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Annie and Sally, the darling forest horses, were two of the sweetest creatures I have ever met. They tolerated, and maybe even liked Duggy’s puppy energy, never lifted a foot as he nipped and pulled and begged them to play… They wandered the forest, visited me often with their big hearts, and gentle nature, and they will be deeply missed. Their spirits are home.
Robinwood is rich with wild edible and medicinal plants and herbs. An abundance of roots, berries, and herbs to be harvested each summer and fall…
Looking almost directly north, Mt H’Kusam towers over the meadow. Perfectly framed but the giant Sitka Spruce, it is hard not to focus on this incredible mountain view, and watch it change in all the different light and seasons.
And Mt. H’Kusam has many stories. In my brief research this far, I’ve read that H’Kusam is named by the Kwakwaka’wakw (pronounced Kwak-wak-ya-wak) First Nations people meaning “having fat or oil.” This is said to refer to both the Salmon River and the large First Nations village once located on its Southern bank.
And I have not seen it yet, but there is a mysterious cloud that appears encircling the top of the mountain, which the Kwakwaka’wakw People called Hiatsee Saklekum, “Where the breath of the sea lion gathers at the blow-hole”. They believed that there was a tunnel through the mountain through which the sea lions’ breath traveled. I have heard locals calling this strange cloud “Oscar.” I think I will have to investigate further.
Another story this mountain has is one of strength and endurance. Every year on the summer solstice an event is held called the “Kusam Klimb” This is a race of sorts, or just a personal challenge to hike the 23 kms up and down the back side of the mountain. A typical hiker will take 7-9 hours to do the route, but there are those who go for speed and the winners each year finish the Klimb in 2-3 hours.
When the rains come to the valley, our land is at the mercy of the mountain. The rain that falls on H’Kusam soon ends up as our swamp. We watch the snow come and go, and the colours it changes reflecting the sun as it sets. We miss it when the clouds roll in, and aim our binoculars to inspect the distant details. You can see the slides and fallen trees, and we’ve been told that there was a fire on the mountain in the 1950’s or 60’s, but I haven’t found any info on that. What I did find was the story of the great Sayward Fire in 1938 that burned 30,000 hectares of beautiful forest consuming almost 2/3 of Vancouver Island.
There is a Youtube video that tells the story with a song, here
And a great detailed account of the fire here
The elk is a majestic forest ghost. They are always there, but rarely seen. I can wake up in the morning and see fresh droppings 10 feet away from my door. There are always fresh prints in the mud and sand. They have carved trails through our woods, and have utilized, and I imagine probably greatly appreciated the trails that we have carved as well.
A few summers ago while hiking with a friend in the Olympic National Park’s Hoh rainforest, I received a sign that the elk was my spirit animal. Ever since then I have held onto the wisdom of the elk medicine, and wear an elk tooth around my neck. Actually, I suppose I used to wear it….in the city. These days, practicality is winning and the only thing I put around my neck in the woods is a whistle.
So when we came to Robinwood, and I recognized that it was thoroughly inhabited by elk, I knew it was my home. When I tell people about it, I get a lot of comments about hunting, and how people try their whole lives to win the elk ticket lottery. But Robinwood is a haven. It is a sanctuary for all the creatures of the forest, especially the elk. The Roosevelt elk, the biggest elk in the world, exist only in this part of the world. I’ve read that there are approximately 4500 of the species left today, and of these over 3000 live on Vancouver Island, mostly up here in the north island.
The Roosevelt elk are huge and the males can reach up to 500 kg ( just over 1000 lbs). Their antlers are massive. They live for about 12-15 years.
They travel in herds for the most part, although this summer I noticed a lone female residing in our forest which is rare. Neighbours said she may either be sick or pregnant, but the the best of my observation, she appeared to be neither. (But I’m rookie.)
On rainy days I see the herds come out to the meadow to graze when I’m tucked away in the bus. I’ve seen them hanging out with the horses, and any tiny noise or movement I seem to make is always noticed.
Of course, each time I travel into the woods is like a treasure hunt for bones. I found an entire well preserved skeleton of a female elk, and several bones here and there on my walks in the woods. Each one is remnant of the story of life and struggle, beauty and pain, and the connectedness of all things enveloped by moss.
My friend and neighbour Dave is a retired logger. He has been a great wealth of local Sayward Valley intel; weather predictions, wildlife sightings, gravel sources, and is always willing to help with our big jobs, like fixing the road, lifting beams, moving the bus, and digging the well.
He told us about back in the day when he was a faller, working in the area and accustomed to cutting down old growth forests. He said he was at this location for about an hour before he put down his tools and refused to cut. It was simply too beautiful. His fellow workers agreed and together they fought to protect the area making it a provincial park.
(Oh, did you notice the beware of the yeti sticker on the sign?)
Maggie never felt so small, and Rita was the gold in the green.
Robinwood is on the Salmon River. At this time of year as the salmon are spawning, and with the unmistakeable aroma that goes along with that, the river feels more alive and connected than ever. I was down at the beach a few days ago and all was quiet, and now suddenly there is activity. Salmon jumping, gasping, and struggling over the shallow spots, aiming to get as far upstream as they can before their final gift to the land -fertilizer and food for the creatures that roam the river’s edge and the forest beyond.
The Salmon River headwaters begin in Strathcona Provincial Park and it runs about 80 kms before it reaches the ocean in Kelsey Bay near the Sayward Village. Banked by old growth of Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock and Red Cedar, Cottonwood and Alder, we have about 800 meters of river running the southern border of our land.
During the summer, I swim and bathe in the shallow water everyday. I’m able to walk across to the other side, at some point the water just ankle deep. In the rainy season, I don’t even like to get close.
The Salmon River fluctuates dramatically with the rains. The main reason it changes so much from day to day and hour to hour is because of clearcut logging along the valley up river. When it rains 70 mm, for example, we can expect the river to rise 2-3 feet within 24 hours. And there’s a dam upriver as well. Basically, a few days of rain create huge changes around here. Standing on the beach below the trees, you can see grass and twigs still lodged in the branches, showing that last winter, the river came a good 10 feet there.
So, with the salmon come the bears! Look at these tracks!
I followed them a few meters and found this: A big bite out of this guy!
And more tracks; signs of the secret life of woodland creatures left in the sand. The ones on the left are from Rita and the bear, but the ones on the right, well, what do you suppose those are from? Raccoon? River otter? I am not sure….
One of the biggest treats for me living down by the river is being around so many toads. I love these little critters!! You can hear them croaking constantly, and lumbering/hopping through the grass at night, and outsmarting the toad hunters down by the river…
One day, I noticed a funny string in the pond at the edge of the river. This little pond had been cut off from the main flow and was warming up quite nicely. The toddlers had fun playing in it, and apparently, it was a good spot for the toads as well. Anyhow, I found this funny string, which had to have been over 50 ft long. I had no idea what it was!
As you can see, it was a clear jelly like line, full of these little black dots. eggs? Alien eggs?
I kept going back to check on the string, and in a few days the shape had turned from round, to more of a… let’s say “mouse poop” shape. The string became weaker over time, and in a few more days it was obvious that these were little tadpoles! I felt like a proud toad mama!
I left for a few weeks in the summer to run my camps in Victoria, and missed the moment we’d all been waiting for when they emerge from the water. When I got back I search and searched for the tiny baby toads that must have been hopping around in the thousands, but it took a few days to spot one. And then, once you see one, you see more….
I have done a little research, and toads can live up to 10-15 years. They reach full maturity in about 2-3 years but less than one percent of the baby “toadlets” make it. Their warty skin apparently tastes bad, and it is not just good camouflage.
So, it’s now October, and the toads have migrated up to higher ground, and I’ve noticed that on sunny days, they all come out from under our pallet deck outside the bus/outdoor kitchen. This is the winter home, I guess! Perhaps I can “accidentally” drop my babies some food? Here is a photo I took just the other day, can you spot all 4?