One Woman’s Effort to Protect It
by Caroll Simpson
Recovering from the loss of my husband, I found myself in the Canadian wilderness trying to develop and run a fishing lodge off the grid. I was a forty-five year old widow from the city, taking on the dream built by two people. I did this for ten years. During that time I became not only an innkeeper but an angling guide and the chef for a supper-house cruising destination at my lodge.
All the while, I developed an immense passion for flora and fauna. Just walking back and forth on the 300’ dock several times a day, I was exposed to the unbelievable beauty of the northern spectrum of water life: the golden eagle soaring above, the osprey and kingfisher diving and coming up with fish for their hatchlings, the muskrats and otters looking for an easy meal, the tireless beaver working into the late evening sunsets. All of these creatures and more expressed their generational ownership of this small piece of the world. In return each was given my utmost respect and admiration.
These moments built an unknown inner strength. This made it possible for me to maneuver 185 pound propane tanks, gallons and gallons of fuel, groceries, hardware, and supplies into and out of my boat and up the hill to the cabins and lodge. None of this would have been possible without the boundless love developed day after day for all these creatures, the lake, and the woods. As I listened to the loons at the end of each day and the owl and the wolf in the night, I felt blessed to be witnessing such beauty.
With no road access, my commute, either hiking through the unmarked forest or boating along the boreal shores of Babine Lake twenty miles into the wilderness, gave me ample time to delve into the spectacular natural world around me with awe and reverence. My own survival was a constant effort, and it made me see the perils facing the fish, wildlife, and the flora of this beautiful land.
Drawing by Caroll Simpson
Woven within the allure was a hidden responsibility. I was not expecting this and did not understand fully what it would entail. When confronted with a proposed giant mining project 3km away and the resulting modification that threatened this watershed, the powerful instinct of a mother bear entered my being. Fueled with the love generated by my proximity to the wildlife, the lake, and forest, I took on this endeavor with gusto.
The demands made by Mother Nature to protect this world forced me to extend far into my anima exploring every possibility to build my courage and continue. This need increased drastically with numerous, contentious encounters with industrial extractors. Every spare moment was spent researching the affects of an open pit mine and “sustainable” logging practices dictated by the Forest Practice Code. My education to learn everything I could, including the rules, language, and acronyms used in logging and mining, was a priority. For years, I found myself forced to ‘express my concerns’ with the logging licensees and the mining company as well as the assorted government environmental agencies. The forest ecosystems were in great jeopardy!
I had to dredge my mind and research ways to make government officials who are far, far away understand, how important a single wild orchid growing in a northern boreal forest is! These were government officials making gigantic decisions with generational effects.
Such a colossal endeavor should not have been placed on the shoulders of a single person without the time, money, or education to fight government and industry!
It’s easy to look at a proposed cut-block on paper or a colorful map showing the abundance of minerals below the forest floor. But, when I came face to face with massive clear-cuts shedding spring water through freshly carved scars, ending with mud filled plumes spilling into the lake and smothering salmon eggs, I felt a physical pain in my gut. When I heard the squeal and shriek of a single 100 year old tree as it was felled, tears filled my eyes and would not stop. When it was followed by one-hundred more beautiful evergreens, soon to be lifeless logs, tears spilled down my cheeks and wet my pillow night after night.
Here I was alone, deep in the wilderness working hard to build a fishing business. Fighting resource extraction was never something I had ever even thought about in my entire life! But that was exactly where I found myself.
Author in her Boat
Drawing by Caroll Simpson
I realized it was impossible for me not to try and do something. Yes, I was just one person but, I had a voice. Even though it was a very small voice, I had to speak or forever feel the guilt of ignoring my moral responsibility. In some cases, I did make a small but important difference. For instance, instead of a 1,006 hectare clear-cut along the shore-line of Babine Lake, the logging company harvested one third of the forest in pockets, one tree height away from the water’s edge. This gave the animals a place to take cover and travel. I searched for a way to help preserve the environment and was elected to represent Wilderness Tourism to work on a Land Resource and Management Plan. Seven years later, along with fifteen other people at the table, we presented a somewhat descent plan to the British Columbia government in Victoria.
I can now look at a cut-block and the mining site that didn’t happen and know I did the best that I could do with a very small voice facing insurmountable odds. It makes me sad to hear people say, “What can I do, I am just one person?” I thought that before wilderness immersion. But, it is like learning a new language, you don’t know until you try. I now know for a fact, you can make a difference.
Eventually I married a wonderful man who made it possible to enjoy an additional fifteen years running the fishing lodge. One day we woke up to discover we were old. Our chore list got longer and longer. The days became shorter and shorter. We eventually decided to sell the lodge.
This proved to be one of the most difficult decisions I have ever lived through. The wilderness I had called home had become a powerful devotion woven into, around, and through my very soul. When I piloted my small craft over the surface of the lake, twenty miles back to civilization, for the last time . . . I could feel a wretched pull ripping part of me away. When it was gone, the only thing left was a dark empty space, void of the challenges and passion that had consumed my entire being for twenty-five years. I fell into a quagmire of depression.
I had never experienced desolation before. I had never woken to an empty day. Weeks then months went by. Although, I filled a studio with canvas’s and paint, I could not find my space of creativity. The paintbrushes grew dust. I stumbled upon my box of colorfully covered journals written during my first ten years alone. I flipped through the pages as daylight passed and the shadows filled the room. I pulled my old body out of the dusty box to flip on the light before I realized day was done.
Week after week I found myself returning to the box with the colorful journals, taking notes and writing down full stories. Fortunately, much of the pain fighting industry had evaporated, and I didn’t write much about it. Instead, page after page I relived my adventures with family, fishermen, and wildlife and like magic, the deep ache eased. My memories brought tranquillity and shed light into my future. It was like an elixir, and I became obsessed with the memories of the flora and fauna around the shores of Babine Lake. When I got to the bottom of the box, I found my book, Alone in the Great Unknown.
It is strange to have the public read into my private life, but it also brings my greatest adventure alive! Every time I give an author’s presentation it gives me the chance to step into that beloved forest and smell pine and fresh water lilies, catch a glimpse of the moose and grizzlies, relive the colors of the sunsets, and laugh at the shenanigans of the ermine and otter over and over again.