Saturday 14 May 2011

Patterson Lake

Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook 4th Edition - Map 24 E7
Atlas of Canada Link: Patterson Lake
Latitude and Longitude: 49o 20' 59" North 124o 58' 59" West

Trip Date:May 11, 2011

Me taking in the last warm glow of the setting sun on Patterson Lake
The sign at the head of Turtle Main is worrying. Then just past the power lines, a shinny new yellow gate, open but with the pin just sitting on top, like someone is planning to lock up later. I drive through reluctantly. Last night I had hoped to paddle on Trail Pond today. Something happened on that little gem of a lake that is forming an important thread in my new book. It had to do with a duck, and I wanted to paddle it again to be there and to remember in the spot it happened. But as I stand looking out on Trail Pond on the new road bed, covering over the old with a layer of rock and course gravel, I know I can't stay here. 

The hillside that slopes down to the road is newly logged. I let my eyes wander up the mess from stump to stump, to mud, to slash. The raw breaks on all the rocks give the sense that a lot of crushing has gone on. I think about the power of hydraulics, diesel, and the internal combustion engine. I try to imagine the cut in 5 year, in 10 years, in 20 years. This favourite place will not really be bearable for at least that long. Until then I will have to divert my gaze, or go somewhere else. 

Turtle Lake Main -- Information Sign
Today, rather than take a chance getting stuck behind a gate, I go somewhere else, up the valley further, to Patterson Lake. The land around Patterson Lake has not been logged for a long time, there are some nice patches of forest there. But I frown when I see the new road pushed in beside and on top of the old one. The old one had been beautifully gentrified by age, a shady trail on the verge of disappearing. I park in the old spot, bits of crushed rock scattered through the bushes and over the old road from the new road higher up the bank. The moss covered rock the children climbed on during the last visit has been decapitated. 

Despite my sadness, I decide to paddle here before it is logged, perhaps the last time I will paddle it for a while. I sigh, take down the canoe, put it in the water, and head onto the lake. 

The first time I paddled on Patterson Lake I had my two young sons with me in our old yellow fiberglass canoe. We were looking for fish, and the "lake" was a disappointment. Too shallow and marshy for fish of any size or abundance. We packed up and went to Dickson Lake that day. 

The peat Islands near the first Put in on Patterson Lake
Then, about 10 years later I returned on my own. I saw the place differently. I had different eyes, a different need. 

Kalmia microphylla -- Western Bog-Laurel near the first put in on Patterson Lake
Today I paddle out through the weedy channels and notice Western Bog-Laurel is in boom on the peaty islands. I examine the bog laurel to see if it's stamens are triggered or not. As the flower unfolds it's 10 stamens each have their tips tucked into a small pouch at the tip of the petals and there they remain, held with tension, until an insect comes along. As the insect seeks the nectar it brushes the stamen which springs loose and dusts it with pollen.

Kalmia microphylla - Western Bog-Laurel
The majority of the stamens on the plants I examine are not yet triggered. 

I move out beyond the peat islands and disturb some Canada Geese who honk at me and fly a short distance away. I turn away from them and go around an rocky island. Further down the lake a Kingfisher splashes into the water like a thrown stone, a flock of birds peep in the forest, creepers maybe, and the burbling call of a Winter Wren rises from a thicket of salal. 

Here is a video of my paddle through the first part of the lake. It is about 3 minutes long and due to the quality of the upload, the end is actually the clearest:

When I get to the main beaver dam, the new bull rushes are a foot above the water along the shallows and the old cat tails are inflated into fluffy plumes. I get out and carry the canoe over the dam and proceed down the lake. At the far end I can see the road again, and a new clearing on a stony shelf. 

The far end of Patterson Lake, where it drains towards Sumner Lake
Someone has arranged rocks for a fire pit. Last year when I paddled here, this end of the lake felt remote and safe. Now, it feels like all the other places in this valley, slightly trampled, threatened, vulnerable. 

The New Clearing
While I am pondering the change, a raven flaps down the length of the lake and perches near me, watching me. I wait for her call, for the warning to others. But all she does is turn around on the branch, tilt her head and stare at me for a long time. 

I go to the outflow and look over the lip of the dam down into the narrow little revine beyond. The beaver dam here is multigenerational, dirt and wood along the lip have filled in and formed a kind of solid mass. I turn around and head back up the lake, this time hugging the southern shore, looking at all the trees, remembering them. An eagle rounds the bend in the lake, flying between the trees and swoops down towards me. I look up as she flies over, the tips of her wing feathers dark against the bright sky.

As I approach the middle beaver dam again I here the high peeping of a duckling and look amist the burgundy stalks of a water shrub and see a grey and white speckled ball of fluff, it's big eyes in it's small head. I hear another peeping start up deeper in the sticks, and then another. I look around for mom or dad, but they don't seem to be anywhere around. 

I paddle on and when I step out of the canoe at the beaver dam the late afternoon sun comes out and I set up my tripod to take a photo. Then I take a couple of shots of myself as if to say, I was here when...

Patterson Lake is on Timberland land, privately owned, gone forever from the commonwealth. Part of land that was traded to a coal barren for a railway. I paddle here because of the benevolence of Timberland, because of Timberland roads, and because the province of BC enforces certain rules on logging practices. 

The trees within a short distance of this wetland's shore will not be cut. Patterson Lake will be preserved, even if the forest around it is taken. 

I feel weary as I load up my vehicle and wash the pond algae from my canoe. I turn off the radio as I drive through Port Alberni. Cameron Lake is as flat as I have ever seen it when I drive by. I had gone to the woods for restoration, for rejuvenation. I'm filled with a mixture of gratitude and sadness. Sabi is elusive today.


  1. You are indeed lucky, what a place to go fishing!

  2. Thanks for sharing. I understand the sadness.

  3. One of many nice little lakes out here, don't begrudge Timberland too much as they do still let us on their land. Still all belongs to the queen anyway.... ;-(

  4. so.. somebody build a firepit and it is SO saddening? I guess no one is allowed to be there.. except for you it is ok? disheartened to see some logging... meanwhile you drive the roads that would never be there but for the loggers? how pretentious you are.

    it is well to remember that the universe is composed of others... but for one trifling exception..

  5. Dear Anonymous,

    If you read my blog you will know that I give full credit to the logging enterprise for providing roads to areas that would otherwise not be accessible, and I actually think logging is a good and proper activity when done responsibly.

    In this post above I say, "Patterson Lake is on Timberland land, privately owned, gone forever from the commonwealth. Part of land that was traded to a coal barren for a railway. I paddle here because of the benevolence of Timberland, because of Timberland roads, and because the province of BC enforces certain rules on logging practices." I am acknowledging that without the logging, and without the logging company's generous policy to let the public use the land, I would not be able to enjoy these places. What is sad is when humans make a mess in the woods and wreck beautiful places just because they don't care enough to take care of them.

    Yes I am very sad that sensitive wetlands and beautiful places are damaged and that people build fire pits willy nilly, throw beer cans everywhere, and generally foul the wilderness with waste. If you have been to these places and not seen this, then you are not looking or you don't care. And if you don't care, then why are you calling me pretentious? I enjoy these places but I try to tread lightly so that others can enjoy them too. I also think that there is value in places that feel wild and untouched.

    For years logging companies have made millions and millions of dollars extracting resources from public lands, and in this case, from land that was traded for a railway in one of the most shocking deals in BC history. Is it so much to ask that some of these fragile and beautiful places be respected, even protected, give the scale of wealth that has been amassed off these lands?

    This piece of writing was an honest expression of my feelings. The pathos is in the irony. In a matter of a year or two Trail Pond and Patterson Lake have been made ugly and there is nothing I can do about it. It is the way things are. The powerful companies do as they like.

    You don't find this sad?


  6. it sure is nice that you can drive on the loging roads up in that area i go camping and fishing ther because from victoria to sooke area all the gates our locked by our uns less crd bs so all the good lakes you cant get to unless you have a motor bike so thank you to the loging guys up island from a happy camper R smith

  7. My folks lived there from 1974 to 2007 when the local Gov't and the Provincial Gov't of the time, burned them out. So many of our family grew up spending our summers and winters there. Boy scouts, Armed forces, skidoo clubs, hikers caught in sudden storms were always welcomed at Leo and Lorraine's home. Some day I will post the whole story.

    1. yes...very sad Forestry burnt them out. It will be 10 years this winter and still no answers. Summer is the most difficult time as a grandchild I grew up there.

    2. Hi Paul, I don't know this story? I hope you do write about it, I was just up that way last week and there is a new road closures. No longer able to get to Dickson Lake or any in that area. I have a strong feeling of loss.

  8. I was just at Patterson lake yesterday, no gates or anything blocking access to it or sumner lake

  9. Hey Davis, thanks for letting me know. I actually couldn't find the access road on my last trip, there was a grader working right where I thought it was, so I was distracted. I'll be back now for sure. I've never been a fan of Sumner lake for some reason, but glad access is still there. Hope to get back to Moran Swamp too, but the cut has really grown since I was there last, the one access road along the creek seemed almost overgrown.

  10. Side it to that as well you take ash main to in now not turtle lake main.

  11. So many great caves, Osprey nests, tall trees, Elk herds, and back trails to explore. Nice blog on Patterson Lake.

    1. Thanks Paul, too true, there are so many interesting things in this area. Thanks for leaving a comment!