Friday, 6 August 2010

Lone Tree Island

I visited Lone Tree Island (on Goose Lake) three times in as many years. The first time was with my 15 year old son, Graham, in 2008. He idled away into a nearby bay while I tied my canoe to a weathered log and got out to have a look around.

The fissured black rock under foot was warm in the afternoon sun and wavelets lapped at it's edge. The traction of the rock felt satisfying, it's sureness underfoot, a relief when so much around was either slippery or muddy.

I walked carefully across the island's moss, mostly dry and whispering underfoot, then looked for a long time at the lone pine tree, rooted in a low depression of the rock on the northern edge of the island. Probably the only place where anything like soil could gather.

The tree's roots snaked out across the rock in ribbons -- wiry tendrils with thin living veins on the underside. Scared, gnarled, old.

Walking up to the tree I found that the limbs contained twisted bunches of branches resembling some internal mass of arteries exposed during an operation. Severed branches ended in sticky pitch. The human compulsion to cut wood.

I moved slowly, noticing sprigs of hard hack, the conical cluster of fuzzy pink flowers that bees love. The moss compacted underfoot. Looking down I saw red ground plants, and as I ducked under one of the big branches, a layer of pine needles crackled under my Keens like they would in a fire.

On one side of the tree  limbs had been hacked off, hurried amputations as if from a machete or Sandvik bush axe -- the wounds scabbed over with hard cloudy pitch.

I turned and looked back at my canoe; the burgundy hull bobbed slightly against the dark gray volcanic rock, the sun bleached log spanning across to a smaller island and bright green sedges glowed in dappled sunlight.

I sat on the rock by the canoe for a few minutes, feeling the place, connecting to it. I looked back at the tree. Hoped it would survive for a long time.

A few weeks later I brought James to the spot. The nearby campsite was occupied, so I didn't spend much time on Lone Tree Island. But paddling past I couldn't help wanting to get out. I noticed how the tree, from the side, had the look of a bonsai, the triangle of branches like something out of one of  Peter Chan's books.

The water around the island was flashing, the amber silt like a blanket tucked in underneath.

We returned to our campsite and the next morning, for some reason, I was drawn to a place I could look out on Lone Tree Island. What was it's allure? What made it so pleasing?

Just recently, after not visiting Goose Lake for a year, I returned with friends, and one evening I made my way over to the island again.

I pulled Paul's Wenonah Rendezvous (Classic tuff weave lay-up) up on the North side of the island this time, resting the hull on a spot of gravel and sedges.

I walked a few paces to a slight rise and looked again at the tenacious pine. The setting sun was still lighting the hardy tree in a warm glow, while I stood in the cool of the shade from the trees on the western shore.  The weathered old log was gone, no doubt it floated free in one of the winter storms. Nothing stays the same, everything changes. But the rock, the general shape of the island seemed comfortingly constant and the tree - it's survival questionable, added tension to the scene.

I looked across to the northern shore of the lake at the small island at the end of the peninsula there. I thought, for some reason of the film adaptation of Great Expectation with Ethan Hawke, where young Fin is out walking in the shallows searching for fish. There are, after all, many places in the world like this, stretches of shallow water with little islands. This place, just happens to be near me, and in the grand scheme of things, it is not particularly spectacular or special. But of course, it is. And that is the mystery.

Places like this have something of the desert, something of the desert island. This island is basically a rock, and in a setting such as off the nearby west coast of Vancouver Island, it would be lost, subsummed into the common place by all the other similar rocky outcrops -- just one of many. But here, surrounded on all sides by forested shores, it takes on a quality something like a refuge, a breathing space, a contrast to dense forest.

Here, in this context, the solidity of the rock is comforting, the tenacity of the lone tree inspiring, the nakedness of the rock sensual and appealing. It is a testimony to the combination of things, to the rule of a special place being greater than the sum of it's parts. It is artistic, or perhaps more accurately, aesthetic. Easy on the eyes, pleasing to the feet, a sense satisfying locus.

Part of the appeal is that this hump of rock, evoking somehow the sense of a whales back breaking the surface, is so solid while just inches beyond it's shore the silty bottom deepens into a death trap of sucking glue. There is a prickly awareness being here, like walking past sleeping alligators, like sauntering just out of reach of a caged tiger. The danger is there, but the chance of mishap is slim as long as you keep your wits about you.

And then there is the view, in every direction, of green wilderness. There are logging cuts here and there. For the moment they seem tactfully hidden from view, but there are no houses yet, no docks and breakwaters, no developments or marinas. But of course there could be, might someday be. While Lone Tree Island is just a part of a larger landscape, it draws some of it's appeal from being situated within a wider vista. A Wild vista. And I guess I hope it will stay that way.

So much wilderness is being purchased, controlled,  and managed, that I feel sad contemplating the ultimate fate of places like this. Will Lone Tree Island be free sold to the highest bidder? Or can this patch of Crown Land remain with the people, protected from development. I hope it can.

Goose Lake --
hearing the wind coming
tree by tree