A Return to the Eagles Nest Grove

 

It was a sunny spring morning back in May of 2018, silent save for the sounds of birds and my bicycle, as I crossed the Hydraulic Creek Bridge in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (LSCR). A ride up the Seymour Valley Trailway was nothing unusual for me, but this one was distinctively different. The reason? After a lengthy and trying process, we’d finally sold our North Vancouver home, and would soon be relocating to Vancouver Island. As much as I looked forward to the move, I knew that I was going to miss the North Shore Mountains. Suffice it to say that those mountains and valleys made me what I am today, and I’m thankful for that gift.

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The high cliffs of Jack’s Burn near the 7 km mark on the Seymour Valley Trailway. Be sure to watch closely when you’re here, because you might see a Mountain Goat like my friend Steve did recently

That day’s destination was the Eagles Nest Grove, a little known tract of ancient forest which I’d already explored several times. Close to a decade had passed since I’d last visited, and I wondered what changes had occurred during those years. It was conservationist Ralf Kelman who coined the name for this grove back in the late 1990s, while systematically seeking out the valley’s remaining old growth trees. He did this so that the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) could create a map, as part of a campaign to stop logging in Greater Vancouver’s watersheds. Though there were trials and tribulations, eventually they succeeded, and today these rainforests are preserved for future generations to enjoy!

the big map
A section of the old WCWC map, showing the Eagles Nest Grove location just south of Squamish Creek…map scan courtesy of good friend Vida Morkunas

It was just half an hour later that I rode over the Bear Island Bridge in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (LSCR), then turned south for a couple of kilometres. That bridge has been a fine improvement for access to this area, as before you had to ride up the Eastside Road from the Spur 4 Bridge, a more time consuming approach. There is a picnic area near the Eastside Road’s 11 km marker, and once you reach that, a gaze skyward has you looking at a towering Douglas fir. This is the Eagles Nest Fir,  the tree for which Ralf named this grove. It’s just metres from Squamish Creek, which ironically, is nowhere near the popular town of that same name.

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Looking at the spillway of the Seymour Dam from the Bear Island Bridge, which is located near the fish hatchery

After taking a few minutes to carefully cache my bike in the woods, I soon embarked on another journey back in time. The Eagles Nest Fir greets you conspicuously, as it’s just a stone’s throw from the road. This tree has already survived many centuries, and as you’ve probably guessed, it provides a home to local eagles. There is a sense of continuity to life here, as Bald Eagles mate for life unless one partner happens to die early, and year after year most will return to the same nests.

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Bald Eagles
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My bike and the Eagles Nest Fir

There is always that sense of wonder you experience in an ancient forest, and the Eagles Nest Grove is certainly no exception to that rule. It confers a sense of belonging, of being an intrinsic part of something much more substantial. My belief is that places like these can enlighten us to understand our proper place in nature’s grand scheme.

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Quite often, ancient trees have a marked difference in bark growth on different sides of the tree. This is another side of the Eagles Nest Fir
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This Douglas fir was actually designated as a wildlife tree before logging was outlawed in Greater Vancouver watersheds, I have been told
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A Western Red Cedar invites me over for a closer look

There had been several significant storms since I had seen these trees in 2008, and it seemed as though it was considerably more challenging getting around. I tried to be especially careful about placing my steps, but since there was plenty of time I had no need to be impatient. The echoing sounds of woodpeckers at work occasionally interrupted the peacefulness, and soon enough I could also hear the familiar chattering of eagles returning to their roost.

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Trio of giants
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The trunk of an ancient cedar
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The magic of the early morning sunlight in an old growth forest

On my previous excursions I had never ventured much further than a couple of hundred metres from the roadside, but on this day I felt compelled to see more. I was elated to find quite a few more Douglas firs than I expected to, as most of the groves I’ve scrutinized on the east side of Seymour River have been predominantly Western Red Cedar. The understory of this forest is also very mature, one of the marks of an ecosystem capable of supporting much more biodiversity. For comic relief, I was now being loudly chastised by a pair of Douglas Squirrels who weren’t too pleased about my presence. I just laughed and told them to calm down. Yes, that’s right, I do talk to squirrels. Sometimes I even give them names!

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The ever comical Douglas Squirrel, don’t miss that chance to talk to one yourself!
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Those pesky squirrels did not want me anywhere near these two trees
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This shot shows you the stark contrast between the bark’s texture and appearance on different sides of this tree. A number of factors can influence this, such as sun exposure, drainage patterns, locations of roots, and sometimes damage
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As you can see here, the forest floor has a great number of ferns. Also present, in older forests especially, are plants called epiphytes, which grow on other plants. Normally they aren’t parasitic, obtaining nutrients and water from the environment and producing their food through  the normal process of photosynthesis.

According to what I remembered, maps showed that there were some steep bluffs nearby, so I decided to head in their general direction on the chance I might discover a few more giants in hiding. It took a while to cover that ground, but it was a very worthwhile idea. The first thing I found was a very old cedar which had split into two leaders early in life, then had grown to a very old age. Nearby loomed several very tall and stately firs which I also wanted to investigate.

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This tree had reached about 500 years in age and likely measured about nine feet in diameter
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A closer look at the trunk, such character!
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Forest as it should be, with everything perfectly spaced
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The pictures are as beautiful as the walking is difficult, I will add!
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This Douglas fir was a nice surprise, way over 200 feet tall and five centuries old, most likely
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Pillars

As I neared the bluffs, I could hear the faint sounds of running water, possibly  emanating from a nearby spring, as I wasn’t near Squamish Creek. I pressed on, noticing for a moment that the birdcalls had stopped. It was then that I heard branches crackling about forty yards away and a telltale grunt. I turned around just in time to see the backside of a medium sized black bear moving through the brush. “Yo, bear!” While I’m cautious around them, I’ve also learned bears usually are not up to trouble, so I try to announce myself just to avoid surprising them. This one was well on his way, so I continued on.

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Another ancient fir! This was shaping up to be a great day
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Yet another one of those photos I want to caption with  “So, you want to be a tree hunter?”
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I decided at this point I’d just work my way along the bluff and loop back to where I had begun
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There was no really bad decision to be made in terms of where to walk next, as new discoveries seemed everywhere!

What I’ve done on many tree hunting forays is to allow the terrain to guide me. I noticed that I was now on something of a bench and that more light was getting through the forest canopy. I descended a little more, finding another sizeable Douglas fir and some more big cedars.

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This fir was 500 years old but with the damage it has endured and a lot of bark stripped off it is probably well into its twilight years
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The trunk of another giant whose canopy was not possible to photograph from this side
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Its opposite side looked completely different!
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Off to photograph yet another twin trunked cedar and its companions!

Just as I was about to head back to my bike and have lunch, I spied a swatch of bright red bark that had me off in a another direction. I had found an old growth Pacific Yew! Lesser known to most, they are often intriguing finds. A tree with a three foot circumference can actually be over three centuries old. There’s something of an art to finding them, though after a while it’s almost as though they find you!

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The bark of an ancient Pacific Yew
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Almost invariably, the Pacific Yew is a hard tree to photograph, positioned as it is in the understory of the forest. This one was conservatively over four centuries old

Ten minutes later, I found myself back at the Eagles Nest Fir, taking a little more time to appreciate it fully. It’s not hard to understand why Ralf Kelman thought it to be so significant. People come and go, and but a few survive one century, while trees like this can live for a millennium or more. That is why we need to stop seeing such venerable living beings as nothing but expendable commodities. Like the elders in our own communities, they are consistently undervalued and worthy of far more respect.

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Western Hemlock seedling
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The character of old growth forest is there for all to see
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The base of the Eagles Nest Fir
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Greatness is earned through hard work and perseverance in the natural world
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A look toward the top of the Eagles Nest Fir
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The LSCR has a heritage tree inventory that this tree is a part of. Curiously, I’ve not yet been able to see that list. If anyone out there has, message me and let me know!

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It wasn’t easy that day to leave, as I did have the sense that it would be a while before I had the chance to visit the Eagles Nest Grove again. It has already been two years since then, but memories made in special places have a way of traveling with you, don’t they? That, to me, has always been more than enough.

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A last look at the Eagles Nest Fir

*******Author’s Note*******

April 2020. These are the strangest of times. The history we are seeing unfold currently seems better suited to the plot line of a Stephen King novel as anything else. A seemingly incurable virus is wreaking havoc across the world, and all we can do is hope that science can find a way to stop it in its tracks. Until then, what can we do? Try to be considerate of others, and do remember that every action you choose could affect the lives of others. Enjoy your families, those good times on the horizon will be here eventually. I’m thankful for everyone who takes the time to read this page, and hopeful that every one of you emerges with your sanity and sense of humour intact! Peace out…

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Just look up, it works for me!

 

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