Throughout this blog I reflect on persons whom I have met along the journey who have influenced me in different ways – particularly in the way I think. Usually I am going into the past of my life – into my previous lives before retirement – but today I celebrate a rather youthful and dynamic person who I have known for about 15 years.
He is a young man from Ontario – who studied in Guelph and knows something about
trees. He is the manager of Wildwood, a tree conservancy managed by a partnership of The Land Conservancy (http://blog.conservancy.bc.ca/) and The Ecoforestry Institute (www.ecoforestry.ca). His name is Jay Rastogi.
During the week I received an email notice from Jay that he was conducting a workshop at Wildwood titled “Identifying Native Plants” which on this round was going to focus on the identification of trees and shrubs at this early time in the year – looking at identifying markers such as bark, needles or buds. We are members of The Land Conservancy (TLC) and admire the work that this organization does throughout the province in conserving and protecting natural habitats and special sites.
We have known Jay Rastogi from years before his association with The Land Conservancy. He was then the manager and associate of Wildwood, a 60 acre woodlot in the Yellowpoint area on the east coast of Vancouver Island;(another 70 acres of an adjacent property was also manged in the same manner). This “farm” was the work of a living legend – Merv Wilkinson – who bought this parcel of land in 1938 originally for
agriculture. Merv soon discovered that the land was not suitable for agriculture, but what it did well was produce trees. He converted to managing a tree farm using a “sustained yield theory” of management, basically looking at the forest as his capital and the yearly growth as the interest on his investment. The idea was that he could harvest the “interest” yearly and sustain the quantity and quality of his original capital (trees still standing).
Over the years Merv evolved into an “ecoforester” – looking at the forest not just for the trees but caring for the diversity of life – plant and animal – that also lived in the forest. His radicalism in the forest industry reached a peak when he was arrested in August 1993 for defying a Court order that prohibited blockades of lumber trucks in the Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The forest company MacMillan Bloedel, operating on crown land, practiced clear cutting – total devastation of the forests which denuded the mountains and destroyed totally the habitat for animals and fish who spawned in the creeks of the mountains.
MacBlo was just one of the big companies that had the government in their
pockets and raped the natural wilderness for quick profit with little investment or care for the future. Merv was sentenced to 100 hours of community service.
Over the years Merv had proven that the forests could be managed responsibly, and that wood extraction was possible without destroying the forests. The governments and of course the forest companies all viewed Merv as a troublesome radical, while at
the same time European foresters were making Wildwood a necessary destination in their work to develop and promote sustainable forestry. (Something there about a prophet not being in his own homeland??) Jane Goodall, the chimp lady, when touring Canada to promote her conservation work in the Gombe forest of Africa would make a point to stop and stay with Merv and his wife Ann – in them she recognized a kindrid spirit and Wildwood as a place where her energies could be recharged.
By the mid 1990’s Merv was unable to manage on his own and Jay stepped into the
picture as his right hand man and overall manager of Wildwood. In December 2000 The Land Conservancy purchased Wildwood, allowing Merv to continue living in his own home as long as his wished. Jay and his wife over the years took special care of Merv (who is now 96 years old) and Merv served as mentor for Jay sharing with him his vision and practical knowledge of “sustainable selective forestry” developed over almost 70 years of hard work.
While Merv has selectively logged Wildwood for more than 60 years, it is still a dense forest with old growth trees and a greater diversity of younger growth. This was the proof, if proof were needed, to show that sustainable forestry was possible in British Columbia. A walk through Wildwood shows high burn marks on the bark of older trees, a clear sign that first nations peoples managed the forest in this area with controlled burns, probably to enhance the growth of lower shrubs that produced berries.
Wildwood has produced lumber for specialty products. Merv entered into a partnership with others who used a portable “bandsaw mill” and cut wood for different buyers – particularly for the ship building industry and musical instruments.
All the while, Wildwood became a forest that sustained more than trees. The ecological and cultural significance of the land was valued. Dead trees that earlier would have been removed were left to enhance the habitat of animals and birds. , Once the quality of the overall tree was recognized, large trees that previously might have been harvested were left for their value as seed trees. Jay brought to Merv the expertise and wisdom of his learning in forestry management.
We joined a small group for this workshop “Identifying Native Plants”, which is just one of many different workshops planned by Jay at Wildwood over the coming year. Future workshops will review the same plants we looked at today but looking at the plants showing different seasonal markings. As well there is a workshop on “Edible Wild Plants” which is a favourite theme and always well attended. It is truly amazing how many plants are not only edible but very nutritious, but there also some species such
as the Yew tree which we were told could also be quite harmful. A three day workshop in late June titled “Appreciating the Forest and Ecoforestry” aims to look at “philosophical and practical questions of how we might understand and appreciate forests better”.
I have visited Wildwood over the years, most often to participate in a Saturday afternoon tour of the forest conducted by Jay, when visitors would come and they expressed an interest in learning about the forest. There can be no better introduction to the forest and the complex issues in forest management and politics than this introductory tour of Wildwood. For me, although I have walked around with Jay a number of times, each walk through the forest is a new revelation. Jay, with his training and sensitivity, walks with open eyes and sees an encyclopaedia of information before him. Most of us don’t see what he points to because we don’t know what to look for – but the further we go the more complex and diverse we discover the forest to be.
There is so much to learn, not that I intend to now move into forestry. I am moving beyond the forest and the trees – yet still coming to stand in “awe” and “respect” at the beauty and magnificence of nature. In my journey as “pilgrim” I open myself not only to the “ancients” but also to the new torch bearers whose knowledge and wisdom inspires and calls forth. Jay Rastogi is one of these persons who have graced my journey.
His delight and reverence for nature is contagious – and it makes me wonder how I could have studied “God” for 8 years without a walk in the forest.