The hollowed-out trunk of the ancient yellow cedar felt like a cocoon with its soft floor of bark strips. A mother bear had molded this bed when she came each year to hibernate and to birth her cubs inside the 2,000-year-old tree. In the depth of winter, the shell of sapwood had protected them from the bone-chilling cold and blowing snow.
A decade earlier, the mother likely had been born in this same den, near the headwaters of Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, off the coast of British Columbia. She would have returned each fall, fattened on berries and salmon. I picked one of her hairs from the grain of the wood, the scent of wet grass merging with the citrusy heartwood and fresh Pacific rain.
I was here with several environmental activists. Their opponents call them radicals, even eco-terrorists. They call themselves forest defenders, and they work to fend off the timber company aiming to clear-cut this forest. Half a dozen young men and women had greeted me on the newly blasted road and ushered me over huge logs and deep ravines to this wizened tree. They spoke excitedly of seeing screech owls and of marbled murrelets nesting in the canopy of the cedars, and pointed to specklebelly lichens draping the smooth bark of amabilis firs. Those birds and lichens, and many other at-risk species, live in a community of more than 325 plants, algae, mosses, and mammals, and untold numbers of fungi and microbes, in the Fairy Creek watershed.