“There is a sea of salal and bracken, waving, surging, rolling towards you…Perfectly ordered disorder designed with a helter-skelter magnificence.” “…face it calmly, claiming relationship, standing honestly before the trees, recognizing one Creator of you and them, one life pulsing through all…” “I wonder, will death be much lonelier than life.” Emily Carr (1871-1945)
About half-way across Vancouver Island, between Nanaimo and Ucluelet, there is a small remnant of virgin forest known as Cathedral Grove. The main highway here runs right through the middle, bisecting it, and yet one has only to take a few steps into the forest, and the road behind you is completely forgotten. Here, 800 year-old Douglas firs, red cedars and hemlocks tower above as you wander by their feet, staring up at their majesty. It’s almost like walking through an Emily Carr painting, the way the light falls in bold shafts through the dense canopy and in turn, the massive trunks rush back towards the heavens. While many consider Ms. Carr to be the quintessential westcoast painter, she was also a prolific writer. She wrote in much the same manner as she painted, always staying quite focused on her subject. Emily was also very different from her peers, as she didn’t quite fit in with the Victorian and Edwardian society that reared her, and yet somehow she found solace in the wilds. It was here that she felt closest to God and while I’m quite sure that she didn’t actually worship nature as some do, she definitely perceived the sanctity of it. The forest has a way of stripping you of all the superficials until you are laid bare, and it sees you for exactly what you are. In return, we get to look skyward and touch the eternal, if only for a few moments – which is why everyone I see walking out of Cathedral Grove has a look of reverence on their face. One can’t help but feel humbled in the presence of such ancient living beings. These forests were Emily’s church, her sacred place – and if she were able to see the expressions of joy emerging out of this great cathedral of a forest some sixty years after her death – then she might have felt a little less alone in this world. That said, she did leave us a tangible piece of her soul in the form of her art and writings, and for that, we are all grateful.