters now is the dominant sound as we climb higher. Large fir and cedar skyscrapers rise on all sides. We are entering the headwaters area of Whispering Creek – a precious primeval place like others across British Columbia whose future is at great risk. My eyes are suddenly drawn to a slice of bright sky 300 metres to the west where there was none before. The dense green cover of a mature forest is now showing tree silhouettes and a horizon – unmistakable signs of an encroaching clearcut. Within seconds the spell cast by this magical geography is broken. A sadness begins to take hold, followed by anger. For me, my beautiful world and what I hold as true are being diminished.
I am part of a culture that simply lacks the character needed for self-restraint. We are a taking creature that cannot leave this magnificent living history alone even when so little of this ancient connective tissue remains. In socio-pathological circles this human appetite for its life support system – the ecosphere, is known as ecophagus – a form of life which eats its home. It seems oblivious to the lethal harm it is inflicting on itself. The intended consumption of the Whispering Creek headwaters is a microcosm of ecophagus in action.
We walk on as the hurt deepens. It is not right that this amount of light is reaching the forest floor. We come to the ragged edge of a road in its infancy. A two hundred and fifty-year-old veteran of 10,000 winter storms lies next to the stump and roots that once nurtured and supported it. It is not hyperbole to see this as a crime against humanity. Despite the monetary value of all the construction grade 2×4’s and 2×6’s that will come from this irreplaceable arboreal being, our culture remains blind to its real value and so is unable to find within itself the wisdom to leave it alone. I look further. Giants of the forests lie like match sticks helter-skelter across a land that is ripped, broken, and raw. Not in any meaningful time frame will trees like this ever return. A non-renewable legacy to our grandchildren lost forever.
Then, once again, something deep down inside me sparks and reignites – a green fire that makes it plain we can and must be better. And with this stirring, I recommit my resistance to this madness of consuming our beautiful and fragile world. For Wylder, our two-year-old grandson who thrives on the wild side of life, I will not go quietly. I will rage when rage is needed.
I look across these fallen centurions and know there has to be another way. This is not how you treat your elders. In that crazy part of our culture where ageism and disconnection are rampant, old-growth forests don’t stand a chance. In a world of tree farms, productivity usually comes first. Until of course when it doesn’t. Enter summer 2021. When enough people say enough and mean it with actions to prove it, things begin to change. I sure hope we are moving in that direction now. Ancient forests in British Columbia need a ground shift in how the public see them if they are going to survive. They are powerful symbols when left alone of our ethics, wisdom, and character as a people. When destroyed, they are a damning indictment of all who let it happen.
Whispering Creek is a spectacular watershed, on a beautiful wild island that sits on the doorstep of the Emerald City – Vancouver, British Columbia – purportedly one of the greenest and most life-friendly cities on the greenest and most life-friendly of planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. The ocean waters that surround Whispering Creek and receive its crystal waters are now part of an entity that adds one more meaningful layer to a region that has already been blessed with advantage. Atl’katsem Howe Sound is about to become a United Nations designated biosphere reserve and with that, newfound collective energy to create a shining example of what human development can look like in the 21st century. A place where the human residents of this region are challenged to be the best we can be. As an Atl’katsem Howe Sound biospherian, I stand with all those who feel that the last bits of ancient forest beauty on Gambier Island – the last of the islands in this deep fjord of the Salish Sea which still harbours this kind of ecological wealth, must be left to live out their lives. If this can happen, they will be both inspiration and teacher to all those now and in the future, who wander amongst them.
Tim Turner, Gibsons, B.C.
If you would like to help stop this senseless, greedy destruction of one of the last stands of old-growth forest in BC. Please follow the links below. You do not have to be a resident of BC or Canada to make your voice heard.
Sign the petition from Gambier Island Conservancy to halt logging in Whispering Creek on Gambier Island.
Send a letter to BC Premier John Horgan to demand a moratorium on all old-growth logging while the 14 recommendations from the Old Growth Review Panel are implemented.
Watch the video by Bob Turner, Why Log Whispering Creek to get a sense of how beautiful and fragile this ecosystem really is.