East is East and West is West


East is East and West is West

If I’ve been quiet for the last few months, it’s because life has been a hectic whirlwind. First up was the Ontario Climate Consortium at the beginning of October, which kicked off with a medicine walk through High Park. With Sheila Boudreau by my side, I began the walk at 10am. Ken Billings, the filmmaker, was ready. I had never been there before, and what I saw stunned me into silence. And I don’t know if Toronto knows the full historical significance of having the last piece of Indigenous Savannah downtown.

The Savannah of North America was described in detail by the early pioneers and European explorers. They came to a “managed” landscape. The idea was to use flash fires in April and November to fertilize and fumigate the virgin forest. This forest consisted of oaks and other food-bearing trees. The trees responded to this system by increasing their protein production which in turn doubled the deer population. This is a kind of armchair farming that went on in North America for thousands of years.

The king of the heap in High Park is Quercus velutina, or the black oak. A tree indigenous to North America, the black oak produces ‘quercitron,’ a vivid yellow dye which has been used since the 18th century.

Shortly afterwards I boarded a plane for Campbell River, BC, which is a seaside town on Vancouver Island. There, in the new state of the art Tidemark Theatre, I delivered the 9th Haig-Brown Memorial Lecture, equivalent to the Massey Lecture of Eastern Canada. The Haig-Brown Lecture Series is a sort of requiem for conservation and love of the land. To my intense surprise, I filled the theatre, 450 people, and even had an unfortunate group of people outside who did not get beyond the door. I met many wonderful audience members while signing books after the screening, and will hold the event close to my heart.

While on Vancouver Island, I discovered that the ancient forest is still coming down. The lumber consortia keep getting around controls by changing the designation and descriptions of ‘ancient forests.’ In particular, the ancient Douglas firs are in their sights. These ancient species can carry an endogenous fungus which bears a motherload of medicine. The fungus is called Laricifomes officinalis or ‘agarikon.’ It emerges from the side of the tree like a child, and holds a natural antibiotic against tuberculosis. But these unique 1,000 year old trees are coming down before their medicines can be clinically tested in the United States and here in Canada. By the way, the Apache White Mountain, Cowlitz, Klallam, Quinault and Tlingit medicine men have used the Douglas fir medicine for millennia.

Check out my two-part interview with the wonderful Andrew Nikiforuk in The Tyee!
Part One of Tree Teachings: How Forests and Wildfires Are Critically Linked
Part Two of Tree Teachings: How Fossil Fuels and Climate Change Are Altering the Global Forest

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