Hope Hill Cedar, Salt Spring Island

Hope Hill Cedar

From Isabella Road turn right onto Musgrave Road as you drive up Musgrave you will pass Hope Hill Farm and then Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm followed by Falcon Farm. Just past Falcon Farm you will come to fork in the road – Dubois to the left is paved, Musgrave Road continues to the right onto a gravel road. Follow this gravel road until you reach a large red sign, that reads No Fires, high in a tree on the right side of the road. Park here and cross the road and walk back the way you’ve just come up, keep an eye out for the small yellow Hope Hill Trail Head 1 sign that is attached to a Douglas Fir tree at the start of a trail that will gently lead you up into the trees from the road. When you reach the first fork in the trail turn left and follow the trail until you reach the Cedar grove.

The day was unseasonably hot when I started my journey to Hope Hill and it was a relief to enter the cool forest from the hot dusty gravel road. Each step reminded me of the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, translated as ‘forest bathing’. I love the smell of the forest and have long wished I could bottle the scent so that I could share it with others. Recent research has identified the smell that trees secrete as a chemical known as phytoncides. Phytoncides are antimicrobial compounds produced by plants that helps prevent them from rotting or being eaten by animals or insects. This special tree scent can help to improve forest bathers immune systems as well as aid in reducing stress and anxiety.

Walking up the path I intuitively turned left at the first fork on the trail and followed it as it slowly wound it’s way into a large and ancient Cedar grove. There is a special peace and energy when you enter a place where beings have been standing and growing for hundreds of years. For me this feeling is similar to entering a cathedral and the forest has always been my place of worship and awe, a sanctuary. When I found myself among the Cedars I just stopped and stood still. I breathed in the deep forest green as my heart listened. I knew with certainty that this was the spot I’d been lead to. Large swaths of Salal surrounded the majestic Cedars, in the distance a small creek meandered by, glinting in the sunlight.

Salal, with its shiny leaves remains green year round, and is plentiful in the Pacific Northwest. The berries are edible, filled with antioxidants, and can be harvested late in the summer. Salal leaves have traditionally been used by First Nations peoples for healing of wounds, burns, coughs and colds as well as digestive issues.

Turning around in a circle I was startled to see a Cedar tree with a blackened and burned out heart. Had there been a fire? a lightning strike? Looking around I could see that the trunk of the Cedar closest to it had also been darkened by fire but the damage was minimal. As I approached the heart-burned Cedar I was astonished at the size of the damage. I stepped inside and easily fit into the heart of the Cedar. The blackened interior reminded me of logs partially burned at a campfire – how was it that this tree was still living? Stepping back out I looked up, the tree stretched many stories tall reaching for the sky. Investigating the burned interior I noticed a deep fissure inside the back wall of the hollowed out tree and was amazed at the depth my fingers moved further into the tree.

Intuitively I began to gather Salal leaves from around the Cedar and in a gesture of healing began rolling the leaves one at a time before slowly inserting them into this fissure. In some places four and five rolled leaves were stacked on top of each other before that portion of the fissure was filled. As I rolled and inserted the leaves I thought about the life of this Cedar and the coincidence of so much Salal growing around its base. I thought of how the area had been logged at one time and how this Cedar may have escaped because it had been too small, or perhaps some logger had also listened to the Tree Song of this Cedar grove and had also recognized its sacredness and heart healing energy.

This ephemeral work will eventually vanish and become integrated back into the site, speaking of our own ephemeral passage through this world, witnessed and supported by the natural world we are so deeply interconnected with.

I invite you to become part of this story and add your own photographs of your journey to the Hope Hill Cedar on Instagram #ssiwayfindingproject