East Sooke Park: Aylard Farm

Old growth Douglas-fir at Aylard Farm, East Sooke Park

At one time a mysterious consortium of European investors owned much of the land in East Sooke. They had big visions of a private luxury resort and hunting preserve that would cater to the international jet set. Fortunately for nature lovers everywhere, the exclusive domain of the rich fell into a financial and legal morass, and the landowners were forced to sell some of their extensive East Sooke land holdings.

In 1970 the Victoria Capital Regional District purchased a significant piece from the stressed landowners. The purchase price was $520,000, and East Sooke Park was born. Now everyone is welcome to enjoy this rugged 3417 acre park and its native petroglyphs, rugged coastline, sandy beaches and magnificent forest.

Aylard Farm's meadows of clover, wild rose, and blue-eyed grass

East Sooke Park can be enjoyed via 50 km of trails, including the knee-punishing 10 km Coast Trail. The park's semi-wilderness has several entrances, including the Aylard Farm access point off of East Sooke Road via Becher Bay Road.

East Sooke lies in the Western Very Dry Maritime Coastal Western Hemlock Zone. Although the forests were selectively logged decades ago, and the sea harvested for its bounty, this remains a wild land. The park visitor is advised to watch small dogs and children as cougars and black bears still populate these coastal lands.

Ocean glimpses through the trees invite the hiker to the sandy beach below

Much of Aylard Farm and the rest of East Sooke Park is covered in second growth trees 60 - 100 years old. Because it was selectively logged, rather than clear cut, old growth trees of +250 years can still be seen.

Old growth forest near the Alyard park access can primarily be found at Creyke Point. The main forest consists of large Douglas-fir, Western hemlock, and closer to the ocean, Sitka spruce.

The coastal bluffs support upland ecosystems of Garry oak, Arbutus, and the twisted, tortured Shore pine. These trees are often small as they inhabit thin-soiled areas over bedrock and are exposed to harsh winter winds and storms.

Getting There

East Sooke Park is 35 km west of Victoria. Allow about an hour to drive and be able to enjoy the ample scenery. A couple of different routes are possible.

Old Island Highway From Victoria

Take the Old Island Highway (#1A) to Sooke Road. Follow Sooke Road (#14) to Happy Valley Road, turn left and continue down Happy Valley. Turn right on Rocky Point Road, which veers right to become East Sooke Road, and leads to the park. The entrance at Aylard Farm is at the end of Becher Bay Road, and left hand turn off East Sooke Road.

Trans-Canada/Highway 1 From Victoria

Follow the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) from Victoria, and take the Colwood exit. Follow the Old Island Highway (#1A), which turns into Sooke Road (#14). From Sooke Road, turn left on Gillespie Road. Turn left on East Sooke Road, then right on Becher Bay Road to reach the park entrance.


Big Tree Art: Thin Air Trees, Stuart McMillen

The big tree art of Australian artist Stuart McMillen's Thin Air Trees is beautiful, but his connection to trees goes far deeper than his stunning visual representations.

McMillen has a deep respect for trees, and writes, "Once hidden before my eyes, I am now drawn to the sight of trees wherever I look. I marvel at the defiant way they erupt from the ground, pushing towards the sky. I rave over the precarious way they hold their mass above our heads. What I once ignored now forms a focal point of the way I appreciate the world around me."

"A major aim of Thin Air was to make readers appreciate the elegance and brilliance of a familiar, yet overlooked neighbour: the humble tree."

The Thin Air cartoon describes the 17th century experiments of Jean Baptista van Helmont. His 5 year experiment with a willow tree aimed to figure out from where plants got their mass.

The cartoon goes on to describe the natural engineering of big trees that are built with little more than air and water.

The author/artist believes that humanity would be better served if we conducted our business in a more natural, sustainable manner, like the trees.

"To the enlightened person, McMillen says, "trees are no longer just ‘things’ that fill the space between the important, man-made structures of the world. They are incredible in themselves!"

See More

McMillen's work goes far beyond trees, and his cartoons on science, society and ecological sustainability are as thought-provoking as they are wonderful to look at.

See Thin Air Trees at: http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/thin-air/#page-1

Stuart McMillen's other work can be found at: http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/en/


Saanich Citizens Save 300 Year Old Tree, For Now

300 year old Douglas fir at Seaview and Telegraph Bay Rd
 in Saanich is slated for removal... but can it be saved?
"Please help save me. I am over 300 years old, and I have been condemned by Saanich Parks because I have a fungal infection, not unlike what many trees around here have to contend with. Think of it as osteoporosis. It is not deadly. It just means I am not as strong as I used to be, and Saanich is scared I may fall and do some serious harm. Saanich has risk assessment criteria and the amount of decay in the core of my trunk makes me a borderline risk. Saanich does not want to acknowledge that, statistically, my chances of surviving upcoming storms are at least as great – and possible greater – than my chances of failing in one of these upcoming storms. So, to be completely safe, Saanich Parks wants to cut me down, and they are adamantly unwilling to acknowledge that my chances of surviving future storms should be part of their calculations."
Citizens save tree, for now. See brave tree defenders stand up for a tree's right to exist, and turn away the chain saws for the time being. Video

Read more at: Save This Majestic Douglas fir.


Refugee Tree: Largest Red Cedar In The CRD

The multi-topped Refugee Tree, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Washington's Olympic Range can be
seen from the gravel pullout along Highway 14

A recent big tree quest saw us cruising West Coast Road/Highway 14 west of Sooke on a stunning fall day. Our mission? To seek out the largest red cedar in Victoria's Capital Region District.

For enthusiasts, a journey like this is a pilgrimage, but instead of searching out a temple, the goal is a living shrine.

Some of these shrines are older than those of the more visited religious variety. Several are older than the establishment of the religions themselves.

Call me a druid, but I think that these old growth shrines, like the CRD's Refugee Tree, have as much or more moral and spiritual significance than a lock of hair or scrap of hem from someones garment.

You can't live for an eon or more and not exude a certain aura of experience, wisdom, and patience.

The Refugee Tree is 13.72 meters in circumference (45 ft) 

Comparing these places to shrines is only one spiritual similarity. When surrounded by the giant column-like boles in an old growth forest, many people feel like they are in a cathedral. Indeed, that is exactly how Port Alberni's Cathedral Grove got its name.

The lofty heights take ones eye upwards to the canopy high overhead. Light filters through like beams through stained glass. The magnificence of the trees, plus the stillness and quiet, elicit a sense of humility in all gentle supplicants that enter here.

What we should be asking for is forgiveness, for the bulk of this cathedral has been desecrated and razed to the ground.

The Refugee Tree is surrounded by other older cedars and younger forest of Western Hemlock

The hike to the Refugee Tree is a short, but occasionally steep fifteen minutes from the Highway 14 pullout. The trail is marked with some flagging on some bush. Once you have found the trail, just follow the flagging right to the tree. The trail is overgrown in spots, and the trail is easy to miss if you are not paying attention. Always keep the next flag in sight before proceeding.

Away from the road the highway noise begins to fade and you can hear the distant roar of waves below. There are a few big hemlocks along the trail, but these are small compared to the Refugee and several other smaller, yet still impressive, red cedars in the area.

With the sound of the ocean below, and the fresh air surrounding you, it is soon apparent that a visit to the Refugee Tree is a worthwhile quest. Big trees and ancient forests have an amazing capacity to instill a sense of awe, as well as calm.

This is a special place, and if you are still and quiet, all questions are answered.

The adventurer returns, like after all successful pilgrimages, a renewed person with more respect and appreciation for the larger world.

There are other nice old growth trees around the Refugee Tree

Getting There

Directions from Victoria, BC – approx. 1 hour

  1. Take West Coast Road/Hwy #14 through Sooke towards Port Renfrew.
  2. Set your tripometer at Jordan River; you will drive approximately 17 km more before hitting the roadside turn out
  3. The turn out is at a corner which you can recognize by its cement barrier that runs along the left hand side of the road and the steep cliff face that runs along the right. Loss Creek is about 2 km past the turn out, so if you make it to the creek you can turn around and go back.
  4. Stop at the corner pull out on the ocean side, and park. From here y
    ou should be able to see out over the Juan de Fuca, and you can see the many spires on the top of the Refugee Tree.
  5. Walk along the road barrier toward Victoria while keeping an eye out for a bit of flagging in the bush to your right.
  6. Enter the forest by the flagging, and follow the faint trail. Before long you will come to a short steep section that requires caution. 
  7. After descending the small shelf you can follow the flagging and the trail to the tree.
  8. At the beginning of the trail notice the huge cedar stump on the left hand side. Many areas along this stretch of coast were clear cut logged 30 or 40 years ago. For reasons unknown, the odd huge cedar, including the CRD's largest, were left standing.
  9. Loss Creek, two km past the Refugee Tree, has areas of protected old growth Sitka Spruce forest. There are no services or established trails, just a nice creek and some great trees.

The Refugee Tree is currently unprotected as it grows on forestry land. The Juan de Fuca Trail, which passes by below, could be extended to include the tree and other bits of remnant old growth that are close by in the steep ravines.


Fog In The Forest

Fog floating in to Sooke Harbour off the Strait of Juan de Fuca

South Vancouver Island has a Mediterranean climate, the mildest in Canada. Summer droughts are the norm, and true to form, we have not had appreciable precipitation since June. Except for fog.

The fog showed up early this year, and we have had many beautifully misty days under otherwise blue skies. The trees on the coast benefit from the moisture as they filter it out of the low clouds passing their needles.

When the needles can hold the precious drops no longer, the life-giving liquid falls to the ground below; shriveling roots sip and rejoice.

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