Haven Woods

By Harriet Thomas. Harriet is a long time friend and supporter of The Haven. She recently named 50 acres of forest on Gabriola Haven Woods in honour of The Haven, and allowed public access in partnership with the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust (GALTT)

The plight of the Canadian forests and my relation to them has somehow been intertwined with my personal Haven story since I first came to BC some twenty years ago. The more remote the better for me in those days, and it was on a visit to Haida Gwaii from the UK that I had first heard about The Haven.  I met a lumberjack and his girlfriend, who happened to have taken some programs. I thought these people and the way they were talking was interesting. What I didn’t like – at all! – was the shocking mile after mile of clear-cut logging I witnessed there. It was virgin forest and it was being turned into toilet paper and it heartily sickened me. It fed into my world view of that time, namely of a doomed planet at the hands of a freakishly uncaring human race. Thank god I managed to make it down to Gabriola and The Haven!

Ten years later I had the opportunity to purchase 50 acres of forest a stone’s throw from Haven’s main gates.  I had no idea what I was going to do with it. All I really knew was that I loved it with a passion and it was in very close proximity to my beloved Haven and I had real concerns that someone else would buy it and chop all the trees down (this has since happened on two of the large properties nearby). Over the years some of the ideas for what to do with it have ranged from a treehouse canopy walkway, a treehouse hostel consisting of giant wooden orbs that would hang from the trees someone on Saltspring Island was creating at the time, a community of wooden cabins, an equine therapy centre and a little cabin for myself and my daughter at the end of a very long drive through the trees!

Unknown to me at the time I was in very good company in my impulse to protect and nurture a green space. Germaine Greer’s latest book “White Beech” was published earlier this year. Turns out that at almost the very same time I was purchasing my 50 acres of Canadian temperate rainforest, she was buying 60 hectares of Australian tropical rainforest.  In the prologue Germaine describes how for 10 years she felt herself to be a servant of the forest: “just one more organism in its biomass, the sister of its mosses and fungi, its mites and worms.” Like her I have never thought of the forest as mine and I can totally relate when she writes: “I didn’t think I was saving the world. I was in search of heart’s ease and this was my chance to find it.”

The trails which people have used since long before my day were officially opened  to the public this summer when I signed a license agreement with GALTT  (Gabriola Lands and Trails Trust) handing over the job of maintaining and insuring them. I was absolutely delighted to be able to take down the no trespassing signs at long last and the name ‘Haven Woods’ will be printed on all future GALTT maps.

One of the already well-established and rewarding trails on the property takes you from The Haven and the King Road entrance, through the woods, across Berry Point Road and either back to The Haven along the beach or to the lighthouse. This summer, on August 10 the largest full moon of 2014 appeared on the horizon immediately after a particularly spectacular sunset.  A large appreciative crowd that had gathered on the shore opposite the lighthouse were able to see both events within seconds of each other as both the setting sun and the rising supermoon could be viewed from Berry Point one after the other in short succession. It was thrilling to walk back to The Haven at twilight through the trees.

When I first came to Haven long before I knew Haven Woods existed, I had very limited resources and I used to camp at Descanso Bay Regional Park sometimes, in order to be able to afford programs (no bursaries in those days). I am particularly delighted that GALTT is going to make possible a new trail which will take you all the way from Tamarac Street, across Haven Woods, through Cox Park and down to Descanso Bay and the sea.

We spent many happy hours this summer exploring potential new trails to open up for residents of the island and visitors alike. The relatively far less invasive traditional logging methods at the beginning of the last century has meant that a wide variety of large trees, shrubs, ferns and undergrowth has survived  undisturbed in situ since the days before the property was  once selectively logged. Though not virgin forest in the sense that the larger trees and any giants were picked out 100 years ago or more, it is nonetheless home to a wide variety of indigenous plants, growing as they have been, no doubt, for millennia. I was delighted to be introduced to a woman at Gabriola’s south end who has taken similar measures there over some land by putting on a covenant protecting the trees.  I shall be working with GALTT to put a covenant on the Haven Wood trees in the future.  I read about people doing similar things all over the planet.

I am now happily settled in Devon, UK, living in the centre of a busy town – a far cry from my fantasy of a tiny cottage in the middle of the woods or living on isolated archipelagos a long way from home! All around me I see evidence of nature doing very well indeed. People are telling me all the time in one way or another how much they care for animals and the planet and I hear them. Have I found heart’s ease? – I would say yes!  And it is my heart’s great delight and great hope to imagine that occasionally people coming to Haven for workshops might find their way to Haven Woods and find strength and solace in the trees.

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