Almanac challenges readers to care about wilderness

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April 1, 2014

Chasing Clayoquot: A Wilderness Almanac

By David Pitt-Brooke

Foreword by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Greystone Books

287 Pages, $14

Reviewed by Quinn MacDonald

When David Pitt-Brooke published Chasing Clayoquot: A Wilderness Almanac, he hoped it would be part of a larger effort that would secure the Clayoquot Sound as a widely treasured and protected place, beyond the grasping hands of industry and development. But, as he reluctantly admits in his note for this edition, “nothing could be further from the truth” (xii).

Logging continues, diseases from salmon farms have led culls in the millions, and in August 2013 Vancouver-based Selkirk Metals began exploratory mining for gold in Clayoquot’s Tranquil Valley, to the chagrin of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, who have declared the area a Tribal Park. After decades of activism, and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation, the Clayoquot’s position remains perilous.

A trained biologist and veterinarian, Pitt-Brooke worked for Parks Canada as an environmental officer in Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and Waterton Lakes before he arrived at the Pacific Rim in 1995. It was love at first sight: “I thought I’d gone to heaven. This is one of those rare places where the storehouse of nature is still full to the brim” (3). But as he watched the tourists come and go too hurriedly, and thought of other nature-lovers who lacked the means to make the trip, he knew more had to be done to share the beauty of “this very special place” (5). With this book, he saw his opportunity to help.

Pitt-Brooke has written for a number of scientific and environmental publications, including Canadian Geographic; in 2002 he received a Canadian Science Writers’ Association Award. Chasing Clayoquot is his first book, and in a 2004 interview with Tofino Time Magazine he revealed that it took seven years to finish the project—making it truly a labour of love. The book brims with scientific and historical information, as you would expect with Pitt-Brooke’s background, and while the meticulous research paints a more complete picture of the landscape, the amount of exposition at times became onerous. It would have been more enjoyable if it were integrated into the engaging personal narrative. Jargon and scientific terms like “desiccation” and “profligate” also could have been better explained or left out (172).

The Almanac structure effectively creates a (compressed) sense of life in the Clayoquot, and the monthly incursions into a surprising variety of microhabitats imbue the book with a deep sense of place. And while a little more editing and guidance might have helped with some instances of cliché and redundancy, his vivid and detailed descriptions, particularly those from the air and sea, capture the wild beauty of the West Coast. At times I found myself transported back to my Granddad’s fishing boat, cruising through the Barkley Sound, with the taste of salt water on my lips and the cry of gulls all around.

Pitt-Brooke feels more whole in the natural environment, but also more responsible: “In wilderness we must take responsibility for ourselves. Or maybe: in wilderness, we’re allowed to take responsibility for ourselves. A rare privilege in these times.” In this time of and murky supply chains, it’s easy to waive responsibility for how our lifestyles degrade the environment on which we ultimately depend. Pitt-Brooke sees these effects first-hand, and wants to share that feeling. This book implicates its readers in the cycle of environmental degradation, but also enlists them as protectors: as you read, you become responsible for the Clayoquot.

Whether you’re familiar with the coast or stuck inland, this book is worth the read. The second edition keeps alive Pitt-Brooke’s dream of bringing the beauty of the Clayoquot to a wider audience, as he reminds us that it will take a constant effort to keep these places timeless and whole.

Quinn MacDonald is an environmental activist and UVic student.

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