Saturday, May 19, 2018

Interpreting Belcarra.

I led a walk in Belcarra Regional Park last week.  It was for a group of seniors, a trek around Sasamat Lake and, after a lunch break, a shorter trek around Woodhaven Swamp.  Both of these walks are relatively short and easy, and full of pretty things.  A one hour drive through Vancouver's eastern suburbs brings you to the Land of Banana Slug and Sasquatch.

False azalea, Menziesia ferruginea.

I hadn't walked either trail for at least a decade.  I think my last time there was with our son, who was about 8 or 9. That visit had been after another long absence, probably also close to a decade.  In the 1990s, I was very familiar with the trails of Belcarra.  I worked there as a park interpreter for the (then called) Greater Vancouver Regional District.  During that employment I worked in 15 of the 22 or so GVRD parks, which included a wide variety of habitats, from mudflat to mountainside, open marsh to deep, dark forest, but Belcarra was one of my more frequent haunts, and certainly one of the most beautiful.

Name tag, occasionally worn.

Know this: I had not wanted to by an interpreter.  It was a last ditch job, a plan C or D or whatever comes after Z.  I had been sending out my c. v. to every potential employer in the region and beyond to whom my hard-earned credentials, knowledge, and experience might be valuable.  There was a glut of people like me though, and post-secondary institutions weren't hiring very many of us. 

It was one of the hardest times of my life, struggling to find a foothold in this province.

Bigleaf maple,  Acer macrophyllum

I found interpretation dispiriting--the repetition, the exhaustion, the lack of respect from superiors, who treated interpreters as interchangeable and expendable.  The pay reflected this.  Most of the programs were for school groups, which, if the teachers were ill-prepared or lazy, could be very trying.  Take these 15 distracted grade threes into the woods for two hours, teach them something meaningful, and don't lose any of them.

I have to admit that it was nice working outside in what approached wilderness--when it wasn't raining,which it usually was, but really, if anything made the work tolerable it was the other interpreters. I was in my mid-thirties, finished with university in every way--and bitter about it--while most of the others were bright-eyed undergraduates, hoping to get into teachers' college.  Despite the pay and lack of respect they were hard-working, kind-hearted, and often hilarious.

 Bigleaf maple,  Acer macrophyllum, spectacular flowers.

Only later would I realize other rewards from my time as an interpreter, what at the time had seemed a form of purgatory or exile.  Apart from providing material for the Interpreter Stories and The Jesus of the West (much of which really happened), interpretation had also provided, drip by drip, a new and valuable layer of education, thickening like moss on a limb, a slow understanding of  the flora and fauna of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

I was an easterner from southern Ontario who had spent the previous decade studying reptiles in far-flung places, but after two years as a GVRD Park Interpreter could identify most of the biota of the 15 parks I had worked in.  I had memorized talk-loops that went with numerous species, and  still retain them, twenty years later.

 Bigleaf maple,  Acer macrophyllum, and moss.

Twenty years.  I left the GVRD in 1998.  A house, children. Employment expanded and diversified and I started to feel that this province was my home.

I thought I was done with interpretation, but several years ago received a call from someone who had obtained my name from a former coworker.  Would I be interested in leading a bird walk?

Not really, but okay.

Branches of western hemlock. Tsuga heterophylla.

One walk led to another, and another. and now I find myself back in the middle of it, well into my fifties, walking the same trails I walked in my thirties.  Most of the programs are with seniors, and I enjoy listening to their stories, their experiences, their memories of this fast-changing place.  Several have become friends. 

Nurse stump. (Western hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla, growing on stump of long-ago harvested western redcedar, Thuja plicata.) 

Belcarra Park, memory-maker, I'll be back soon.  (Sooner than 10 years.) 


Tim said...

There aren't too many things in this world where we can say, "this was just as I remembered it, 20 years ago." Natural history - one of the only types of blogs that won't ever seem dated.

Hugh Griffith said...

Yes, Tim. Nature abides. As people tire of Facebook and other multi-blip social media, perhaps some will return to old-time blogging. I admire those, such as Susannah, who have maintained a constant, thoughtful blogging output over the past decade.