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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…