Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek) Watershed, courtesy of Ancient Forest Alliance

Community in the Trees

Offered with respect for Fairy Creek Tree Defenders. Text by Coral Poser. Photos by Michael Poser (October 2021).


“Strange times!”

I hear this so often in my encounters with neighbours, cashiers and gas attendants. The activities that used to ignite delight aren’t so delightful anymore…or are gone. Some days the world that I wake up into feels lonely and empty.

I have decided that the most loving thing that I can do for myself is to break out of my bubble and to track inspiration where I can find it. To fill my life with warm people, to take a stand for what I believe in….to try things I never dreamed of doing.

Two months ago I moved out of a townhouse into a cohousing community. Cohousing is an intentional lifestyle that originated in the 1980’s in Denmark. It is a model that attempts to blend our lives as individuals with our tribal need for community. My hope was that this self-selected community would be more skillful in harmonious connections. I was curious to explore if I can live this way.

A fellow co-houser sent around an email about Fairy Creek:

“Fairy Creek is the most incredible place to be. It’s like living in a perfect community. Everyone shares. They work together, they live together, they laugh together, cry together and what is going on there is history. It is such a place of magic. It is the best of what we can be and I have never witnessed this before. I will recommend to anyone: do not miss this.”

Hmmm... A perfect community? everyone shares? Highly unlikely but my curiosity is piqued. Even our fledgling cohousing community already has its cliques, its complainers, its “somebody should really look after this because I don’t want to” attitudes... Many of the unpleasant aspects of human nature are plainly in view.

We are a fifty-plus demographic. Maybe younger folk are more attuned to creating a “utopia” that actually functions?

I decide to go see for myself.

June brings me an impromptu visit from brother Mike and his Jeep Cherokee, the perfect vehicle for going back-country. Gingerly, I ask Mike if he is interested in accompanying me on an adventure, to explore this community and to hike amongst the ancients. Mike has already researched what the media has to say about the Fairy Creek blockade and the media infamous “Tree Defenders”.

“I don’t want to be arrested!” he says repeatedly. “Ok, let’s go!”

We hatch a plan that includes transporting food and supplies. Humans, good, bad, partly both…need to eat. We load up the Jeep with pop (not so healthy but easy caffeine), juice, eggs, money donated from another co-houser and a woven hammock that belonged to my partner who was arrested during the Clayoquot Sound blockade!

The highway up to Port Renfrew is being resurfaced in sections so it is a hurry up and wait sort of journey. We track down Fairy Creek headquarters with ease.

An ardent young volunteer clasping a clipboard to her chest approaches us.

“Hello! What are your intentions?”
“To drop off donations.”

She grins, waves us in whilst her eyes nervously scan the highway the whole time.

“What’s up?” Mike asks.

“Oh, some angry people stormed our camp this morning and smashed a bunch of our windshields,” she advises.

We drive through an impressive “hard block” installation built from wire cables, poured concrete, logs, branches, old cars and sometimes people. They are aimed at slowing down the business-as-usual logging industry. Excavators have to drill out the humans and all the materials need to be disassembled before their vehicles can pass. Pain in the ass work. Our vehicle passes easily under the archway…. but a loaded logging truck or a big piece of machinery maybe not so much.

I see my first “sleeping dragon”…a human lying belly down on the logging road with their arm attached to a pipe dug beneath ground. A sense of their personal vulnerability in the face of dogged persistence runs through me.

We arrive at the gravel pit, park, and wander in. There is a circle of stones surrounding a tarred area with a lit fire. The fire feels sacred. A sign nearby says “215”. The circle has strong energy even though there are no people gathered there. A tribute to the recently discovered 215 bodies of First Nations children.

It occurs to me that there is a similarity to how we treat other cultures and what we are allowing to happen to our ancient forests. Humans are capable of such mindless action.

We drive on past several cars with smashed windshields, past the info centre…where a volunteer pops out to ask if he can help us find what we are looking for...past a camp kitchen…where volunteers are preparing food in a most jovial vibe…past a media depot, a first aid teepee….to the donation container. We unload our cargo into the hands of sweet individuals who express much gratitude for our visit to their camp. Particularly pleased to see eggs in their midst!

People come and go purposefully. Though the dress attire is reminiscent of 1960’s, the vibe is different. This is no flower-power scene, this is a guerrilla war zone! People are gathered in circles strategizing how to reinforce mountain camps with supplies and people. They share their lessons from several failed attempts.

After a time here, Mike and I decide that we both need to stand in the presence of the ancients while we can…so we drive back down the road towards Avatar Grove.

We are stopped before our destination by security guards and the police who instruct us to park our car and to continue on foot.

“There is a police blockade ahead. If you continue on you do so at your own risk.”

Mike and I exchange sibling glances. We opt to walk and arrive at a fork in the road. A group of animated people are heading towards us. When we stop to greet them, I recognize my ex-family doctors amongst the protesters.

“If you go left here to Avatar Grove, you will have just another tourist experience. If you go right, you will be part of history,” my ex-doctor urges me.

We head right. We pass a swath of forest containing old growth that has been clear-cut. It is a total mess! I feel the heat of anger swell my belly.

We come to another fork, stop to figure out our way. Drumbeats and a woman’s haunting voice calling out her prayer guide us on.

Soon we arrive at a small circle of Tree Defenders and police cars. There are two First Nation people detained in the vehicles. They are being read their rights. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? A tense conversation erupts over the whereabouts of confiscated backpacks from an earlier detainment. Who wants to deal with having their stuff taken?...Especially when survival is on the radar. The police claim their innocence. A media person videos the entire interaction.

RCMP at Fairy CreekIn that moment I am struck how we can become so entangled within the roles that we assume. Some by free choice, others by the necessity of livelihood. Our perspectives ignite each other without anyone fully grasping the greater picture. Some of the police have children the same age as some of the Tree Defenders.

Wild Raven (Tree Defenders go by camp names to protect their identity) invites Mike and me to join them in their walk up to the police blockade. It is a hot climb. Someone is carrying another person’s huge pack to give them a break. We stop in the shade. Wild Raven rummages in her pack and pulls up a bag of dehydrated coconut flakes. She shares this with all of us. Another woman reaches for our water bottles and stumbles down to a nearby creek to fill them up.

I am part of something bigger than myself just by showing up this day. This group I am in is not defined by ego or status. It feels good to be nourished in this way.

Consolation and encouragement

Consolation and encouragement
A line of sturdy, tattooed RCMP standing shoulder to shoulder across the logging road come into view. Less than a metre in front of them a motley crew of Tree Defenders are standing, some silently, some shaming the police. Emotions run high.

Behind the line of cops, another group of Tree Defenders are waiting to be handcuffed and escorted into waiting police cars. They are taken to the police station in Cowichan Lake or Port Renfrew. Then they are released. Someone attempts to pick them up and bring them back to camp. Groundhog Day!

After two such detainments, protesters are arrested and discharged on bail.

Consolation and encouragementEach time a handcuffed defender walks through the police line a great hullabaloo ensues. These arrests mark successes in the defenders’ work to slow down the decimation of old growth forest. It is a game that no one appears to be winning. The media has to report the number of arrests whilst Teal Jones’ loggers continue to cut into the old growth.

Mike and I listen with curiosity to stories from defenders who have visited the mountain camps. They say they witnessed felled ancients that were left lying, unharvested, on the ground. What loggers do in a days work goes on high above government buildings where formal agreements are made.

What I glean from listening to the defenders is that these old trees are part of an intricate and interconnected ecosystem, a community, that supports a flow of wildlife and flora. Once destroyed who knows what the domino effect could be.

Arrest with victory
Arrest with victory
Healthy trees have a big role in slowing global climate change. There is an intelligence coded into the forests that money will never replace.

Mike and I walk down the mountain completely amazed by what we have witnessed. This is a visceral awakening that is a world apart from reading FB posts on my iPad!

Months elapse which allows us both time to integrate and to ground. Mike and I send each other Fairy Creek articles and posts...trying to fill in our understanding about what has happened out there…what is happening now.

Thanksgiving arrives and with it another visit from brother Mike. This time he asks me if I want to pay Fairy Creek another visit. In the intervening months RCMP raids have completely levelled what I described of HQ camp.

The present camp is in the same location. It is smaller and less sophisticated. The new camp is filled with different faces. People move on.
Arrest with victory We walk in from the highway. Mike carries our box of food donations. I walk in with a bag of potatoes in each hand.

Tiger, one of the Tree Defenders, asks, “Is your whole box filled with potatoes?”

Actually it isn’t. We bought supplies thinking about nourishment, simplicity, and joy of taste.

The camp vibe is different this time. It is October. It is wet and damp. The cool chill in the air speaks of the winter that will soon arrive in the mountains.

We empty our hands and walk up the logging road to the first “hard block” under construction. On our trek up, we walk past a number of obstacles…stumps, branches, big rocks…set on the road to hinder easy driving.
After an emotional day of arrests, Tree Defenders de-stress with a game of Ninja, a warrior game of stealth and strategy.  RCMP line watches from a distance while an officer videos.
After an emotional day of arrests, Tree Defenders de-stress with a game of Ninja, a warrior game of stealth and strategy.  RCMP line watches from a distance while an officer videos.
People are feverishly hammering down the heavy limbs and scrap wood that make a “beaver dam”. This time they build right across the road leaving no corridor for RCMP on quads to skirt by. It is hard to take in the whole structure, let alone process all the details.

Buried deep beneath the central tangle of timber is an old vehicle. Inside the car is a person.

Behind the “hard block” is a tripod of super tall trees all roped together. There is a tarped platform built on the very top. Dangling over the edge of the platform, I can see one leg and one boot.
Behind the tripod is another “sleeping dragon”. A man is lying fast asleep in the middle of the road. It is raining. He is covered by a tarp. Talk about living vulnerably!

Mike and I walk further. We pass another two similar tripods. We see people repairing holes in their clothing.

They sit around fires as they work and rest. Some greet us friendly, others are more guarded.

Mike thinks we may look like cops to them!
The new beaver dam ironically “welcomes back” the RCMP.
The new beaver dam ironically “welcomes back” the RCMP.

10 “Sleeping dragon” defender lies under tarp
"Sleeping dragon” defender lies under tarp
We climb on until we reach another patch of clear cut. Large and tiny red dresses are hung on hangers from the riffraff that is left on the forest floor after the trees are taken away. Dusk throws a shadowed pattern over the land. Someone has laid down circles of rocks to make a labyrinth. In the centre is a stack of wood ready for burning. A fine place to meditate!

Mike and I go our own way to explore. It is hard not to feel the messages sent out by these weathered red dresses, each one a testimony to a First Nations woman or child who is now missing from their lives. I feel great sadness. I am culturally implicated in this racist tragedy no matter how much I try to hold onto my innocence. It is time to drive home.
Red dresses

On our way out of camp, Tiger stops us to recommend that we return the following day to bear witness to the expected RCMP enforcements. Mike and I debate the whole drive home as to whether we want to return. We are already exhausted even from one day.

It is really incredible to witness the tenacity of these defenders.

The alarm goes off at 5 am. We both grumble and rise to dress.

Fairy Creek camp is coming to life upon our arrival. All of a sudden we are no longer just visitors. We are tasked by Ripple, who runs the kitchen activities, with inventing a way to clean yesterday’s supper dishes. The heap of unrinsed pots and pans are sitting in a tub filled with freezing cold grey water. There is a huge pot of dishwater on the campfire waiting to boil.

Who enjoys cleaning dishes? Especially other peoples’ leftovers? We accept the task and strangely we feel good about it. I do a speedy pre-rinse and freeze my fingertips. Remembering my cohouser’s comment about Fairy Creek’s perfect community I smirk to observe only one person rinse, clean and bleach their own gear!

We are invited to join in on a meeting circle: a guided meditation, a wise suggestion to inquire into how people are feeling under their stoic masks, an invitation to name what camp life is teaching them and finally a division of tasks needed for the day.

There is no camp manager as such. The idea seems to be that each person must find their own way to contribute. Meetings are randomly announced in various locations at various times. Chaos is a constant companion.  Chaos the devil and chaos the midwife.

How does this way of living help build a solid, sustainable focus? I am not clear on this. I do hear quite a few people remark upon the futility of Fairy Creek tactics. The real game changer has to come from upgrading BC logging industry practices as a result of increasing public pressure on legislators. The only way that the legislature is going to move is if people speak.

Nonetheless, there is something remarkable happening amidst the chaos of Fairy Creek. Most Tree Defenders are young people. Yes, there are plenty of doobies passing between hands. Probably other feel-good activities are going on as well. It is life! A compassionate and passionate energy is also being nurtured here. There are lots of hugs. This is positive!

No RCMP show up this day. The strange tension in the air that people create to prepare for the unexpected lingers on anyways.

I receive 2 emails from Mike this week. The first one: “Let’s return to Fairy Creek in winter so we can fully witness their story.”

The second one:

Coincidentally we both donate exactly the same amount. This is but a drop in the bucket for what is needed to fund current legal proceedings.

So back to the email from my co-houser which prompted this exploration. I have to say that Fairy Creek is no more a perfect community than my co-housing. Both are filled with daily challenges (i.e. Are we washing our own dishes?) as well as grand schemes. My desire to live in a utopian community is being replaced by learning to accept each moment, no matter what.

These visits to Fairy Creek are changing my relationship with my brother. We are exploring something that we both feel strongly about. We are doing this together. Even though we don’t understand all that is happening on all the different levels, it doesn’t matter. We show up!

I reflect upon what else I feel passionate about in my life. Am I showing up there too? Covid-19 be damned! Yes I am!

Final image

This article is my personal experience drawn from our 3 visits to Fairy Creek this year. In no way am I attempting to pass judgement on the web of provincial politics/current BC logging practices/First Nation sovereignty/activism/RCMP practices/ecology or morality issues that are all constantly arising and changing in the Fairy Creek Blockade. I am not advocating that you need to drop whatever you are doing in this moment and head up to Fairy Creek to save our ancient forest. You can still care right where you are...Find your own way to let your voice be heard.

Coral and Mike welcome your comments and feedback - click to email them

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