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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Nytch

Day Seven: Avatar Grove and Big Lonely Doug

Today I rose at a more reasonable hour, made another hearty breakfast, and once again set out up the Gordon River Valley. Though it was foggy and overcast when I left, the mists cleared as I climbed up the mountain; by the time I was at my destination area it was once again sunny and warm.

My first stop was Avatar Grove, a place that had been popularized during the activism of the 1990s and now, unlike Big Lonely Doug, enjoys official protection from the Provincial government. The grove is a stunning example of the red cedars that are a major part of the logging economy here. These giants are well over 500 years old, with some enormous Douglas Firs mixed in for good measure. Like the Brown Creek redwoods, there is a cacophonous mix of life and destruction: fallen trunks are the templates for new growth (sometimes of different species), decay does not seem like a decline but rather simply the beginning of a new cycle of life. Once again, the overriding feeling is that nature is defying death; each fallen giant is but the beginning of a sapling taking its place. The repeating circle of life.

In addition, though, the cedars have a character all their own. Their twirling, curling roots take on whatever shapes are necessary to hold firm on the steep valley slopes, and the result is a sort of riot of life, an actively intertwining dance with life – and death. Throw in an abundance of chartreuse moss and deep green ferns and you get an almost prehistoric picture. It would seem that the forest has been unchanged for millennia, and I honestly felt like I’d stumbled into some other world. Despite the “Avatar” reference for this place, I thought a more apt name would be Fangorn: cedars are by far the most Ent-like of trees.

I didn’t tarry too long at the grove, though, for it was time to head the rest of the way up the road to Big Lonely Doug. This time I felt like an expert, remembering how to navigate the particularly rough sections of road and having already planned where to park the car out of the way of logging trucks. (I had been warned that I might encounter logging trucks, and that if I did I was to get out of the way – because they would not get out of the way for you.) I used the “parking area” solely for that, and walked on to the trailhead. Five minutes later, and with but a little scrambling here and there, I was at Doug’s base.

Unlike yesterday, there was not a soul around.

I did some picture-taking to get it out of the way, and then I just spent some time with him for a while. I started by resting my head against his trunk, feeling the coarse bark with my hands.

There’s no denying it: I am, quite literally, a tree-hugger. (And proud of it, too.)

I sat on a log nearby for a long time, just listening – with my inner ears. Doug is a sphinx of trees, though. He did not speak to me as I’d hoped. While his name seemed appropriate given the setting, loneliness was not the main emotion I was experiencing. He stands alone, yes, but he’s resolute; proud, even. Perhaps weary of the many people who come around and trample his feet. Still, far underneath that defiance there is a deeply-guarded sadness.

As I was wondering what in the world my Muse would do with this experience, I heard something nearby: the distinct sound of footsteps – the footsteps of a large animal. I looked to see if someone was coming down the path (even though the sound was coming from the other direction). There was nobody there. I heard another step. I was downwind from it, and I knew that thick undergrowth heavy with berries just beginning to ripen was Bear Heaven. I clapped my hands and shouted. The footsteps stopped. But I’d decided I had imposed on Doug and his neighbors long enough: it was time I headed back.

I stopped at a huge cedar trunk near the top, and spent some more time watching BLD from afar. What stories might he tell? A thousand years’ worth, to be sure. But he wasn’t sharing them with me.

So I just sat and listened to the sounds around me: birds, the wind flowing through the branches of trees, and solitude. And then another sound: the low rumble of a logging truck, making its way up from the valley below.

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