Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner

David Muench's National Parks


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Vancouver IslandThe Nuu-chah-nulth Trail crosses a large bog before winding into rainforest. Bogs are subtle.  Not for them, the drama of oceans and mountains, of high cliffs or roiling streams.  Because bog soil provides little food for plantlife, whatever grows here makes up in adaptation what it lacks in spectacle.  Stunted shore pines, backing away from the boardwalk trail protecting this fragile habitat from human feet, scatter themselves across the open landscape.  Sphagnum moss spreads across the bog like carpet.  Small mounds of moss offer dry enough conditions for crowberry – its leaves like tiny fir-needles -- to grow.  Innocent looking little sundew snares insects with the sticky droplets on its leaves.  One way to survive a soil that will not feed you  – become a carnivore.

Walking on a July morning, under a hot sun, I am grateful when the trail enters the cool shade of the rainforest.  Among the cedars and hemlock, the trail becomes soft beneath my feet.   

This trail through Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, part of Canada’s national park system, lies in the country of the Nuu-chah-nulth, the people who have lived here, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, for thousands of years.  The land I walk is traditional territory of the Ucluelet First Nation—one of many Nuu-chah-nulth nations.   

Interpretive signs along the route are the work of the Nuu-chah-nulth.  All offer a glimpse into First Nation life in this place, but one strikes me as a lesson beyond all the rest.  “The Nuu-chah-nulth have no word for ‘wild’ or ‘wilderness,’” the sign says. “There is only ‘home’.”

I’ve been wondering ever since – what part of home don’t we understand?

Vancouver IslandIn grammar school we were taught that only animals on the edge of extinction soil their nests.  Is not Earth our nest?  How, then, should we describe our activities in wild places?  Don’t roads, mines, logging, oil wells, dams, sprawling developments on Earth’s pristine areas soil our Earth nest?   

A few days after that hike, I visited a gallery in the town of Ucluelet.  David had seen a wall carving he wanted to see again.  A Ucluelet man came into the gallery, bringing his art work to show the owner.  He wore dark polyester gym shorts and a white t-shirt.  His black hair was disheveled and his face slightly distorted by a hare-lip that had been mended.  He was shorter than I am (5’6”), with a body that seemed out of balance. 

A story teller, he wasted no time after being introduced before he launched into stories.    I was fascinated by his insistence on story as a means of communication, story as a way to relate to people of another culture.  His first stories were meant as jokes, although I didn’t find them especially funny.  Then he told me this.

The chief was coming to the village to choose a wife.  He sent his messengers ahead to tell the men of the village to prepare their daughters and sisters for his arrival.  All the unmarried women of the village put on their best clothes and their jewelry.  They lined up along the beach to await the chief’s arrival.  At the very end was an ugly woman.  She had only one eye and no beautiful clothes or jewelry.  Her hair hung down in her face, and she held her head lowered, her single eye focused on the earth.  The other women teased her.  “Why are you here?  You’re so ugly, no one would ever look at you!”  They all laughed at the sad poverty of the ugly girl.

The chief’s canoe arrived.  He climbed out onto the beach and, starting at the opposite end from the ugly girl, looked at each of the women so finely arrayed before him.  When he came to her, he stood before her a long time.  Gently lifting her head, he said, “I choose you.  I see into the beauty of your heart.”

What could I say to this artist who was telling me the story of his life?  I wanted to turn away, to go outside to the truck, to cry.  But I could neither turn away nor hide my tears.  “Thank you,” I said to him.  “Thank you.”

We stayed several days in a lodge on the beach south of Tofino.  Because David was leading a small photography workshop, and they were always out by dawn, I had the days to myself.  One morning, the first grey morning in over a week, I was the only one at the lodge to eat  breakfast outside.  The other guests cosied themselves in the lodge’s warm main room, snuggled in against the dampness of the mist.

But I wanted the drama of ocean.  Ocean is so much more the ocean in mist; grey water to grey sky, without boundaries at the merging of the two.  The sound of waves rolling in, breaking, falling back upon the sea is magnified by mist.  Breaking waves are brilliant white against the grey, wet sand.  With the tide out, the beach is striped an undulating grey and beige.  At the forest edge of the sand, Sitka spruce flag inland, wind-pruned, their move away from sea winds simply how they live.

Beyond the deck where I sat, small birds flitted from branch to branch in the spruce, the spruce their life.

Days later we  traveled inland to Strathkona Provincial Park, a mountain world that seems a thousand miles from the sea. (I need to remember that Vancouver is a big island.)  As a Provincial Park, Strathkona does not have the protections of a National Park, so much of this region is heavily logged. 

One morning I went with David’s photography group to Lupin Falls.  After walking a quarter-mile through forest with no sign of water, the waterfall appears suddenly. Pouring through a high slit in dark rock, a narrow cascade plunges its long way down.  Partway, it curtains across an overhang, hits rock and splits in two.  The two streams of water fall into a hidden pool, rejoin, spill down a sloping narrow slide into a dark, transparent pool at the bottom. In the pool, stones lie like jewels beneath the water.  Ferns sprout from moss-covered rock along the sides.  Where the creek exits the pool, logs stripped by the action of water, lie in a jumble. 

A pale blue sky roofs the slight open space above the falls. 

Gentle, early sun angling into the forest reaches the ground in small, dappled spots.

I am the only person here without a camera.  My recording is in words.  I fill a lot of notebooks when I accompany David on a photography trip. Is it some kind of defense against the camera?  The ways of seeing are so different.  One word is worth a thousand pictures, I tell David.  But what do I write in my notebooks?  Am I observing, or only describing?  Is there any depth to my description?  Or do I simply perform a writing exercise.  Am I fully here?  Is questioning a form of separation?

Copyright © 2009 Ruth Rudner