Escape to the Grove

Island Parent, April 2013

I always think about escaping to the woods when life feels too noisy. Too much traffic, too many people, too many thoughts. But, as it turns out, the woods aren’t exactly quiet.

A couple of weeks ago, a group of us escaped to Avatar Grove as part of an outing hosted by the Sierra Club Victoria. If you haven’t been to Avatar Grove yet, it is way out on the west coast past Port Renfrew. It was pouring rain on the drive, adding to the feeling of seclusion, just the five of us in our car on the wild coast. On the way, we stopped in the middle of what our guide, T.J. Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance, called “the big, beautiful bridge” to snap pictures of the rushing brown water several storeys below.

Continuing along logging roads, our car dodged pond-sized potholes, scattering pebbles and sand. One last scenic bridge and we rounded a corner to see two other cars and a handful of people in colourful rain gear. We had arrived at Avatar Grove.

We scrambled down a small hill, holding on to a rain-soaked black rope tied between two trees to steady our descent. The heavy rain got caught in the far-off canopy, slowing the drops down to a mere misty drizzle by the time they hit our hoods. It had been raining for a while, so the ground was spongy and in places, pure mud. The folks in rain boots delighted in the sticky puddles, proving that you’re never too old to play in the mud!

T.J. led us in a loop around the lower part of the Grove and then to the upper section, where a waterfall runs through limestone boulders and down fallen logs. He told us how he and a friend discovered the area while exploring, and how it has only recently been protected in an Old Growth Management Area, largely thanks to the Ancient Forest Alliance and their supporters. What stuck with me was his comment that Avatar Grove, while a rarity on Vancouver Island, isn’t really unique. There are similar stands of old growth in other parts of the province, such as the Great Bear Rainforest, where they shelter an amazing array of rare and endangered species. For Vancouver Islanders, Avatar offers a taste of what this island was once like, and it’s on our doorstep in its glorious unlogged state. It’s disturbing to think of all the places that looked like this until only recently, when chainsaws attacked the six-century-old trees. I think of how long it would take to cut down a tree like that, and someone else in the group wonders what the loggers feel while they’re felling these ancient trees.

It was a gentle walk, despite the slippery conditions—lots of pausing to look up, pausing to take pictures, pausing to listen.

The woods aren’t quiet. There’s the steady drip of rain down to the bark-and-needle covered floor, the squelching of our boots, the rustle of rain pants, the occasional bird song. But I am quiet, breathing in the moist air, trying to store it all up so that I can call on this feeling once I leave the grove. I am grateful for all those who are working to make places like this accessible and protected. I am grateful that they are helping people like me escape for a while, sheltered by the green canopy, surrounded by these giant trees and their gnarly roots.

Nori Sinclair is a Victoria communicator who likes to work at the intersection of education, communication and the environment. Her perfect day includes sunshine, a book and a shady tree.