Thursday, 22 December 2016

Understory

Skagit River Trail, Manning Park, BC
Yesterday, I drove up the Green Lake Road to go cross-country skiing. I was also looking for cedar boughs, which smell like nothing else, and which have a special meaning for my husband, David, and me. When we lived in the Fraser Valley, we were surrounded by a lush forest of cedars. Their fronds look like feathers, and when it rained, we'd step outside and be enshrouded with their rich, tangy fragrance. We also took part in sweat lodge ceremonies where cedar was used. So the scent alone is healing to me.

The cedar I see growing in a damp area near the creek here is probably Western redcedar, which grows in the interior. As I drove along Green Lake Road, I noticed spruce and fir and the beautiful orangey-barked Ponderosa pine that scents the woods in this part of the Okanagan.

What's so important about naming these trees? When Shelter came out, a few people commented on Maggie's obsession with naming plants. I obviously share that obsession. I want to be able to tell the difference between a spruce and a fir.

Okanagan pines

Just like I learn the names of people, I learn the names of trees so that they're familiar to me. I recognize their faces: the deep-fissured bark of the Douglas fir and the stringy bark of the cedar.

I like the word understory. I know it means the layers of growth in a forest, but I like the idea of it being a story in the sense of a narrative. If I know the names of the trees and other plants, I understand something about the story of the forest I'm in. The ability to read a little of that story seems important to me.

In the pine forests around here I can find oregon grape, wild roses, saskatoon berries, kinnikinnick, and yellow balsam root in the spring. In the coastal cedar forests, I'll find huckleberries, salmonberries, ferns, devil's club.  I can eat the berries and avoid the devil's club, though if I knew devil's club better, I'd appreciate its many uses, too.