The Legacy of Trees: Purposefully Wandering Vancouver’s Stanley Park

Winter on Sea Wall StanleyPark

Winter on the sea wall (Heritage House)

“In the gorgeously colourful fall of 2017, I had a sudden thought: “I live next to Stanley Park, one of the world’s most beloved and best parks. How have I not noticed? Of course I had noticed, but I hadn’t taken that awareness inside. I barely knew the park. I have lived beside this park for twenty-five years. I first saw the crescent beach of English Bay and the storytelling totems in the park in 1961, fifty-nine years ago. Have I been asleep? Can I wake up? Is it time?

If I am going to get to know this park—this Stanley Park—and call it “my park,” I will have to wander it purposefully, path by path, plaque by plaque, monument by monument, rock by rock, tree by tree, blossom by flowering blossom, through every season, and allow its layers of history to seep into me as though it were a living, breathing being.

Actually, it is.

Legacy of Trees Nina Shoroplova

This is how Nina Shoroplova begins her book “The Legacy of Trees” by Heritage House, 2020, a book all about “Purposeful Wandering in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.”

The beautifully laid out 288-page book with colour photos is a feast for the mind and the heart. Although the book provides an excellent human and natural history of the park—from its pre-colonial existence, and logging history, to its creation and uses and description—at its root is an expression of wonder for this natural gem in the middle of a bustling city and a true love of trees.

Shoroplova approaches the forest with the heart of a poet. Her passion for nature—and trees, particularly—lights each page with joyful discovery. Shoroplova brings this passion to Stanley Park, one of Canada’s iconic parks, and one worth both visiting and knowing through many aspects from history to ecology and from forest ecosystem to legacy tree.

Each year, Stanley Park welcomes more than eight million visitors from around the world. In the summer of 2013, Travel & Leisure magazine ranked Stanley Park second among the world’s twenty-eight most beautiful city parks in the world. In 2014, TripAdvisor named Stanley Park the best park in the world. The park features 400-hectares of natural coastal temperate rainforest with 27 km of trails and scenic views of water, mountains, and truly majestic trees. The rainforest holds an old-growth forest of +400-year old Douglas-firs and some of the largest grand firs in the world. The park also features an 8.8 km seawall, totem poles and six beautiful gardens.

Map of Stanley Park

Map of Stanley Park, Vancouver

Early in the book, Shoroplova describes a particular experience with a weeping beech in Shakespeare Garden with something close to reverence:

“When I first walked under its canopy of falling dark green drapery, tears came to my eyes. Somehow, the generosity of that tree, offering its shade and comfort to all who stand, walk, and drive underneath its south-facing leaves, opened my heart.” She then added, “As a friend says, ‘trees are divine beings.’”

Shoroplova shares why she feels calmed, centred, and connected in a forest, particularly in Stanley Park:

Hemlock on Cedar StanleyPark

Hemlock growing on cedar stump (Heritage House)

Maybe it’s because the change in a forest is constant yet unobservable, unobtrusive. Maybe it’s because I, as a human being, am so insignificant in size compared with the giants around me. Or because I, as a human being, have lived for such a short time compared with the ancient living beings around me. Or the green and the tree pheromones are so calming…

I used to feel this way when I skied downhill and when I breastfed my babies. I feel this way when I stand in the ocean and await the next wave and the next. I feel this way with my grandchildren. That’s what being in the forest does for us…It brings us to the present moment. That’s the gift.”

Victorian woman giant trees 1901

Woman wanders among the Seven Sisters giants, 1901 (Heritage House)

There is an abiding quality about trees and a living forest that is reassuring. “Trees are supportive, yet ambitious,” writes Shoropova. They are “quiet yet communicative, flexible yet strong, adaptive yet true to type.” They connect us to a larger world in a way that is both awe-inspiring and familiar.

“Learning the histories of the legacy trees in Stanley Park deepens our knowledge of the people of Vancouver—our history, our origins, our values,” Shoroplova explains in her opening chapter. These stories also show how Vancouver is maturing and evolving alongside its park forests and gardens. “We are shaking off the colonial identity that the park exhibited for so many decades and embracing the values of reconciliation with the first inhabitants of this land, the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh. We are also reclaiming what we can of the original nature of this land while honouring our communal history.”

Loggers springboard system Douglas-fir-1890s

Loggers using springboards to chop down a Douglas-fir giant, Stanley Park, 1890s (Heritage House)

Shoroplova arranged her tree stories into three parts: Part 1: The Trees Were Always There—trees that were already growing on the peninsula headland that became the federal reserve and then Stanley Park; Part 2: The First Trees Are Planted—those that were planted during the colonial and imperial years of the park (up to 1960); Part 3: The Park Grows Up—the years of growing independence.

Complete with old photos and original maps, Shoroplova offers several well-described and mapped routes to learn about and appreciate the beauty of the park. Her accurate science and historical accounts are dispensed in easily-digested and understood parcels through the language of conversation. The narrative is both charming and intriguing from the sad tale of the sentinel big Douglas-fir at the entrance to Stanley Park in 1894 to the princess-poet Pauline Johnson’s naming of Lost Lagoon and stories of historic events.

GeorgiaSt Entrance StanleyPark-bigfir-1894

Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park in 1894 (Heritage House)

In a particularly engaging chapter of the book (Chapter 8), Shoroplova compares humans to trees and, through some interesting observations on tree physiology and behaviour, she draws some interesting conclusions. One example is her description of a tree’s heartbeat: how trunk and branches use a very slow pulse of contraction and expansion to send water up and out to every branchlet and leaf. Or how trees essentially breathe in more oxygen during the day (during active photosynthesis) and breathe out more carbon dioxide at night (during respiration without photosynthesis). Shoroplova likens it to “one slow breath for every twenty-four hours.” Shoroplova extends this fractal idea to the “suggestion that the northern hemisphere of Earth breathes in every summer and breathes out every winter. One slow planetary breath for every twelve months.”

Shoroplova also discusses two theories that explain the phenomenon of crown shyness, only seen in deciduous trees: “One is that trees of the same species avoid both being shaded by and shading each other. They take up space that is not already filled, allowing each other space to grow and breathe and capture the sun’s rays. The opposing theory is that stormy weather breaks off branches that are very close to each other. I suspect a mixture of both theories is at work.”

NurseryTree StanleyPark

Decaying log provides nutrients and substrate for other life (Heritage House)

Shoroplova continues her comparison in describing the life and death of a tree. “The death of a tree is a very drawn-out affair, taking years and even decades, as the tree changes from being healthy to having its health impinged on in some way, to losing more of its branches … to becoming a standing snag, and finally to falling to the forest floor. The decomposition—the composting—of one tree provides the soil for the birth and regeneration of many others. When a tree falls in the forest, its fallen form—minerals, fibre, and glucose—nourishes all the other life forms in its environment…Fallen trees become nurse logs for seedling trees, especially for western hemlocks.” In Chapter 9, Shoroplova shares how the forest—like the ocean—releases negative ions that help in general feelings of wellness as these ions “neutralize all the free radicals that result from our natural body processes or that exist as environmental toxins.”

RemainingSevenSister burl

Western red cedar with burl, remaining Seven Sister in Stanley Park (Heritage House)

In Chapter 12, Shoroplova describes the cathedral-like grandeur of the Seven Sisters grove of western redcedars and Douglas-firs as witnessed by Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson in 1911 and the sad narrative that followed. The fame of this stately grove of giants became their undoing—in the early 1950s the Park Board cut them down, citing safety reasons. The seven stately trees became seven sad stumps—with just one western redcedar with a large burl of the originals remaining. In 1988 the Park Board planted seven young Douglas-fir trees to replace the Seven Sisters. It will take time but eventually they may rival the Seven Sisters in majestic height. The single original sister still stands, prompting Shoroplova to “return to feel the history embedded in this single sibling.”

PaulineJohnson feather

E. Pauline Johnson

“But in all the world there is no cathedral whose marble or onyx columns can vie with those straight, clean, brown tree-boles that team with the sap and blood of life. There is no fresco that can rival the delicacy of lace-work they have festooned between you and the far skies. No tiles, no mosaic or inlaid marbles are as fascinating as the bare, russet, fragrant floor outspreading about their feet. They are the acme of Nature’s architecture, and in building them she has outrivalled all her erstwhile conceptions. She will never originate a more faultless design, never erect a more perfect edifice. But the divinely moulded trees and the man-made cathedral have one exquisite characteristic in common. It is the atmosphere of holiness.”—E. Pauline Johnson, Legends of Vancouver, 1911.

ProspectPoint 1891

Prospect Point, Stanley Park, 1891 (Heritage House)

Subsequent chapters are devoted to singular trees and charming stories throughout the various gardens and paths of Stanley Park. Shoroplova brings them all to life with an animated history that weaves through the park to the present day.

Nina looking up dougfir-LHP

Nina Munteanu looks up at giant Douglas-fir in Lighthouse Park, BC (photo by M. Ross)

She ends on a high note for me by invoking the wisdom of UBC ecologist and forester Suzanne Simard, who parses out four simple solutions to forest managers. They include: 1) know the local region and ecology and act accordingly; 2) stop or at least curtail most logging of the old-growth forests; 3) save the legacies, the mother trees and networks so they can pass their wisdom onto the next generation of trees; 4) help regenerate the biodiversity of forest ecosystems by planting and allowing natural regeneration. “Forests aren’t just a bunch of trees competing with each other; they’re super-cooperators,” says Simard in a TED talk in June 2016. From Simard’s message I travelled to Ira Sutherland’s TEDx talk in October 2019, about the giant trees in Vancouver, which include Stanley Park; his message was also direct: 1) this is our story; and 2) Nature proves resilient.

I give Shoroplova a top score for ending her wonderful exposé on Stanley Park trees with action. Once we have connected with a forest and with a particular tree, we have walked through a door into awareness and ultimately responsibility. The wisdom and actionable message is clear. It isn’t enough to be a bystander. Just as E. Pauline Johnson raised the flag of awareness a hundred years ago for indigenous peoples and Nature by association, we must do the same. Or it will disappear. Sutherland points out that many of the sites where he has documented giant mother trees are not protected.

Bill Stephen, superintendent of urban forestry (retired), in his foreword to the book, wisely suggests how to use the book:

Read it first in a leisurely manner at home, and internalize the park’s history since its dedication in 1888. Then tuck it into your backpack and take it with you as a companion on your park wanderings. Take it on your smartphone or tablet as an ebook. Follow the maps, and use a maps app to enter the latitude/longitude coordinates of your place of interest for the day. Re-read its tales in the presence of the very trees about which it speaks, time travel with them, and return to the city with a richer sense of the connections between the trees of this great park and its human and animal actors. Then repeat…”

Vancouver StanleyPark bridge

North side of Sea Wall with view of north shore and Lion’s Gate Bridge, Stanley Park, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

References:

Johnson, E. Pauline 1911. “Legends of Vancouver.” Library of Alexandria. 196pp. E. Pauline Johnson (Takehionwake) was a daughter of a Mohawk Chief and a white mother.  She was one of Canada’s most famous performers, poet, feminist and indigenous activist of the Victorian era. Pauline Johnson documented legends, told to her by her great friend, Squamish Chief Joe Capilano, in the Vancouver newspaper, The Daily Province, and then a book, ‘Legends of Vancouver’, in print now for over 100 years.

Nombre, Antonio Donato. 2010. “The Magic of the Amazon: A river that flows invisibly all around us.” TEDx Talk, 21:27 min. November, 2010. The Amazon River is like a heart, pumping water from the seas through it, and up into the atmosphere through 600 billion trees, which act like lungs. Clouds form, rain falls and the forest thrives. In a lyrical talk, Antonio Donato Nobre talks us through the interconnected systems of this region, and how they provide environmental services to the entire world. A parable for the extraordinary symphony that is nature.

Simard, Suzanne. 2016. “How Trees Talk to Each Other.” TED Talk, 18:20 min. June, 2016. “A forest is much more than what you see,” says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery — trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes.

Shoroplova, Nina. 2020. “Legacy of Trees: Purposeful Wandering in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.” Heritage House Publishing Co.Ltd., Vancouver. 288pp.

Sutherland, Ira. 2019. “The Great Vancouver Forest: A Story of Place.” TEDx Talk, 21:04 min. Oct. 2019. Growing up among the tall forests near UBC, Ira Sutherland developed an appreciation and curiosity for forests early on. This talk invites his audience to explore Vancouver’s extensive forests and to hopefully see trees in a new light (for more information, see http://www.vancouversbigtrees.com)

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Waterwas released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

“Water Is… at Banyen Books & Sound, Vancouver

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Banyen Books and Sound, Vancouver, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

When I lived in Vancouver—raising my family, consulting for the environment and teaching limnology—I often visited my favourite bookstore in town: Banyen Books & Sound on 4th Avenue in Kitsilano. It was a bookstore like no other, I thought. Spacious with comfortable chairs to read, the bookstore became a destination and an experience in discovery for me.

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A customer browses “Water Is…” in Banyen Books

In fact, since opening in 1970 Banyen Books has become Canada’s most comprehensive metaphysical bookstore, offering a broad spectrum of resources from humanity’s spiritual, healing, and earth wisdom traditions. Here is how they put it:

Banyen is an oasis, a crossroads, a meeting place… for East and West, the “old ways” and current discoveries and syntheses. Our beat is the “Perennial Philosophy” as well as our evolving learning edges and best practices in a wide variety of fields, from acupuncture to Zen, from childbirth and business to the Hermetic Mysteries, from the compost pile to the celestial spheres. We’re “in the philosophy business,” on “a street in the philosophy district” (as an old cartoon wagged). We welcome and celebrate the love of wisdom, be it in art, science, lifecraft, healing, visioning, religion, psychology, eco-design, gardening… Our service is to offer life-giving nourishment for the body (resilient, vital), the mind (trained, open), and the soul (resonant, connected, in-formed). Think of us as your open source bookstore for the “University of Life”.

I had long harboured romantic notions of one day seeing my own book on one of their shelves. I must have sent a compelling message to the universe, because in Autumn of 2018, this incredible bookstore agreed to carry “Water Is…

Water Is...” now sits joyfully beside William Mark’s “Holy Order of Water” and Masaru Emoto’s books on water and crystals and Wallace J. Nichol’s bestseller “Blue Mind” on water’s healing powers.

WaterIs-BanyenBookshelf copy

When I mentioned about my book being at Banyens Books, my son Kevin visited the bookstore and soon found “Water Is…” among a variety of other “savoury books”; he admitted a need for strength not to walk out of the bookstore with an armload of books. This has been my experience too.

WaterIs-Banyen-Kevin reading copy

Kevin finds “Water Is…” on Banyen’s shelf and makes himself comfortable…

Anne, one of the directors of Pixl Press, visited the bookstore with her friend Jackie from out of town. After browsing the bookstore, they walked across the street to Aphrodites Pies and enjoyed their signature organic peach pie.

Aphrodites Pies

Aphrodites Pies on 4th Avenue (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Banyen Books & Sound:
PeachPie at Aphrodites3608 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
604-732-7912

HOURS:
Mon-Fri: 10am-9pm
Sat: 10am-8pm
Sun: 11am-7pm

 

 

nina-munteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Vancouver Coffee Marathon—Four Coffee Shops in Four Hours

First Hour: Nusa Coffee

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The Asian Palm Civet

I started my coffee marathon at Nusa Coffee, on 4th Avenue in Kitsilano. Nusa means “islands” and, indeed, Marcus, one of the partners, told me that most of their coffee comes from Indonesia, an archipelago of over 17,000 islands stretching an expanse the length of Canada.

Nusa features coffee from beans grown in the Ngada region of Flores, the Toraja Highlands of central Sulawesi, the Kintamani Highlands of Bali and the Gayo Highlands in Sumatra Gayo.

Asian-Palm-Civet

Asian Palm Civet

But I’d come for kopi luwak—otherwise known as cat poop coffee—made from coffee beans that have been digested by a small Indonesian cat called an Asian Palm Civet (Paradosorus hermaphroditus)—a small viverrid native to South and Southeast Asia. They help maintain tropical forest ecosystems through seed dispersal as they feed on pulpy fruits such as mango, rambutan and coffee.

Why was I doing this? Well, since I’d heard about it, I just had to try it out for myself. According to The Vancouver Coffee Snob the civets feast on ripe coffee cherries, which start to digest and ferment in their stomachs.

Nusa-coffee pour

Marcus does the pour over

The enzymes allegedly remove the acidic tastes from the coffee, imparting new flavours. The cat then poops what’s left and farmers collect the poop, clean them, process and roast the beans. Civet coffee beans are harder and more brittle because they have been modified by the digestive juices of the civet.

Because of the new trend for Kopi Luwak, civets are being increasingly captured from the wild and fed coffee beans to mass-produce this blend. Many of the captured civets are housed and treated unethically. The impact of all these captures on the wild population and consequent ecosystems they live in, is not yet known. The lesson here is: do your research to ensure that the product you’re buying has been ethically collected from wild Civet poop. Nusa Coffee is one of them.

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Kopi Luwak at Nusa Coffee in Vancouver

Marcus let me smell the beans before grinding them. The aroma was deep, pleasant and nutty. That carried into the coffee pour over (which is more gentle than using an espresso machine). Then it came to tasting it: I found it unpretentious, earthy with subtle tones that lingered in the back of the throat. As I breathed in the kopi luwak, I thought of the jungle where the civet lives…and poos. Nusa Coffee is also unpretentious; a cozy café with wood benches and tables and no overbearing music.

 

Second Hour: Platform 7

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Platform 7 and bookstore in Kits (photo by Nina Munteanu)

My second stop was Platform 7, on Broadway and Vine, where I stopped for lunch. Located in an old house next to a character-book store (a great combination for a writer!), Platform 7 is a creative take on a bustling “Victorian London train station in East Vancouver and a Belle-Époque Parisienne train station in Kits.”

The café offers a large variety of coffees from their espresso bar, cold bar and brew bar. I enjoyed friendly service and pleasant jazz-fusion music as I ate lunch, a deliciously grilled turkey with cranberry sandwich.

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Inside Platform 7 Coffee (photo by Nina Munteanu)

 

Third Hour: Federal Store

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The Federal Store (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I continued east across town along Broadway into Mount Pleasant and walked south along Quebec Street toward 10th Avenue, where the Federal Store greeted me on the corner. Surrounded with cheerful flowers on all sides and a vegetable garden in the back, the café-grocer beckons me inside. I enter and feel like I’ve entered an alternative past: an integration of ’50s trompe l’oeil 3-D checker floor, plants, and homemade baking in the display with the avant-garde chic of wood and white.

I ordered an Earl Grey tea (for a change from coffee) and sat outside, where I enjoyed the loose tea as birds sang around me and bees buzzed among the flowers.

Mia Stainsby of the Vancouver Sun writes, “One block away, Main Street hyperventilates and cars exhale carbon monoxide. But here at Federal Store, it’s quiet and I’m caught in a time warp. The vintage room stirs up romantic notions of simpler times.”

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The Federal Store (photo by Nina Munteanu)

 

Fourth Hour: Le Marché St. George

It grew hot as the day progressed, but I kept cool under the thick canopy of maples, chestnuts and ash trees as I proceeded southeast to my next destination. Once I’d topped the hill, I turned east on 28th and as I neared my next destination, I realized that I’d saved the best for last.

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Le Marche St. George (photo by Nina Munteanu)

When I caught sight of Le Marché St. George, tucked behind several large poplar trees on the residential corner of 28th and St. George, I had to smile like a pilgrim finding a rest stop. Edith Piaff’s sultry voice sang through the open door of the large old house as cyclists and locals sat outside, drinking coffee and discussing their day. I entered the café-general store, walls high with diverse produce. It was no ordinary general store. This was the kind of place—I recalled my son telling me earlier—where you could buy your next Christmas gift. A cornucopia of interesting flotsam beckoned: from Woodlot candles and Maison Orphée mustard to black cyprus flake sea salt, flat breads, gourmet honey and pasta.

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Inside Le Marche St. George (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I ordered a flat white, which turned into a cappuccino. The barista—let’s call him Etienne—apologized and was ready to start over but I accepted the drink with a smile; I’d noted that he’d really made a European cappuccino, which is essentially a flat white (a cappuccino with no dry foam). I took the coffee and sat outside under the shade of a poplar tree and opened my book, “Barkskins” by Annie Proulx.

Beside me, two young Asian men were discussing an article they’d read about how men get into and out of a bathtub. I realized I’d read the same line of my book several times when one fellow confided to the other that he thought he had sleep apnea and was slowly dying from oxygen deprivation over nights of not quite sleeping.

All in a summer’s day, I thought, and closed the book and my eyes, then put my feet up on the planter and smiled the smile of pure contentment.

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Swan cream puffs (at Mercuro L’Espresso Bar) (photo by Nina Munteanu)

 

 

nina-munteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Smoke Descending

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Port Guichon in Ladner at 6 pm (photo by Nina Munteanu

Today—as writing friend Sylvia and I decided to have our coffees inside Stir Coffee House rather than its pleasant patio under the peach-coloured haze of Ladner—much of British Columbia was under high evacuation alert, was being evacuated or was under an air quality advisement. More than 20,000 people have evacuated their homes or are on alert while over 500 fires burn across the province.

In Vanderhoof, where good friend Anne lives on her ranch, the air quality index is beyond the high limit of the scale (over 600 on a scale that only runs to 500).

An air quality advisory was issued for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley on Tuesday. Then the smoke from higher elevations descended that night. Wednesday morning, I walked into Ladner village through a haze that smelled of old fire. An uneasy disquiet stirred inside me. Then I realized it; the air wasn’t that easy to breathe. The AQI was over 150 and steadily climbing. By the time Sylvia and I left the café, the AQI would measure over 200 (considered “very unhealthy”).

 

According to Environment Canada meteorologist Lisa Coldwells, a broad dome of high pressure is sitting on top of the province, providing only slight winds even at high altitudes. “The smoke doesn’t have a chance to dissipate. It just comes up off the fire(s) and it’s just sort of gently moving towards Vancouver, the southern tip of Vancouver Island and the most populated areas,” she says. A temperature inversion is making the situation worse, effectively trapping the smoke.

Fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5 (measured as particles at or smaller than 2.5 µm) is causing most of the haze and driving the health warnings. These particles pose the greatest health risk. Much smaller than the width of a human hair these particles can go deep into the lungs and bloodstream, resulting in oxidative stress and affecting the heart. Smoke will also carry coarse particulate matter, known as PM10 (particles that measure 10 µm to 2.5 µm). Coarse particles are of less concern, given they are more easily caught by our filtering systems (like nose hairs and phlegm) but can irritate your eyes, nose and throat. Concentrations of PM2.5 greater than 25 micrograms per cubic metre prompt health warnings. According to Chris Carlsten, UBC public health associate professor, these higher levels dysregulate the normal balance in the lungs, leading to inflammation that causes difficulty in breathing and wheezing.

AQHI-MetroVancouver

The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) was developed by Environment Canada, the BC Ministry of Environment and BC Ministry of Health, Metro Vancouver and the BC Lung Association to measure air quality on a scale. The index typically goes from 0 to 10 with 7-10 representing “high risk” conditions. Numbers higher than 10 are unusual and indicate a very high risk to health. The 0 to 10 index corresponds roughly to the Air Quality Index (AQI), which measures concentrations of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone and converts these to a number on a scale of 0 to 500.

AirQuality-Map

As you can see, an AQI of over 100 is moderately polluted and considered unhealthy, particularly for sensitive groups such as people with asthma, respiratory issues, elderly or small children. Today, Ladner’s AQI rose steadily during the day until it was well over 200, considered very unhealthy.

AQI-concentrations-health

According to Tiffany Crawford of the Vancouver Sun, the air quality in Vanderhoof—30 kilometres south of the more than 86,000-hectare Shovel Lake wildfire—measured over 600 on the AQI; more than double the level considered hazardous to health. The AQI in Houston measured 410 and in Burns Lake it was 408—all levels way beyond ‘hazardous’.

To give you an idea of how that feels, someone developed an app using Berkley Earth’s findings on the equivalence between air pollution and cigarette smoking. According to Berkley’s formula one cigarette smoked per day equals 22 µg/m3 of fine particulate matter.

PM2.5-cigaretts

The current air quality rating in Vancouver measured 10 today, which is like smoking 7.4 cigarettes. In Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley, that comes to 8.3 cigarettes. Further north in Fort St. John you’re smoking 11.8 cigarettes and in Prince George you’re smoking 16.7 cigarettes. By contrast, in Gwallior India—one of the most air-polluted places in the world—the equivalent daily cigarettes smoked is only 3.5.

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Smoky sun over Ladner at 6 pm (photo by Nina Munteanu)

As the coffee machines ground and wheezed with the sweet aroma of coffee, Sylvia and I talked about an exciting project that involved ecology and empowerment. Of course, we talked about the wildfires too. How could we not? It was on everyone’s mind today. With such overt signs, who couldn’t think of them. It was the smoke. We saw it coil and loiter along the street corners. We smelled it. Breathed it in. Felt it inside us. The remains of so many trees that had burned to the ground. “The souls of trees,” as good friend Anne had blurted out. Their ashes and smoke had soared high into the atmosphere and now descended on us, kilometres away. I couldn’t help feeling a sadness. Not just for so many people in hardship. But for so much living tissue, burnt up in smoke.

Sylvia later told me that she didn’t make her next appointment in Vancouver. Feeling the effects of the smoke, she had decided to go home, where her HEPA filter awaited. Smart move, Sylvia.

 

nina-munteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.