When I was 11-years-old my grade six class went on a camping trip to Prince Rupert on Vancouver Island. Children, teachers, chaperones, camping gear and supplies for three nights were loaded on board an old yellow school bus. We chattered excitedly as the bus took us down city streets to the highway that would eventually begin to meander through old growth forests of Cedar, Douglas Fir and Hemlock. It would take us a couple of hours to arrive at our destination. Someone taught us the song 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, which we sang over and over again, with each round dropping us closer to one bottle of beer on the wall. This was a huge adventure for most, if not all, of us. It was our first time away from home and our families—and it wasn't even summer holidays! The bus slowed down at a dirt road that was guarded by huge over sized signs warning us that we were entering dangerous logging roads and to be on the lookout for logging trucks. Unbeknownst to us, the danger ahead was not a risk to our lives from a big run-away logging truck but to our young and innocent hearts. As the bus lurched and bumped it's way up the winding road and into the cool shady darkness of the forest, the sunlight filtering through the giant trees turned the air green. The wind from open windows carried in the deep and mysterious smells of the ancient forest. With each mile travelled, we moved deeper and deeper into the heart of the forest, the heart of Mother Earth. As we made our way around a huge bend in the road, the bus that had been filled with excited chatter, giggles and laughter suddenly fell deathly silent.
The trees that had lined our drive suddenly gave way to a huge expanse, as far as the eye could see, of utter and total devastation. It was as if a bomb had gone off and levelled every tree in its path or the Earth had suddenly swallowed the entire forest leaving behind rubble. It was total carnage. Mighty Cedars and Douglas Firs that had stood as tall as the tallest buildings in the city, were nothing more than ghost-like trunks. Everywhere around our little yellow school bus, as far as we could see, lay a forest graveyard. It was too much for our 11-year-old hearts and minds to comprehend. I wondered, "What is this place?" I had always been sensitive to energies and locations. I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. It was as if I could hear the death cries of each of the trees that had once stood here in this forest. I felt the confusion of the animals, the insects and the birds, that had once made this place their home. Even the water was traumatized. I felt a deep sense of sadness. Our bus had stopped; perhaps the driver was as shocked as his passengers. There was no sound in this place. It was like a ghost town. There were no signs of life at all—just denuded hilltops after denuded hilltops for as far as the eye could see. Eventually we saw what looked like another yellow school bus appearing and disappearing through the distant hills. Seeing this our driver started the bus again to continue our journey. We slowed down and moved over as far as we could on the road as we met the other school bus. I had a window seat and was curious to see who was on the other bus. Was it other students? I was shocked to see that the bus was filled with tired and dirty looking men. The Loggers. They were being transported back out of camp. I'd seen those same looks on faces in photographs of people who had suffered atrocities in wars. Their eyes were vacant and dazed. Some still wore hard hats. None of them smiled or waved at us...but neither did we. We were too stunned after what we'd just witnessed. I've been in clear cuts since that long-ago-day—not on purpose but again by accident—each time a repetition of that first time. Driving along completely unaware with no warning signs of the impending devastation around the next corner. Each time I've stopped in shock, just as I did when I was 11-years-old. Each time I sense anew the same feelings of trauma resonating through the site, long after the loggers have left. It's as if the voices, the souls, of a thousand beings still echo there. The same eerie silence and lack of wild life permeate. I understand the paradox of logging—we live in wooden houses and use paper of all kinds, materials that come from those logged forests. At the same time, I know that we can choose not to clear cut, not to take every single tree in our path. We can make more informed and ecologically sane choices. I often wonder about those loggers on that school bus. There was no joy in their hearts as they drove away from the devastation. Most of the loggers that I've met are nature lovers and I often wonder what it does to a soul to spend a life cutting down trees, hundreds a day, for a pay cheque.
This early memory, reinforced, helped to shape me. It planted seeds that would lie dormant in my heart and soul until one day the Earth whispered to me about my work as an environmental artist. Early in my practice, I sketched plans in my journal for a work that would bring viewers to a clear cut. I wanted to share what a clear cut really is. I designed a viewing platform that created a place to stand and see the devastation of a clear cut, for as far as the eye can see. I also drew plans for a reforestation project where a forest could be re-planted, to absorb the history of the site, and transform ghosts back into living beings. This forest would be a place where birds, animals and forest beings would be invited to return. This place is the Eco Heart Reforestation Project. I knew I wanted to create this forest refuge but I didn't know the how. The how has been realized. Nothing gives me greater delight than to know that your buying one of my books means a tree will be planted, a tree of hope for the future, a tree that will become part of a forest for all living beings.