700,000 tons of rock explode
A naturalist's look at the flora and fauna on Vancouver Island.
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You run your fingers over the rusty-red bark of the towering cedar, the ridges and grooves as telling as lines in a old face.
Its towering height, well over 100 feet, is supported by a trunk 10-feet in diameter. Nearby, another cedar, having been knocked down in a windstorm 50 years ago, is slowly turning to dust. However, there is life - young cedar trees and ferns sprout from the crumbling giant. For thousands of years the cedar was one of nature's providers for Native Indians, with the bark and wood being transformed into everything from clothing to totem poles. Today, Natives use the cedar mainly for ceremonial purposes.
Further along you come upon a grove of the real giants of the forest - the Douglas fir. Some in this grove were already 300 years old when Columbus 'discovered' North America in 1492. Protected in perpetuity, these trees will soon welcome their ninth century of life.
You wander into an open glade where salal and wild ferns flourish, their brilliant green foliage contrasting against the nearby rockface, itself covered in gray-blue lichens and emerald mosses. Underfoot, a thick layer of decaying plant material softens your steps, while a clump of salmonberries provide a mouthful of sweet delight. The forest floor is also host to wild mushrooms including the sought-after Chanterelle. An inquisitive Stellar's jay perches on a nearby bush, sounding the alarm as you approach.
Straying off the path you bend over a nearby stream, the shadows of salmon just visible beneath the surface. Earlier, noticing bear markings along the trail, you wondered if the stream supported salmon - a favorite this time of year for Vancouver Island black bears. Across the stream, just under the branches of a downed cottonwood, a family of mallards feeds on slugs and insects.
Further downstream, where floodwaters once covered a low-lying field, huge white Trumpeter swans pluck at new grasses and shoots.
You continue down the trail, stopping to examine the hoof-marks of deer (elk?) in the adjacent mud. Rounding the final curve of the stream you enter its estuary along the ocean shore. A bald eagle perches on a piece of driftwood, surveying the rocky, oyster-littered beach for washed up salmon.
A heron wades in the shallows, searching intently for frogs and sticklebacks. Orange and purple starfish cling to the undersides of rocks, waiting for the incoming tide and its nourishing bounty.
A few hundred feet offshore a gray whale surfaces, still many miles away from its summer feeding grounds off Alaska.
700,000 tons of rock explode
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