1. Scouler's willow: Be still and pee
It seemed especially auspicious to receive a call from my friend and mentor, Diana Beresford-Kroeger, on the morning that I was starting my Tracking Giants project. Diana, an internationally acclaimed botanist, is known as the "tree whisperer" for her work propagating rare and endangered tree species around the world. I worked with Diana on her book The Sweetness of a Simple Life. We connected over our mutual love of nature and forest bathing, but also due to being Irish, sharing the same birthday, and generally being open to otherworldly experiences (spooky or switched on, you decide).
I explained my plan to visit all 43 of the Big Trees in BC, and Diana immediately understood the scope and purpose. She advised me to silence my mind when standing in front of the giants. "Get very still with yourself," she said. "Centre the focal point of your mind into the tree and then...tell me how it goes when I see you. If you're still there. See what happens."
With that advice in mind, I headed off to visit the first tree on my list, a Scouler's willow near Jericho Beach in Vancouver.
Head just north of the West Point Grey Community Centre, beyond the low crenellated wall, and there is a grove of willows. The largest is tree 308, a Scouler's willow with a circumference of 2.16 m and a height of 10.7 m.
The Scouler's willow is similar to the more popular weeping willow, though its leaves appear shorter and its branches do not drape as low, at least in the instance of these trees in Point Grey, which have likely been pruned within an inch of their life.
The tree was nominated as a giant by Mary Jewell in 2006, and verified by Ralf Kelman in the same year. There is a tree of similar size beside it, so I had to guesstimate which one was larger. Note to self: bring a tape measure next time.
I wasn't quite sure if this tree was the giant I was tracking, as it wasn't all that big. I quickly realized that the largeness of a tree is related to its species (they can't all be the size of a Western red cedar); and that, generally speaking, I don't know my willows from my chestnuts. I am fairly sure I found the right tree, but this one might also be a corkscrew maple ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Please let me know by commenting on this post. One of the goals of the Tracking Giants project is to increase my knowledge of trees in general. If it's not the Scouler's willow from the list, I'll go back and look again.
I tried to silence my mind and meditate on what the tree was telling me, but I really had to pee, as seems necessary every 20 minutes. I briefly paid my respects to this beautiful giant and then headed into the community centre to find a washroom.
Diana is heading to Vancouver next week to lead a forest walk and screen her newest film, Call of the Forest. We're planning to meet for a walk and hopefully visit another giant on the BC Champions list. The beauty of meeting in the forest rather than in the middle of swanky Vancouver is that you can pee more easily, leaving your mind open to connecting on a lignum plane. Be still and know, then make a beeline for the bush.
Scouler's Willow (Salix scouleriana Barratt ex Hook), West Point Grey Community Centre grounds near Jericho Beach, Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish territories (Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh)