I remember wanting to be a part of a protest so badly it hurt my 16-year-old heart.
I wanted to be in Clayoquot Sound. I wanted to holler and chain myself to a giant spruce and stop the “ga-chunk-ga-chunk-ga-chunk” of chainsaws from ripping through its heart. I had a poster of the Sound on my bedroom wall and I wished I could march over there and find the very patch of trees pictured on it. I wanted to join the thousands of people flocking there to fight loggers who were ready to tear down two thirds of the rainforest.
It was so close to home, but so far away. It was the summer of 1993.
I remember Greenpeace stickers and advertisements in magazines for the Sierra Club. Programs by David Suzuki. Evening newscasts showing arrests of protesters. I fell in love with Midnight Oil because of that summer, and following the protest opened my eyes to the bigger world. It was a big piece of the Jessica puzzle, an important discovery in my own life’s story.
Yes, this was a noble cause and I truly, honestly felt twinges of pain that I couldn’t be a part of it. I dreamt of visiting there someday, this native plot of land that seemed to breathe itself into reality, right off that poster and into my own dull world.
Not that I hadn’t seen trees. I was living in and amongst nothing but trees and mountains and lakes, on an 11-acre lot, divided by the Kettle River. But that valley was dry, arid, stiffling in the summer and filled with slithering plain snakes, dumb gophers, oblivious quail and a pack of marmots that watched us eat our dinner from the rock bluff that looked into our dining room.
Sage coloured crickets were everywhere, bats haunted the caves near the best swimming hole, and tumbleweeds gathered along the edge of the farmer’s chicken wire fences. Grass didn’t grow in the heat of the summer, and the sun didn’t rise very high over the mountains in the winter. It was barren and lifeless in comparison.
I hated it. I wanted out and far away, back to the Vancouver area where I was born and (until just a few years before then) had been raised. I longed for the ocean and the cool breeze and moss and mud and frogs. I needed the kind of sunsets that glare off glass skyscrapers, blinding you with pink and gold flares.
But back then, Clayoquot Sound might as well have been Borneo — both for the adventure and the difficulty in landing myself there. The latter never happened. The summer of protests in the dense, moss covered forest came and went, mostly successfully.
Time went on, school started and I got busy with other things.
But I always held a special place in my heart for that little bit of forest. It wasn’t until another catastrophe took place that I finally got to visit. September 11, 2001. We were supposed to fly to Ontario that day, but of course, our plane (and most everyone else’s) didn’t leave the ground. We mourned for the loss of lives, struggled with what we saw on tv. Then we quickly switched gears and packed up our family for Vancouver Island. Days later, vagabond sense of adventure firmly in place, we were traveling to the westernmost shore of Vancouver Island, to see Tofino and Ucuelet.
And the only way there was to drive through Clayoquot Sound.
I just about cried out when I saw signs announcing where we were. I got misty eyed as I looked around at the all the trees surrounding us. We parked, and I honestly could have died.
Trees like I had never seen. Trails. Moss. Rocks. Streams.
I inhaled and finally had the last sense in place to complete the picture I had tried to conjure up when I was a teenager. The smells were so alive. I could drink in the aroma of the fresh dirt. The cedar. The rain, even in the sun. I could feel the coolness falling from the tree canopy onto my skin. Everything was green and brown and big and just, so, there… But I could hardly breath. The best things was, I was there with my two sons, barely walking and talking at the time. They’re precious little feet and hands touching the earth I had so desperately wanted to save. Their little lungs breathing that rainforest air. Their little eyes capturing the intricately woven fabric of plants. They were being imprinted that day, preparing for a long life of appreciation (and caretaking) of nature.
I have pictures of that day. Pictures of me and my sons standing next to the towering trees and kneeling near the babbling brooks.
I have a smile so wide you’d see it from space. So thrilled to finally see what I had hoped and prayed that others could save while I sat in my arid forest, a world away.
I smiled and held a silent prayer for those who fought and threw their reputations and clean records on the line to protect something so silly as a bunch of trees. At the age of 16 during the logging protests, at the age of 23 when I first visited, and now at age 34 watching television news coverage of senseless acts of violence in a city I hold so dear to my heart, one thing has always stayed with me; some things are worth fighting for. Some things are worth standing up for.
I knew then that there are ways to have your voice heard, and I hold that with me today.
Know when to pick your battles.
Know when to put down the sword.
But most of all, know why you’re fighting. And if there’s no fight to be had, know when to walk away.