Seeking The Great Silence, Landscapes Of Vancouver Island
M A R K B R E N N A N
Seeking The Great Silence, Landscapes Of Vancouver Island And Other Work
November 14th – December 3rd 2014
Argyle Fine Art, Barrington Street Halifax
1559 Barrington St, Halifax, NS B3J 1Z7
DOWNLOAD Exhibition catalog, Seeking The Great Silence.
In May I returned from a trip to the West Coast and specifically Vancouver Island, a place I have wanted to go for many years. What attracted me were its trees, ancient ones. Some of the old growth forests of the region date back 800 years. I have wanted to stand within those cathedrals of life and soak in their wisdom for as long as I can remember.
In his book, Reflections From The North Country, guide and wilderness advocate, Sigurd Olson talks about, the great silence. Anyone who has spent more than a few days in a wilderness setting will know if they have heard ‘the great silence’. Olson calls it ‘ancient overlapping silences’, those sounds that we come to know subconsciously, something from within the realms of our own evolution that settles us, that evokes gentle feelings of calm and knowing, I went to Vancouver Islands ancient forests to seek this great silence within myself.
As the West Coast drifts into memories, it is interesting to explore what thoughts and experiences are staying with me long term. They vary from camping overnight in an ancient forest in Strathcona Provincial Park. Waking up there one morning in my one man tent to the sound of the dawn chorus, seeing the hanging mosses, a tapestry of patterns over low lying limbs and the massive trunks of ancient trees lying prone nearly 2 meters wide, new young trees taking their place. Night was also special looking up through the canopy, stars puncturing the sky, tiny pin pricks, and the tops of one almost hundred meter trees black against the blue of the universe.
Other memories include seeing an old Cedar tree in the Clayoquot Sound area where a part of its bark had been harvested by First Nations peoples, the way they would also have done here on the East Coast with the Birch. Or eating lunch on a remote bridge whose significance I didn’t realize until I made it home. The bridge was the clashing point between advocates for wilderness protection and the Logging Companies in the 1980’s; here I learned that a thousand people had been arrested to keep Clayoquot Sound from being felled.
One memory of a day in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park keeps coming back. At the parking area I was met with a wonderful soundscape floating down from huge trees. Entering into the forest there was a drop in temperature passing from the sunlit parking area to the cool damp gloom, I was in a rich abundant ecosystem, rich mosses, a carpet of ferns waving in the breeze, plants I had never seen before and long slender trunks reaching skyward, finally I had made it!
I walked the curving trail of this forest for a few hundred meters, crossing small streams on well made bridges, pausing frequently to take it all in, every once in a while I could smell the Pacific Ocean, a hint of salt in the air. Soon enough I began to see huge shapes, fern covered, pushing up out of the forest floor, they were a meter or more wide and perhaps two or even three meters high, earthy and dark, covered in moss, some had trees growing from them. What I was seeing was ancient tree stumps scattered all through this second growth forest.
Juan de Fuca Provincial Park was the place where the ancient and the present came together, a young forest where once stood an ancient forest, those decaying ghosts of stumps connecting me to something just as old within; they were portals into the past. We can feel this connection to our past in oceans, lakes, mountains, rivers, prairie, old growth forests, the sound of bird song, wilderness travel, even campfire smoke, all of these and many more experiences giving us a glimmer into our animal selves. It is a feeling of comfort and calm, we become open and mindful, less anxious, less fear, more aware and full of a quiet joy. It is no accident we flock to nature during vacations and time off, it is where we belong, where we came from, where we are most at ease.
The landscape near Port Renfrew was my first experience of the old growth forests of the West, unfortunately they were ancient tree stumps, but it was to get better. Later on, not far up the coast, I discovered Loss Creek, a tiny patch of untouched forest that had somehow survived. This was such a profound moment, to connect and experience at last, a living ancient womb. Many of the works for the show have come from my explorations of Vancouver Island, I have kindled something inside, something I can only express in paint. It is October now, and I am already aching to return.