Sundews in a bog near Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Balancing Clayoquot Sound

PHOTO: Carnivorous sundews in the Pacific Rim National Park.

A few days after arriving at the sound, I meet up with a local school teacher, and we drive south to the edge of the Pacific Rim National Park, where we walk on a coastal trail through a thick fog.  The fog is so thick that we see almost no details.  We can barely make out the trees; the ocean is just a gray blank canvas, and alI that is revealed to us are the leaves on the trail, and a big, warm, brown pile of chewed berries.

John explains that it's bear poop, and that the bear was here this morning, maybe just 20 minutes ahead of us.  He shows me the bent horsetails where the bear joined the path. 

In a few minutes, we come to another steaming poo.  John looks at it and explains that the bear has diarrhea.

"Must have ate something real bad," he explains, when we arrive at the third giant poo on the trail.  Seeing that we are literally trailing this bear is to understand how close you always are to large mammals here.  Just two days ago, an 18-month boy was walking with family on a trail near a campsite in the Pacific Rim National Forest when a cougar leapt from the forest and sank his fangs in the boy's skull. Cougar attacks are more likely to take place on Vancouver Island than anywhere else in North America.  And the forests around Tofino are teeming with them. 

The pooping bear, explains John, is not a concern.  He says he knows of this individual bear, and that she knows to keep her cubs away from the trails, which makes her no threat.

But as we slip off the trail and onto the fog-shrouded rock beach, John urges caution.  Bears bring their cubs here to sift through the washed-ashore kelp.  "What are they looking for?" I ask.  John lifts the kelp, and tiny bugs spring out.  "They’re training the cubs to find beach fleas under the kelp."

While walking on the beach, John mentions that he had lived in Oregon when he was younger.  "We are the same people,” he offers.  "Oregon and Washington, British Columbia." It is common refrain you hear in British Columbia. 

"But I do notice one thing different, everybody smokes a lot more pot here.  I smell it everywhere!  It's like the scent of Tofino."

"Once, the (national park) warden approached me.  He wanted to know where he could get some marijuana.  I asked him, who is it for?  The police, he said. They can't seem to seem to get it anywhere."

John continues.  "When I was teaching, most of the kids’ dads were on welfare or were very poor fishermen.  But these two kids drove around in brand new trucks.  When they were graduating, they approached me and said, 'I guess you figured out why we have so much money.' I told them I had a pretty good idea.  They replied, ‘But we don't smoke a lot of it, and now we're both going to good colleges, and we can afford it.’ "

We leave the beach, and connect with the forest trail, and wind through old-growth trees, while navigating around steaming bear poo.  John explains that these trees host nesting marbled murrelets.