Island Earth

If this is your land, where are your stories? —Gitksan elder

Preamble Island Earth is an untrammelled tract of forest land running west of Edgewood Blue, 2 km on a side. For me this water-girt blank spot on the map of Canada has become a landscape of the mind, my mind: a place I have gradually called into being in the simple act of naming it, its multiple moods and salient features. After two decades of this – of cross-linking its names into a personal mythology – I nowadays walk Island Earth in a spirit like one returning home after long absence. Island Earth is an extension of myself, a place I would defend against harm even as one defends oneself.

First Approximation


sland Earth. Here stands Thunderstone and here rises Lonely Tower. Here towers Cathedras and here the Weirding Hills pose their riddle to the wanderer. Here walks Sunrise Ridge and here descends Castle Stair. Here rise the waters of Everwell, Everspring, and Oromondo everflowing, and here flows Snowborn River, and here too the Falls of Wind and Moondown draw attention to themselves.

Here on Island Earth gapes the double-mouthed maws of Chrome and Lava Canyons. Here opens the North Window and here Ravenfall descends. Here linger Midnight Marsh in moonlight and Dismal Swamp at high noon. Here lurks the menace of Spectre Wood and here walks baleful Harkayee. And here too stretches World’s End at the end of the day.

Heart Pond in Island Earth by Trevor Goward

Tolkien tells us that Middle Earth began with a map; for such was Tolkien’s genius that he could weave an entire world on a loom of air.

What can I tell you? All my life I yearned for a place where I could be at home somewhat in the way a tree puts down roots. All my life, to my fiftieth year, I felt the palpable absence of such a place – a feeling like a brooding presence. Is this the price we pay for membership in a dislocated European culture that, having been transplanted to a foreign land, steadfastly refuses to unpack its bags and be at home? Perhaps.

For now, however, I must tell you a story.

I’m a late riser and have always been. On 11 September 2001, I rose late to a sun-dusted autumn morning of dissipating mist down by the pond. There was a Mule Deer in the potato patch as I recall, and three messages on the answering machine.

The first message was from Carla, who wanted me to know that something terrible had happened earlier that morning: “Better check it out,” she said. The second message was from Dave: “Better turn on the radio,” he suggested. The third message was from Ken. “Better enjoy this day,” he warned. “Who knows if we’ll still be here tomorrow.”

Point taken. So, I walked over to the kitchen counter, cleaned up last night’s dishes, swept the floor, took out the compost. Then I unplugged the radio and stowed it away in the spare bedroom. Less temptation. Finally, crack of noon, I grabbed my jacket, pocketed some cheese and sunflower seeds, and headed out the door and across the pond for a very long walk in the woods. When I returned, some time after dark, the world was still mercifully intact, yet something there was that had changed forever.

The terrible event of 11 September 2001 cost 2996 civilian American lives, setting off a geopolitical shock wave that reverberates to this day. But unbeknownst to itself, it also set off another kind of shock wave, triggering my long love affair with a tract of wild land just west of here; though whether this was sheer coincidence or some obscure confection of cause and effect – carpe deim and such – I’ve never been able to decide. Still, there it is: the day the greatest power the earth has ever known awoke to its own mortality was the day I began walking Island Earth almost daily, as I have continued to do ever since. As for the radio, it keeps its own council next to my high school yearbooks.

Map of datapoints recorded in Island Earth
Datapoints recorded on Island Earth to 2015

Should a cartographer some day see fit to delineate Island Earth on one of those 1:250,000 government maps sold at Info Centres everywhere, the outcome would be a roundish spot about 2 km in diameter – a roundish blank spot mind you, for Island Earth even at that scale has none of the usual cartographic distinctions: no roads, no public houses, no notable waterways, no topographic features worth mentioning, no anything. It is, on the map, just one among millions of uncounted blank spaces that distinguish the map of Canada from, say, its counterpart just about anywhere else.

A map, of course, necessarily obscures more than it reveals, much being lost in translation. In the case of Island Earth, the loss is very great indeed.

Picture a valley, a broad, steep-walled mountain valley cloaked in aspen, birch, pine, fir, cedar and hemlock. Now let this valley be infilled by volcanic outpourings, so that its surface becomes, in fact, a volcanic plateau perched hundreds of metres above the level of the valley’s true floor – a valley within a valley.

Next bury this valley floor under glacial ice 1.5 km thick, then subtract the glaciers and overburden it with glacial till, plump it with moraines and kames and eskers, strew it with tumbled boulders the size of dog-faced bears, and dot it with swamps, fens, bogs, kettles, ponds, spring-fed marshes – some fetching in season, as when the Sandhill Crane is abroad or the Trembling Aspen smiles its autumnal lemon-coloured smile.

Now score the valley floor with gullies, ravines, gorges, pocket canyons and, at its western limits, the great generous maw that is Lava Canyon. Then circumscribe a small portion of it with four encircling waterways with names like Snowborn and Chrome rivers, Springborn Creek and Fifty Springs.

Finally, allow this valley, remarkable in our time, to preserve into the 21st century the same essential wildness the first peoples encountered when they first set foot here many millennia ago. And there you have it: Island Earth.

My love affair with Island Earth began, as I have said, in time of crisis, and so in crisis it has continued. Henry Thoreau went to the woods to front only the essential facts of life … and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. For my part, I went there for reasons peculiar to the darkening mood of our time: partly to think about the nature of cause and effect, partly to ponder the nature of nature, but mostly to infer what I could about the underlying regularities that shape the emerging order of things; for it behoves us, in time of epochal change, to scrutinize our assumptions, question the stories we tell one another about the world and our place in it, and finally, if it is given, to scratch beneath the surface for some new stories to tell.

May Island Earth be always with you —Trevor

Next up: Willder Trails