Monday, April 16, 2012

Holiday the Desolation Road

Holidaying Along the Desolation Road
by C. L. Cook l Pacific Free Press
I took a break from the daily grind, packed up the three cylinder Firefly and hit the road. Me and my companion headed from the house, here in the Garden City of Victoria, "up-island" in the local parlance, along the west coast of Vancouver Island.


Famous among the surfing set, our route took us past first China Beach, then the fabulous French and Sombrio Beaches.

There the wild Pacific shores up, only slightly impeded by the Olympic Peninsula to the south, its waves crashing home after their long journey from Japan.

On Sombrio, the most popular and magnificent of the three beaches for both the surf and prospect, the boarders cajole rides out of the cold curlers, some of the more intrepid bobbing a-way off the shore, looking not so much sitting astride their boards as people, but more like the families of sea lions once prevalent here.

Surf-widowed dogs roam the Sombrio, befriending interlopers like us, while balefully casting an eye out to sea for absent friends. Driftwood fires smolder, cowboy coffee cans brewing tea and soups to warm those back in from the sub-50 degree Fahrenheit waters.

The paradisaical Sombrio is unique among the trio too for its Miltonesque legend of an Eden "lost." Local filmmaker, Paul Manly describes the great injustice done there in his film, 'Sombrio.' Here's his brief outline:

"Since the 1960’s, Sombrio Beach, a picturesque paradise of rainforest and beach on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, BC, has been home to a unique community of “squatters” living in a funky array of beach shacks. A magnet for surfers, social misfits, those who simply wanted off the modern grid, or to live a simpler life, the Sombrio community was an experiment in cooperation, anarchy and self-sufficiency. This ended in 1997 when the government evicted the squatters after the integration of Sombrio beach into the greater Juan de Fuca provincial park."

You can find more about Manly's film and other works here:

From Sombrio, we head for the end of the West Coast Road. Port Renfrew sits at the mouth of the inlet named in 1790 by Manuel Quimper, the Spaniard who charted much of the west coast of Vancouver Island, and the Straits named for Juan de Fuca on its south and east sides.

Long a destination for salmon fishers, (and still famously so)
Renfrew is home to Botanical Beach, an amazing stretch of
coastal tide pools and other-worldy rock formations,
and is the jumping off point for access to the newly
named, Avatar Grove, home of 'Canada's Gnarliest Tree.'

This is timber country, and for the few hundreds living in Renfrew and environs logging is still a mainstay employer, but things are changing.

Lucas, the oversize character running the Big Fish Lodge, says in days past 90% of his guests had come for the fish and perhaps 10% for eco-tours and hiking. Today, while fishing is still the main hook, he says as much as 30% of his business is with the eco-crowd, anxious to see what remains of the great marvels of the coastal rainforest.

Until recently, Port Renfrew was the literal end of the road for car travel. Though still isolated, in the old days, you could only take the logging roads out overland, or grab a boat across the "Graveyard of the Pacific" to pick up the trek further west.

Millions have done just that over the years, heading for Pacific Rim National Park's renowned West Coast Trail. Today however, there's also the "loop road," built over the bones of the broader of the logging roads, taking you northeast, interior bound, for Lake Cowichan. It's along this newly opened route some of the effects of industrial logging are starkly revealed.

We pass mile after mile of devastated valley bottoms and hillsides; great swathes of trees taken out in blocks, the infamous "clear-cutting" decried by environmentalists and "sustainable development" proponents for decades are here evident, and the practice continues yet even as the jobs big timber provides dwindle.

Today, trees of any considerable girth taken are routinely exported "raw;" that is, without providing tertiary local employment. At Botany Bay, massive barges equipped with cranes fore and aft ply by, piled high with logs no doubt destined to be loaded whole onto China-bound freighters.

There has been innumerable demonstrations against raw log exports in Victoria and along the logging roads for years, all to no avail.

Victoria-based eco-defender, Janine Bandcroft has too taken the desolation road, and recorded some of it in pictures here:

We make, my companion and I, the loop, our good 'Gelding,' the road-weary and ancient Firefly carrying us over the mountains, past the depressed town of Lake Cowichan, (where the local Burgermeisters decided to clear-cut the face of the publicly-owned forested slopes overlooking the lake and their town) and down the big highway to our Garden City home.

We arrive the same day the American Coast Guard, (will ironies not cease!) sink a "ghost ship" off the coast near Haida Gwaii, far to the north of us.

The Ryou-Un Maru had been adrift for more than a year, washed out to sea by the terrible tsunami that struck Japan in March of 2011. Deeming the ship a nighttime marine hazard, the Coast Guard opened fire on the vessel, sending it and its cargo of more than two thousand gallons of diesel to the bottom. At least, sending the Ryou-Un Maru to the bottom; its bunker fuel will of course rise again.

And, the Ryou-Un Maru is not the only devastated thing currently crossing the Pacific from the horror of the Japanese tsunami last year. As the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility continues to smolder, clouds of radiation rise and join the jet stream, poisoning the great Pacific and us.

With three reactors melted down already, and a fourth on the verge of engendering a global catastrophe former Japanese ambassador Mitsuhei Marata fears will be like none ever seen, - a game-ender for life as we've known it here these last hundreds of thousands of years or so - I can only be thankful for the chance to have seen some of this world as it was made still surviving.

And so I say; "Happy holidays to we all, and sayonara to you, my beautiful Pacific island."

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