by Helga Guderley
I grew up in the middle of Ohio’s suburbs, neighborhoods interspersed with corn fields, the child of German immigrants.
For us, Nature was something you drove to see. In this version of Nature, you walked in pre-ordained paths to enjoy remnants of hardwood forests and lovely springs flowing over limestone shelves. Life conspired to bring me to Canada’s lovely west coast, where I did my PhD at UBC. My schedule was flexible, so I was able to accompany my future husband to his study site, Botanical Beach, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In the early 70’s, access was difficult. Heavily wash-boarded logging roads provided the only access to Port Renfrew, the nearest town. Port Renfrew boasted salmon fishing and a bustling pub. There we met a local First Nations lady, Flora, who regaled us with stories of the intertidal fauna and their uses.
The study site was at the old Minnesota Seaside Station, reached by a narrow trail over brooks and fallen monster trees after a drive along a washed-out road remaining from a fairly recent clear-cutting operation. There was a narrow band of mature forest left along the shore. The clear-cut area looked like a lunar landscape, with jagged tree stumps and little growth higher than 2-3 m. By the shore, it was a different story with gigantic salaal bushes providing a dense understory to the coastal cedar forest. This understory was so thick that at places, one had to virtually swim through it to advance.
The contrast between the clear-cut area and the mature forest directly by the shore was astounding. Over the duration of my studies, I got to know the coast around Botanical Beach like the palm of my hand. The Amphitheatre, Devils Billiard Ball area, the sandstone shore, slippery with Enteromorpha, the shale outcrops that provided a jagged, layered point, these areas are still vivid in my memory. Although we did the West Coast Trail a couple of times, the area directly around Botanical Beach remained my favorite.
Academic life took me away from B.C. to a job in Québec and 30 years later, when our son was studying at UBC, I returned to Botanical Beach. The road to Port Renfrew and to Botanical Beach was safe and easy to drive. It had become a day-use only area and what had been our little research cabin was totally swallowed up by the salaal. To me the most astounding thing was how the clear-cut area had regenerated in a most amazing and beautiful fashion. Tall alders flanked by young Douglas fir and cedars framed the mature forest along the shore. The intertidal zone looked healthy, although the tide was too high for me to check whether the marvelous diversity that had so enchanted me was still there.
I was impressed by nature’s capacity to heal. The clear-cutting scars were so well disguised I could hardly believe it. The west coast of Vancouver Island is a uniquely productive area. Not all clear-cut areas can regenerate so quickly, but given time and human restraint, Nature can heal.
Botanical Beach B.C., 2014