Big Trees + Big Wind = Power Outages and Crushed Cars

After a fierce winter storm I toured Sooke, BC to assess the damage. It was extensive.

The west coast has had its share of gnarly weather this winter, with vast and prolonged power outages. And probably more than a few crushed vehicles.

It reminds me of when I was living on Billing Spit in Sooke, BC. It was there, on the top floor of an older 3 floor waterfront apartment building, that I experienced one of the scariest weather events of my life.

A December wind storm hit just before Christmas. With gusts over 100km, the storm initially woke me up as my bed, and the whole building, was shaking. 

The air pressure had blown all the water out of the sink drain traps in our apartment, and the air rushing through the pipes was making a wailing sound like I have never heard before, or since.

My wife and I retrieved our Bug Out Bags, and set them by the front door. We were ready to evacuate and seek shelter somewhere safer. Preferably, somewhere where there weren't waves crashing over the sea wall and spraying on to our front balcony.

We looked out our back window to see our building caretaker fighting off a large piece of vinyl siding wrapped around him, threatening to launch him into the dark night sky.

In the end, we rode out the storm in our shaking and vibrating unit. Escape was impossible, unless we left on foot, since there were large trees down everywhere, including in our parking lot. 

The next morning, when the wind subsided, I went out to see that the roof of the twin building next door ripped completely off, and landed in the parking lot behind the building. Our neighbours were homeless for weeks until repairs were completed.

We were all without power for almost a week.

Our roof stayed put, perhaps due to the fact that our building, unlike the one next door, had large trees protecting it. 

The big trees giveth, the big trees taketh away. 

But I love them all the same.


Big Coastal Christmas Trees

One of the big conifers in the distance is decorated with two bald eagles at the top
Note: originally posted December 18, 2011.

I went for a walk today to look for Christmas and it was nowhere to be seen. There was no snow or hanging icicles, and it was sunny and a balmy +9 degrees Celsius. However, we do have some of the largest Christmas trees in the world growing here, and I discovered some nice ones.

Conifers are the traditional Christmas trees of choice, and the Pacific coastal forest is dominated by conifers. Douglas-fir is the second most popular Christmas tree sold in North America. Young trees have a nice conical shape, and the needles are sweet smelling when crushed. But if you like your trees big, and alive, this is the place to see them. We are at the edge of coastal Douglas-fir territory in Sooke.

The biggest Douglas-fir in the world grows near here in the woods close to Port Renfrew. You would need a lot of tinsel for that behemoth, which is 73.8m (242') in height, 13.3m (43.7') in circumference, and 4.2m (14') in diameter. But I wasn't looking in Port Renfrew for big trees as I wanted to stick closer to home.

Big Sitka spruce overlooking beach
The place I went exploring for giant conifers was in the Wiffen Spit neighbourhood. There I found a right of way leading to a set of stairs down to the beach. It is a great place to see big trees on the top of the high banks, as well as those that have fallen below or washed in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

We celebrate trees and their importance this time of year when we hack one out of the forest and bring it into our homes to dry up and die. Then they are unceremoniously dumped at the curbside. Here in clear cut territory, it seems like an extravagant waste.

If you go without the traditional indoor dead tree this year, and you are in the Sooke region, Wiffin Spit is the place to go to see a live tree that is anonymously decorated every year.

The Wiffin Spit tree is a short hike from the parking lot, and is now the most notable live decorated tree in town since town council grinches gave the green light about a year ago to remove two beautiful, completely healthy heritage Douglas-fir trees right in the center of town. Read about their sad demise here.

Biggest Christmas tree on Vancouver Island until being
unceremoniously cut down by The Grinch
The 150 year old Douglas-fir trees were replaced by two 2m tall exotic Norway spruce. I noticed the other day that one was decorated, but it just doesn't measure up to the giant it replaced.

Happy holidays.


Moving On

This is my new forest - the Acadian Forest of Nova Scotia.

The Vancouver Island Big Trees blog began as a way to share my experiences visiting some of the biggest trees around Victoria, Sooke and up West Coast Road to Port Renfrew and beyond. I wanted it to be both a celebration of the west coast's primal forests and trees, and a warning that if we don't start fighting for what is left, it will be gone forever.

Even before moving to the Pacific temperate rain forest for a decade, I visited from the prairies annually from the time I was old enough to drive. It was then that I fell in love with walking the beaches and forest trails of Vancouver Island. I found the trees to be huge and magical.

When I started this blog I lived in the midst of big tree country in the former logging town of Sooke, BC. Even after 20 years of exploring the big trees, I was still mystified how a human that would be lucky to get 100 years, could destroy a tree 1000s of years old.

Over this time I have been rewarded by ancient tree encounters that were life changing, as well as encounters with the ugly side of industrial liquidation and government neglect, that were equally as moving.

I have since moved to my new forest, and one that is perhaps not as tall, but every bit as magical - the Acadian forest of Nova Scotia. They are smaller, but there are big trees here, too. And the diversity of trees in this forest is an amazing thing that will keep me busy learning for years to come.

Nova Scotian forests are also under relentless assault from industrial, profit-minded businesses that don't care if they are destroying an entity that has been living and thriving since the last ice age. It is too bad, because in Canada this forest is every bit as unique as the great Western Rainforest of Vancouver Island.

This is not boreal forest (the largest intact forest left on our planet... for now). It is not the great deciduous forest of the southern USA. This forest is a unique blend of both, and I intend on exploring it every bit as much as I did the forest out west.

Having said that, I do like to keep up on what is happening in the west coast forest, and plan on doing the occasional post on this blog as well. In the meantime, I hike and photograph the Acadian Forest looking for the biggest of the big trees out here.

You can visit my new blog, "Acadian Forest Big Trees" here. I hope to add to it and develop the same following this blog has had since 2009. Thank you to everyone that has made keeping this blog so satisfying. Your interest, and visits, are appreciated.

Long live the big trees, wherever they may be.

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