the Elven Forest Epiphany
This call to Christian mission work began 20-years ago after I’d been fired from my dream job as a Forest Resource Engineer using science to do good through crop management. Unfortunately, the resource sector was being unsustainably exploited by Big Business and my heart just was not into it; so, they canned me first chance they got.
I went back to my first love of writing. The job that many said would lead me to poverty did.
Sustainability. It’s harder than it looks and not all that it’s cracked up to be. I would never be a good engineer.
It was the summer of ’97 and I was laying out a road on the steep slopes of a glaciated valley, 21.5 kilometres up the Downey Creek FSR, north of Revelstoke, BC.
Forest Service Roads are built for efficiency, not comfort. Roads are designed to an average grade of 12% and can be pushed to 18-21% depending upon the transmission size of the trucks they hire to haul logs from the cutbacks above. Predictably, an efficient road layout demands a series of stacked turns, or switchbacks, to gain elevation as quickly as possible.
That particular day was cool and drizzling – a welcome change from past days of sweltering heat that had fostered clouds of blood-thirsty mosquitos, deer flies and dreaded horse flies that take triangles of flesh with their bite.
I had been pushing a 12% grade on my Suunto – a Swiss levelling device used to eyeball road grade – but I could not find a wide enough bench to excavate the 180 degree curve into the slope for the switchback. Instead, my road alignment was being sucked across the slope. further and further away from the proposed login block.
Frustrated, I sat down to eat a sandwich on a boulder half the size of my house. It was covered in thick sphagnum moss, surrounded by massive, five-foot wide, Interior cedar-Hemlock trees that surely were the inspiration of Tolkien’s Lothlorien, the Forest of the Elves.
Heat left my face and I began to relax as lunch kicked in. I knew I had to get moving soon or the stiffness would start setting in, but this place… it was… mystical. I was caught out of time. A stand that had taken over 300 years to grow – generations – with a micro climate of its very own, supporting lichen and mosses – rare and vital protein sources for the caribou, mountain goats and ungulate living in these woods – surrounded me.
I lay back on the boulder, verdant moss receiving my body like no mattress ever had, like the womb, and mists of rain covered my flesh with welcome beads of dew. Surreal.
I must have slept not but a minute, but woke with a start – born again, not in the Judaeo-Christian sense, though maybe. I just knew that I could no longer be a part of tearing down these ancient forests in the name of progress.
And I wept.
POSTSCRIPT: As a resource engineer, I believe very strongly that sustainable resource management is possible. But when it comes to things that are many generations older than us, we have much to learn. That there may very well be parts of creation that have value to the planet that supersede our economy and yes, even our present knowledge.