I’ve always been fascinated by the different perceptions of nature that people have. Take a 2500 year old tree. It’s a symbol of strength and integrity. It’s a sacred monument. It’s a useful canoe. It’s the bark to weave a basket. It’s a dry place to pitch a tent for the night. It’s shade on a hot summer day. It’s 450 telephone poles. It’s a lot of money. It’s a job. It’s a livelihood. It’s a diverse ecosystem with potentially undiscoverable species. It’s home to the animals. It’s medicine. It’s not even there.
A 2500 year old tree is all of these things. And after my recent trip to visit the largest tree in Canada, I see a sacred monument more than anything else. It’s sacredness is expressed in it’s scarcity and it’s survival…. More than 75% of original old growth forest on Vancouver Island has been logged. Only 6% of the remaining productive old-growth forests are protected in our parks system. The largest tree in Canada survived because it is in the boundaries of the the Pacific Rim National Park, which was created in 1971. The tree was not discovered untill 1988. This blog post is about a journey I made to the Carmanah Valley and this amazing tree, the Cheewhat Giant.
The drive to the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is one of my favourite drives on the island. With a backroads map, you can go anywhere on the island. This is because they have almost logged the entire island and there is a complex system of roads that a 4WD or sturdy vehicle can access. The Carmanah Main brings you along the Nitnat Lake and through clear-cuts till you arrive at a large parking lot. The trail leads down into the valley and you can camp along the Carmanah Creek. The energy of this place is different than any place I’ve ever been. It’s hauntingly beautiful and you feel as though you are a million miles away.
The Cheewat Giant is HUGE! It is a Western Red Cedar and measures over 6 meters (20 feet) in trunk diameter, 56 meters (182 feet) in height, and 450 cubic meters in timber volume. The trail head is not easy to find and luckily we met a couple at the Carmanah Valley that had been there and told us how to find it. The hike is about 45 minutes each way and passes the biggest trees I have ever seen. At every tree, you think it must be the Giant but then they just keep getting bigger and bigger. You know when you’ve found the Cheewhat. It’s not only huge, but it’s beautiful with different textures and colours of bark. It actually looks like a few trees that have merged together, twisting and dancing together, to create the massive trunk.
The tree grows on a hill that slopes down to Cheewhat Lake. I was very curious to know what Cheewhat means so I did a little research… the Cheewhat River, that runs from the lake to the sea, means River of Urine. The Ditidaht people called it this because of it’s colour and bad taste. I find it rather amusing that the largest tree in Canada (the one that I see so sacred) is named Urine Tree.
If you ever get a chance, visit the Carmanah Valley and the Cheewhat Tree. It’s one of the many gems that Vancouver Island holds. Let me know if you’d like some tips on how to find it. It’s not easy to find, but well worth the effort.
“But love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had eyes to see.” ~Edward Abbey