The Han Shan Project: How Poems Saved A Forest

Never let it be said that poetry is stuff of fluff that means nothing, does nothing.  

Over 250 poems (and their scribes) banded together and saved the greater part of McLellan Forest East in Langley; an ancient eco-system that was scheduled for destruction by the city.

I encourage you, dear Readers, to consider art as powerful action and forward movement.  If you ever doubt that, please remember the voice these poems gave to these trees.

Photo Credit: Mark Haddock
Photo Credit: Mark Haddock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is their story:

In October 2012, upon hearing that this eco-system was endangered, local poet Susan McCaslin and her husband, Mark Haddock, (an environmentalist) paid the forest a visit.  They were floored that this land was going to be logged to build townhomes; the sale of these townhomes was to finance a recreation centre in neighbouring Aldergrove – a community that does not want a centre built at the cost of this forest.

What’s so special about McLellan Forest East?  Though it won’t be considered an old-growth forest until about 100 years from now, its 25 acres of deciduous and coniferous forests – home to some endangered species – is nothing to sneeze at.  It is one of a kind in Western Canada and includes such gems as a 450 year old (or older…it hasn’t been ringed yet) Black Cottonwood.

Even B.C.’s Ministry of Environment determined that this land should be designated an ecological park…but because they couldn’t back that up with dollars, this proclamation was ignored by the city councillors.

(The city offered the land to a group called WOLF – Watchers of Langley Forests – if they could raise $2 million in 2 months.)

Susan McCaslin and Mark Haddock knew they needed some serious media attention.  They organized an Art in the Park day featuring artists of all media and garnered some coverage this way.

It also happened that Canadian artist Robert Bateman, deemed one of the top 100 environmental proponents in 1999 by the Audobon Society, was in town at this time.  He immediately responded to Haddock’s call – stating this is the type of thing he lives for – and met the group and press at the park.  Bateman’s involvement and his line “This is the rec centre, right here” turned heads nationally in Langley’s direction.

Robert Bateman in the trees of McLellan Forest Photo Credit: Erin Perry
Robert Bateman in the trees of McLellan Forest
Photo Credit: Erin Perry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not wanting this wave of attention to dissipate, Susan knew they had to come up with something else.  And that’s when inspiration struck. She remembered her undergraduate days of studying the poet/hermit/monk Han Shan who hung poems from trees.  A few emails later to groups of poets spread across this country, Susan collected 250 poems within a 2 week period.  She, her husband and members of WOLF put each poem in a plastic envelope and tied them gently with ribbon to trees, giving them both voice and honour.

Photo Credit: Mark Haddock
Photo Credit: Mark Haddock

We wrote.  They read.  They wept.  And they won’t let this forest go. All eyes are on the city of Langley to do what is right.

At the time of this writing, 60% of McLellan Forest East has been promised by the city to be taken off the market and there is a good chance that the remainder will follow suit!

For more information on what’s happening with McLellan Forest, please visit http://mclellanpark.blogspot.ca/

I got to meet Susan McCaslin and hear her speak this past Saturday evening at the book launch of Penn Kemp’s Jack Layton: Art in Action.  It is always inspiring to step out from behind the computer screen and meet wonderful people in person!

Susan McCaslin and me at the Jack Layton: Art in Action book launch last Saturday!
Susan McCaslin and me at the Jack Layton: Art in Action book launch last Saturday!