Tree Sit Diary: the first days

April 11 - I’m standing at the base of the tree leaning back on my harness and peering at the platform sixty feet above. Ingmar is encouraging me to get up there. The press conference is supposed to start in forty-five minutes and we need to get into position. Ingmar’s fully informed about my slightly spastic condition and I can tell he’s not sure if I can still do this. I give him a thumbs up and start up the rope.

By the time the camera crews arrive, we’re both up on the platform with our feet dangling down. The cameras focus in as Ingmar rappels down the rope. I stay up in the tree. The CH TV guy comes over with a microphone and battery pack and attaches them to the end of the rope. I haul the rope up and clip the mike to my coat collar. The reporter calls her questions up to me and I shout back down at her, forgetting about the mike.

The reporters and cameras finally leave and I’m alone up in the tree. The platform is a pair of four by eight foot plywood sheets reinforced with two by fours. It looks like a raft on the open ocean. Ropes and rigging are everywhere and the white tarps billow in the wind like sails. The plywood planks are not quite level and they creak and sway as I move around.

It’s a two-room platform: one plank is the bedroom, with a tiny tent nailed to it. The other serves as the living room (a folding chair) and kitchen (a camp stove and a pot). The bathroom is a bucket hanging below the tree-sit. Everything is lashed down or clipped in, but things fall overboard anyway: two pens, my lighter, the lid to my thermos.

I’m tied to the tree on a ten-foot leash tethered to my harness that stays on every moment, even when I’m sleeping. The thing wraps itself around my legs every time I turn around and threatens to knock small untethered objects off the platform.

I’m afraid of falling. Everyone is; people are hardwired that way. Even though I have total confidence in the platform and the safety line, that giddy feeling comes and goes, especially when I’m moving around close to the edge or getting ready to descend down the rope.

There’s a constant wind up here and the roar of traffic is louder. Through the trees to the south I can just make out a bare knoll and the entrance to the Langford Cave, a 40-meter-long karst cavity that draws cavers from all over the region.

The Songhees First Nation named this place Spaet Mountain. The city of Langford calls it Skirt Mountain. The developer has re-named it Bear Mountain to go along with the marketing of their resort and property sales.

A pileated woodpecker flies into the grove of dead snags next to the platform and lands on a trunk at eye level. It hammers away at the wood for a few moments and then swoops over the trail and up a rotten stump. A hummingbird zips by, flashing green. The forest floor is carpeted with trillium and lilies.

As night falls, the traffic dies down and the frogs start up. The tree sways slightly in the wind and the thrushes sing their evening songs. I crawl into the tiny tent and curl up in my sleeping bag, tugging at the tether every time I turn over. Waking up in the middle of the night, I hear an owl hooting.

Thursday morning, the sun is rising through the trees and a winter wren is scolding me nearby. I crawl out of my cocoon, bleary-eyed, and go through the routine of making a pot of tea, taking a shit in the bucket, rolling a cigarette and surveying the forest. I feel wonderful.

People come to visit: local supporters, more journalists, and curious neighbours. Food donations are piling up under a tarp Ingmar tied up for a base camp. The food has to be dealt with because there are raccoons (and possibly bears) in the area, so I haul it up to the platform and make a space in a gear bag for cans of soup, noodles, oatmeal, and cookies.

Cheryl Bryce, the lands manager for the Songhees First Nation, stops by to lend her support and videotape the tree-sit. She’s disturbed that some members of the band council are supporting the development rather than voting to protect the environmental values of their traditional territory. I come down the rope and we chat for a half an hour.

The clouds gather and an icy wind picks up. I go to bed early, snuggled down in the bottom of the sleeping bag with an extra fleece blanket.

Friday dawns with threatening clouds. Then a threatening little man with a mustache: the lands manager for the Provincial Capitol Commission. He’s been sent to determine whether I’m on PCC land, and to grumble at me about the commission’s liability if someone gets hurt and sues them. I promise I won’t hurt anybody and I won’t sue anybody. He suggests if I’m trespassing, he may get the police involved. I invite him to the salmon barbecue scheduled for later tonight. He studies me for a minute without responding and then marches off into the forest with his maps in hand.

I don’t know if he’ll call the police, but even if they show up, they won’t be able to arrest me because I’m sixty feet up in a tree. The RCMP in Vancouver has a special climbing team for these kind of situations, but it takes a few days to assemble. I contemplate the legal implications of criminal trespass charges and court injunctions.

Later: I’m bored, so I use my borrowed cell phone to call the developers’ head office. Bear Mountain Resort and Bear Mountain Properties are the forces behind this project and I figure it’s only polite to introduce myself. But it seems no one is available on this Friday afternoon, not even a receptionist, so I leave a cheery message in the general mailbox describing the wildlife in the area and inviting them all to the salmon barbecue.

The rain holds off, miraculously. At dinnertime, three dozen tree-huggers are gathered around a small campfire devouring barbecued salmon, roasted weiners, mashed potatoes, and bags of fruit and cookies. Mary Vickers, a Nuxalk Nation woman from Bella Bella, provided the salmon, and she gets us all to join hands while she says a prayer to the spirits and the ancestors to bless our work here. Ingmar stands up on a stump and lays out the plan: seven people are needed to take charge of the tree-sit for one day a week. Each person would either sit in the tree for twenty-four hours or find another person to do it. He’ll provide the training.

By Saturday, I’m a little weary of the tiny platform, the harness, and the shit bucket. My legs and arms are shaky from climbing up and down the rope. I’m longing for a hot shower and a soft bed. But still I sit for hours mesmerized, staring out into the forest, listening to the birds, and feeling my senses expand to the limit of hearing and vision.

On Sunday morning, the relief shift arrives. Keith lives nearby and he has no idea how to climb a tree, but he’s willing to learn and Ingmar’s willing to teach him. I rappel down for the last time. My man Dan is there to give me a ride home.

I don’t want folks to get the idea that I’m some kind of action hero. I’m retired from all that now. This was just a one-time special event – more of a vacation than an action; more of a cameo than a comeback. I joked with the folks watching me climb that I’m living proof: almost anyone can do this shit. And it’s true – the biggest obstacle is conquering the fear of falling, the fear of failing, the fear of powerlessness. The campaign is just now beginning, but folks are digging in for the long haul. Cheers to the Spaet Mountain defenders!

12 comments:

HUMBOLDT FOREST DEFENSE said...

You are awesome! It is also a lot harder than it looks to squat over a bucket. A recycled toilet seat modified with "L" brackets to fit the outside lip of the bucket works great. Much love to all forest defenders! Keep up the great work. E-mail anytime if you need help/advice/inspiration.
jmuskratnorcal@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

I am a Langford resident who fully supports this action.

It was great chatting with you guys at green drinks last night!

THANK YOU so much, for having the courage to stand up for our environment, and for defending the lands of our native brothers.

jorden said...

Wow - you guys are impressive. Keep up the good work!

Sarah said...

I hope all is well at the sit. I miss you all and the forest very much.
Much love & rage.

erin said...

I arrived on this site via adbusters magazine, and had no idea that there has been a tree sit taking place all year. I'm studying in Vancouver but my parents live in Langford so I still consider it home. I barely recognize the town when I visit. Good old blue collar white trash Langford has long been the butt of every Victoria joke and probably needed some development but I'm appalled by how it is taking place. It's like the developers live in some mythical dimension where global warming doesn't exist and there is no such thing as a problem you can't shop your way out of. They've intentionally created a car dependent community where people live in their generic McMansions and drive their SUV's to a dozen different big box stores. From what I've seen on Bear Mountain it seems like there has been no attempt to work with the ecology and produce sustainable development, just to pave over everything and make sure the sterile, generic houses which I'll never afford are big enough to accomodate expanding waistlines. My old neighborhood is flooded with deer with no place left to go. It's not all bad I guess, there is a free trolley and it's nice to see the new little businesses which seem to be thriving in downtown Langford. And yeah, I know I'm hypocritically not involved in your protest because I'm caught up in my big city life, but I still think that the Bear Mountain development is a repugnant travesty and it breaks my heart.

Thank you for all your hard work and sacrifice.

wretchederin@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work!

Nick said...

the rally was great! keep up the great work guys

sarahsunflower said...

i visited the tree sit in july, and all you people are fabulous :) you really are brave strong people. Thankyou for caring so much..

april said...

oh, my spirit is with you--all of you who are participating in this action. do not forget to follow your breathe and remember that it is all a state of mind and a state of being. calm, slow determination is all it ever takes...and a non-attachment to the results. whatever they may be, the important thing is how youŕe doing what youŕe doing.

peace,

che

Anonymous said...

The whole character of the Langford Bear Mountain disaster is further draining the lifeblood away from Victoria's core itself. The proliferation of big box stores and hotels in Langford is helping to empty out business from Downtown which is now becoming a high crime area. Further, the development is putting a strain on our local services like water and highway systems. Why should the rest of Victoria have to pay just so a group of developers and petty Langford politicans can get their egos stroked? The Langford Mayor and Council is incredibly selfish in that he expects the entire region and city to pay for these egomanic type megaprojects wrecking the wilderness and increasing the strain on CRD services. Langford should be kicked out of the CRD and forced to rely on its own damn water. Once the interchange becomes operational, it will cause even more traffic back-ups on Route 1 and guess what? The taxpayer will end up paying for another interchange or highway widening just for this disaster. The story behind Bear Mountain is based on revenge and betrayal. Len Barrie wrongfully cut down trees on private property that was not his to cut (the Royal Colwood Golf Club) and was as a result kicked out of the Club. Since then, he has been driven by revenge, bitterness and greed to create his new private playground and cut down more trees - which were the property of the people of the province and the local First Nation. It is time this fellow is stopped before he ruins more greenspace and kills more trees. Good luck and please stop Len!

Anonymous said...

It's great to protest, but when money is involved, protest alone does very little or nothing at all. I suggest a lifestyle change, leave the cities, nurture a piece of land, cultivate it, protect it, that way less energy would be used, less garbage produced and of course no one will ever build a highway on your property. Some may argue that land is expensive but not if you go commune and split with other environmentalists alike yourself, real change has to be revolutional, protest alone is nothing but a mere complaint. We can do better!

Anonymous said...

I'm a student in the ninth grade at dunsmuir middle school and me and my friend are apaled at wat is happend ing to langford , sure we needed a bit of new housing but isnt BC known for its beautiful land and wildlife. we are trying to get our friends to realize this as well and its working a bit. we are doing a school projecton it and trying to speak out as teens , by the time we have kids there will be no land left for them to enjoy as we did when we were young. my grandmother is in the bulding industry and I'm going against some ppl in my family whne I say STOP THE BUILDING but its the truth !