I am as my creator made me
and since he is satisfied,
so am I.
– Minnie Smith
This image was taken at Tofino Botanical Gardens, on Vancouver Island’s wild and wonderful west coast. Its twelve acres are a celebration of life in all its vibrant diversity, encompassing gardens, rain forest, and shoreline. Following a boardwalk path, my husband Tom and I were enveloped in the verdant surroundings, and led from one enchanting cul-de-sac to the next, each presenting a magical surprise.
In his introduction to the Garden’s Field Guide, director George Patterson says: “The major benefit of gardening is that it encourages humility. Much of the ‘grand scheme’ I started with in 1997 has been left behind in the mud, sweat and tears. Now, I will be a happy man if the Cardiocrinum giganteum (Giant Himalayan Lily) continue to flower. The idea of this garden is that it can be both a kind of basic introduction to the natural and cultural history of Clayoquot Sound, and a place where the relationship between culture and nature can be explored.”
Tom and I ventured into the forest, where clearings had been transformed into a series of pocket gardens. Some of these gardens displayed plants that once thrived in other coastal temperate rainforests around the world. Others celebrated the various cultural groups that have made Clayoquot Sound their home now and in the past, particularly the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, early pioneer homesteaders, Japanese fishing families, and Hippies. And still other tucked-away corners sported a wide variety of sculptures that included a psychedelic mural on an old VW bus, a copper cougar with a verdigris coat that seemed ready to pounce, an immense primitive totem head, an elegant gray wooden heron posing in the reeds of a lily pond, and a wire humanoid stationed at a desk with a rusted typewriter.
The sculpture depicted in the photograph above is by Michael Dennis, a sculptor based on Denman Island, off the eastern shore of Vancouver Island. Tofino Botanical Gardens currently displays sixteen of his pieces. Describing his inspiration and process, Michael said:
“Much of my work addresses ancestors. If we look back far enough, our ancestors lived in caves. They were much like us, less the technological niceties: they ate and slept, laughed and argued, sang and danced or stood quietly by the fire. The firelight cast shadows of their lives on the walls. I try to sculpt those shadows.
These figures are created by selecting cedar trunks which by their twist and curve carry some implication of humanity. These forms I then accentuate by judicious sculpting of the wood, being ever careful as I remove material to retain some of the natural forms of the trees of origin in the final shapes. By this I hope that the viewer may see not only the intended human gestures, but also some of the gestures of the trees from which they derive. In this sense the figures are also ancestors of trees; they acknowledge the majesty of large trees.”
Eileen Floody of Tofino Botanical Gardens reeled off a lyrical litany of just some of the trees found here, the names of each evocative of wonderful smells and strange shapes: “There are about half dozen or so evergreen tree species which dominate Clayoquot Sound–Western red cedar and yellow cedar, Douglas fir, hemlock, shore pine, white pine, western yew and Sitka spruce.”
“Ferns abound, with the most frequent being bracken fern, deer fern, sword fern and licorice fern,” she continued. “As you might imagine, flowers and other small plants are too many to list, but most obvious here are bunchberry, swamp lantern—or skunk cabbage, false lily-of-the-valley, lupines, fireweed, foxglove and horsetail. Mosses, lichens and moss-like plants also abound, with a frequent one being usnea which lives on tree branches, especially alder.”
Of birdlife she says: “We see them all go through here at one time or another, as the Tofino Mudflats Wildlife Management Area is an important feeding station for migratory birds. Year round we see bald eagles, blue herons, along with smaller birds such as Stellar’s jays, woodpeckers, and kingfisher. Migrating birds are many and various, with the shorebirds being the most prominent: snow geese, lots more ducks, plovers, sandpipers, sanderling, dunlin and whimbrels. On the water, cormorants, oystercatchers, ducks, grebes and loons are here for most of the year, bur wander widely for food.”
Charles McDiarmid, Managing Director of the “Wick,” as Tofino”s Wickanninish Inn is affectionately referred to, grew up in Tofino. He spent much of his boyhood on the water, exploring Clayoquot Sound on a 12-foot aluminum boat with a nine horsepower motor. On one excursion, he and a pal found themselves fogged in on the west side of Vargas Island. Although the teens were supposed to be home by dark, they had no choice but to pull ashore, build a fire, and settle in for the night. It was an early lesson in acceptance for McDiarmid, one he has come to see often bears gifts.
“I learned I have to go along with what Mother Nature is delivering, not necessarily what is on my program,” he chuckled. “But while the ocean can sometimes separate us, it also joins us.”
“When just the right kind of storm came up, with the tides and winds perfectly aligned, we’d get up at high tide, sometimes at 3:00 a.m. and beach comb for glass floats used by Japanese fisherman to hold up their nets,” he continued. “The green balls were hand-blown and wrapped in rope, and a huge treasure along our rocky coast, as the only place they would wash ashore unscathed were on the few stretches of hard packed sand of Chesterman and Long Beach.”
I came across the treasure of a quote captioning today’s photo, attributed to Minnie Smith, and was intrigued by her plain-spoken self-acceptance. Alas, Minnie has remained a mystery to me. Despite finding the citation in multiple locations, in each case, there was no context, no dates, no bio. I ask anyone who may know more than I do to share your knowledge of Minnie.
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