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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nostalgia2 - Life in the Highlands

No, I don't mean the ScottishHighlands. I mean the district in North Vancouver, Canada called the Highlands. It sits on either side of Highland Boulevard which runs straight up the slope just below Grouse Mountain.

We moved in there when I was 9. That would make it about 1950. The whole area was second growth forest; Hemlock, cedar and fir trees that two people could just get their arms around and there was only one other house visible from where we lived. Highland Boulevard was a dirt track. We lived on the corner of Leovista which was just two roads below the top of the district and from there upwards there was nothing but forest. We found the traces of the original logging. There were partially rotted tree stumps with the notches still visible where the old loggers had jammed their spring boards to stand on while they felled these giants. And they were giants. I was smaller then but I would guess that it would take at least 5 adults holding hands to go around the trunk at chest level. There were also traces of the skid roads; small logs placed cross-wise along a path, often in a stream that they used to slide the logs out.

The real beauty of the area, though was found a block and a bit to the east of Highland boulevard. We called it Mosquito creek but I don't think I ever saw a mosquito there. It was a clear stream that flowed winter and summer regardless of rainfall, swelling a bit in the winter and spring with the heavy rains and snow melt and shrinking a bit in the summer, but always flowing. It ran from pond to pond all the way down from Grouse Mountain with trees on both sides draping their branches into the water. As kids we used to get a stick and string and a carefully guarded hook and with an earth worm or two from the garden, we could usually bring home a trout for mom to fry for lunch.

Further up along the stream was an old (to our young eyes) hermit who had a lovely little cabin beside the stream. He lived in a clearing on the west side of the stream and he had installed a water wheel where the water flowed from one pond to the next. I don't think the wheel did anything useful but he just liked the look of it turning around as the water poured over it. He was a nice fellow and we used to sit with him and talk and he would tell us about the area in 'the old days'. I think he might have been one of the loggers that simply liked the area and decided to stay on.

That's all changed now. The first change came when RKn and his gang found the old man's cabin when he was away visiting his daughter. They totally trashed it and then in final paroxysm of creativity, lit what was left on fire. We never saw our friend again. He must have come back when we weren't there, seen the destruction and lost heart. I always liked to think he may have found a place with his daughter.

Then a developer decided to clear fell all the area above the Highlands to prepare it for a huge housing development. That winter wasn't especially rainy but 5 metres of rain a year, mostly in the winter, is a lot of rain and there were no trees to left to hold the water and let it out slowly. It roared down mosquito creek taking out a wide swath of trees on both sides and turning that necklace of shady ponds into a boulder bed. Over the next few years the destruction continued. One year the stream jumped its banks and moved to the west a couple of hundred metres and went down what must have once been its stream bed. Only it was now a street with houses on both sides. By the time the water had gone down, the road was gone along with all the soil around the houses and the whole area was bed of boulders. Now in the summer the stream hardly flows any more and eventually just below where a small foot bridge crosses over from the Highlands to Delbrook, they built a cement tunnel to take the stream down to the sea. I haven't been back in a long time now. I often hoped as the housing area grew trees and lawns, the run off might come under control again but a housing estate has a lot of paved surfaces so its unlikely.

I wish my boys could have seen it the way it was. Even the way I saw it was not in its pristine state. The original old loggers must have thought they were in paradise and by the time I first saw the area, a great forest had grown up again. That is the problem with memory. You only remember back to your younger days. Collective memory is rare. Black and white photography helped when it came along and black and white is quite durable. Colour photographs tend to fade and despite their greater appeal when they are new, they are soon hard to even look at. Now we have computers and digital cameras. How quickly do photos stored on modern computers disappear. If you stored your information on those cardboard enveloped disks we used to call floppies you would have trouble finding a computer now to read them and stiffies will soon go the same way. I bet it won't be long before compact disks will be replaced by something else and if you have not re-stored your photos each time a new medium comes along, they will be lost. Its a bit sobering to think that we can still read clay tablets from 5000 years ago and get an insite into the culture of the people that wrote them but our civilization may dissapear except for the foundations of our buildings.

There is an interesting parallel here in New Zealand. After a 14 year battle the first small marine reserve was set aside. It wasn't long until it was just chock-a-block with fish, lobsters, shellfish and all the other organisms that should be there. To someone used to the rest of the sea, it seems like a miracle but as some people point out, this is no more or less than the way it was before man started to exploit it. This is the "norm' - the yardstick against which other areas should be judged. Great great grandad saw it this way. He could scoop a fish out of the water with a hand net. Great grandfather could collect a boat full with a rod and line in an hour. Grandad could easily catch a fish if he had an hour to spare and dad tells about the big ones he caught after a day of fishing. Each generation only remembers what it was like at the beginning of his own life. This is one of the main purposes of no-use reserves, whether on land or sea. Without them we have no measure of what was and what could be.

I wish I could have seen North Vancouver as the first of the first people saw it. It must of been magnificent.

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