Monday, September 07, 2015

Fiddlehead Farm part of the Sunshine Coast Trail

This summer, we arrived by boat for my first visit back to Fiddlehead in 14 years, and landed next to the old Fiddlehead dock. There on the shore was a hut called "Fiddlehead Landing". To our surprise, David & Eagle, the leaders in creating the Sunshine Coast Trail,  happened to be right there. They were trail-building -- improving the trail to Fiddlehead and Tin Hat Mountain. The Sunshine Coast Trail explores spectacular terrain for 180 km. from Saltery Bay to Sarah Point. The "Confederation Lake -  Fiddlehead Farm - Tin Hat Mountain" section is a vital link.

The reason that Eagle and Scott need to be commended for their work is because they put the trail through old-growth forest in order to save it from logging. And that is truly a great vision. It is my hope that the people who loved the farm and got an experience out of living there will come back and enjoy hiking on the Sunshine Coast Trail. Whether it be Fiddlehead Farm or not, it doesn't matter. Because there is some of the most incredible wilderness in the world there.

Bridge and stream on the road leading up to the farm

The Sunshine Coast Trail group has put out a book called "A Dream of Giants" that describes the whole trail. It has an extensive section about Fiddlehead Farm -- telling its history, showing relatively recent pictures, and extending an invitation to hikers. The caption of the above photo in the book reads "Nature is once again in the process of reclaiming the former Fiddlehead Farm". So much is gone back to the forest.

On my visit it was sad for me to realize that I couldn't even find my house site. But it was wonderful to think of hikers on the way through, able to spend the night camping in one of the woodsheds that is still remaining.

If you are interested in finding more about the "Dream of Giants" group that maintains and enjoys the Sunshine Coast Trail, here are some links:

To buy the book:
Books section of the "Sunshine Coast Trail" website

Our visit to the farm again -- after 14 years

I just returned from a visit in August to Fiddlehead after 14 years away. I travelled there in the company of Timo my son, his wife Julie, and their 16 year old son, Elliot.

Walking up the same road brought so many memories. I could remember every stone, every log, every tree. It really looked the same. But the difference was in the light that streamed across the road, because of the clear-cutting which had chewed out huge chunks of the forest, just beyond the fringe of trees we remembered.

Linda on the big bridge. The road is the same except for all the light from the clearcutting

We found the Meditation House, which is one of two remaining structures. People had written their names recently on stones, and left them in there. The other remaining structure is a wood-shed, now used by hikers as a camping shelter. The only other building that was saved was Liisa's house, that was traded to a contractor who moved it down to the dock, along with our power system.


the meditation hut has survived, though logs over the creek are rotting

Liisa's house was moved onto our original dock

Most of the surrounding area has reverted back to nature. There was a lot of evidence of bears, who had moved into the remains of the orchard. They were having a fine time with the apples.

The orchard struggling against planted pine trees

And the site where the Dining Room/Kitchen had been was a large quarry which the logging company had made, for use on their roads. A large logging road went through the middle of the farm, and through the garden.

The dining room site was used as a quarry

Without the buildings it was very difficult to orient oneself -- to the barn field, and to my house. We were thrashing through the trees trying to find where our house had been, and we found water pipes and power pipes and pieces of the roof, so we knew we were in the right spot.

The mill now lives on my window sill
Like an archaeologist, Julie leaned down and picked something up out of the debris. She had found our "Foley Mill". This was the tool we used for making apple-sauce: a strainer that had a crank that you turned to separate the pits and the skin from the apple. We fed the pulp to the pigs.  The mill was rusted, crumpled and partially melted by the fire. It was so significant to me because I had made gallons of apple sauce, using it, from those wonderful old trees. The orchard is disappearing, being deliberately overgrown by fir trees planted by the new owners. We took the mill out with us. Now it lives in the window that look outs on my garden (where the ceramic Gnome is still pissing), past my potting studio, and out to the hills of the Cowichan Valley. To me the  bent shape of the ruined mill looks like a smile.


A fence being reclaimed by the land


You can burn the buildings, but you can't take away the experience

When I went back and saw the alders thriving, and the forest coming back, it felt like it was over. And that was okay. When Peter built the first buildings out of plywood and pressboard, it had nothing to do with forever, it was an experiment in education.

If we thought we worked hard, we were very aware of the Italian settlers that had come before us in the 1920's. They carved out a farm from wilderness. They had turned the cedar trees into buildings, by the sweat of their bodies. They didn't have any machinery. When we tore down that cedar house, we tore it down reverently, piece by piece. And it was respecting the life that those farmers had built in a very isolated part of the world.

Another thing I wanted to say about the development of the hostel and the building. It was totally organic. It wasn't conceived of making a business out of hostellers or people from Vancouver. The beginning of the hostel was that we couldn't do it all. It grew because we needed help. We all needed to give up a part of ourselves, so that the whole functioned.   

Students building the log house around 1980

Life skills of learning to work together
When Peter first conceived of the farm, it was not to build a paradise where we would stay the rest of our lives. It had to do with people, and their experiences. It was for a transient place for people to learn who they were, in a very special environment. We found space and silence.
He never saw it in terms of the permanence of the buildings, but in terms of the people who came there, and their relationship to nature. Buildings come and go in any country and in any place. But the change that comes in the making of it -- the doing of it -- is permanent. That was clear to me when I went up to the place where the buildings are now gone.

Catriona, one of the volunteer staff in 2000, showing off the salad she made