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Inside Passage! Bellingham to Juneau.

It’s March, or Tamwex’és - time when the frogs come out in our local Nooksack language, and I would like to take you on a tour of the Emerald Edge, which spans Southeast Alaska, British Columbia (BC), Washington State and Oregon. This area really does encompass those places that I love so much and that I write about (and visit) again and again. The Tongass Forest, Great Bear Rainforest, our nearby Salish Sea and coastal areas, and the Olympic Rainforest are all situated within the Emerald Edge.

Water & Rock Reflection! West Coast Vancouver Island, BC.

This connected ecosystem of ocean, coast and forest is home to the world’s largest coastal temperate rainforest and stunning biodiversity, including bears, puffins, elk, salmon, wolves, Orca and other whales. It covers more than 100 million acres of coastal old-growth Sitka spruce, cedar and hemlock, thousands of rivers and salmon streams, 40,000 islands and 35,000 miles of coastline. It provides habitat for fifty percent of wild pacific salmon, is home to eight hundred to fifteen hundred-year-old trees and provides some $15 million to the economy for bear viewing in the Great Bear.

Short Eared Owl. Skagit River Estuary, Washington State.

I know I have contributed (as often as possible!) to that tourism dollar figure. Just writing this, I am salivating and pondering my next trip north.

Alaskan Reflection! Kenai Fjords National Park.

If you love something, you have to fight for it. That means spreading the word and providing educational and financial support. And right now, there are a number of important and timely campaigns and non-profits working to protect this special area. I wanted to highlight just a few with the hope of increasing your understanding on why this area is so important to protect.

Tidepools! BC Coast.

Folded within the glaciers and snowfields of the Olympic, Cascade, Vancouver Island, and Coastal Mountains, the Emerald Edge is one of the most productive carbon sinks on Earth. So important that in 2020 the BezosEarthFund invested $33.33 million to sequester 3.5 million metric tons of CO2 through permanent protection of over 100,000 hectares of old growth forest (one hectare equals 2.471 acres).

And starting high on those glaciers and snowfields, amazing rivers such as the Alsek, Stikine, Unuk, Salmon and Chilkat in Southeast Alaska, the Skeena, Stikine and Frasier in BC, and the Quinault, Hoh and Bogachiel here on Washington’s Olympic Coast. These waterways transport fresh water, salmon, and are a major part of our water cycle which connects the ocean, land, and atmosphere.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.”

Sylvia Earle

Carry-out! Fjordlands Conservancy, BC.

You just cannot be anywhere in the Pacific Northwest without feeling the presence of Indigenous peoples. Every river, every mountain, all offer a present and permanent spirituality of those who were here for millennia. On the Emerald Edge that presence is all around us as it comprises the territories of more than fifty Indigenous First Nations, Alaska Natives, and coastal Tribes. The Hesquiaht, Ahousaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and the Tsimshian, Kwakiutl, Bella Coola, Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka), Coast Salish, and Chinook.

Sunset Reflection on Water! Sunshine Coast, BC.

Here in Whatcom County (named for a Nooksack chief and meaning “noisy water”), centrally located within the Emerald Edge, the Coast Salish are the largest of the southern groups. Territory claimed by Coast Salish including our local Lhaq'temish, the Lummi People, and the Nooksack Tribe (whose name comes from a place name Noxws’ áʔɁaq that translates to “always bracken fern roots” and illustrates the tribe’s close ties to the land).

Roosevelt Elk. Quinnault River. Olympic National Park, Washington State.

While this area may be remote and far from where you live, it still needs your help. Salmon are scarcer, the forests are diminished and only patches of majestic old-growth forest remain. And while Alaska’s copper and gold Pebble Creek mine was stopped this January due to impacts to the world’s largest salmon run, some eighteen new coal or metal mine proposals, including a plan to reopen the Eskay Creek mine in the Unuk and Iskut river basins in BC’s coastal mountains, are in the works. Clearcutting continues on both BC’s Salt Spring and Pender Island.

Inside Passage II. Alaska.

I hope you get to visit the Emerald Edge or can continue to enjoy, learn about, and see it through my stories and images. Whether you can travel there or not, know that it exists and encompasses everything that is wild, beautiful, and full of life. Here are a few of my favorite environmental nonprofits – many work directly on the Emerald Edge, all work to protect and conserve land, water, and wildlife.

· The Nature Conservancy (direct Emerald Edge conservation program)

· Raincoast Conservancy (working throughout BC and on the Salish Sea)

· Conservation Northwest (habitat and wildlife in the PNW)

· Whatcom Land Trust (land protection in Whatcom County)

· American Whitewater (river conservation and public access)

Coast Mountains, Yukon to Fraser River. BC.

End Notes:

· The 2,260-acre Canyon Lake Community Forest in Whatcom County protects one of the oldest stands of forest in the Pacific Northwest (800 to 1,200 years old). Whatcom Land Trust holds a conservation easement on this property owned and managed by Whatcom County and Western Washington University. On BC’s Meares Island some trees (such as Cedar of Life) are estimated to be 2,000 years old.

· Lands stewarded by Indigenous Peoples hold 17 percent of the world’s remaining forest carbon and 80 percent of global biodiversity. What these figures tell us is that Indigenous stewardship and management often achieve greater conservation results and sustain more biodiversity than government-protected areas such as national parks or reserves.


Wild West Coast, Tofino, Vancouver Island. British Columbia

This past week, Stephanie and I took a winter road trip to Tofino on British Columbia’s Wild West Coast. Another exceptional excursion to the end of the road!

Room with a View! Tofino, British Columbia.

“Tough City,” “the Tree Loving City,” and “Canada’s cold-water surfing capitol,” Tofino is on the far-western coast of Vancouver Island, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and Browning Passage to the east. On the far northern tip of the Esowista Peninsula and the southern edge of Clayoquot Sound. It is situated in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations: The Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, and Hesquiaht. Further west than the Olympic Peninsula, or any lands within the lower forty-eight states. A bit further west than Juneau Alaska, but not as far over as Anchorage.

Mountain Passage! Tofino, British Columbia.

This was not intended to be a great and arduous wilderness adventure, but more a romance by the sea get-away! We were hoping for time spent with one another, sunrise backlighting the old growth forest on Meares Island (trees estimated at 800 to 1,300 years old), long walks on the beach, good food, and warm, soft evening sunsets. A special place and the perfect location to spend the long Canadian “Family Day” weekend.

We went primed for cold rain and grey surf. Realistic plans for some great storm watching, or maybe just spending the day with a hot chocolate and being together reading books in our room.

We packed boots, raincoats and pants, storm hats, and warm sweaters. We have been to Tofino before, and our preparations were based on both fact and experience. This area is often considered the westernmost part of Canada, and one of the wettest locations with some 128.77 inches of rain annually (for comparison, Seattle and Bellingham receive only around thirty-seven inches each year).

We started our trip by crossing the US/Canadian border and counting sixty-eight bald eagles before boarding the Queen of Alberni Ferry in Tsawwassen. The ferry ride to Nanaimo was well, … wonderful! Relaxing, time to chill, looking for whales and dolphins, and just kicking back.

Our winter expectations seemed to come true with some four inches of snow, slush, and slippery road as we crossed over the 1,348 foot Port Alberni Summit (locally called “The Hump”), the highest point on Highway 4 to the coast.

Then, across the summit, the sun came out, the waves were breaking and cresting white and shades of aqua and blue, and the long weekend of romance really began. Driving to Tofino, we passed so many fantastic beaches… Wickaninnish, Combers, Long, Cox, Chesterman, MacKenzie, and Tonquin. We vowed to walk them all – and we did!

Frank Island Sunset. Cox Beach, Tofino BC.

Our plan was to be on the beach each morning for sunrise. Following that, maybe a quick coffee, another beach, lunch, then a nap before the sun set along the coast. We only took quick power naps, there was just too much to see. So mornings started hand-in-hand on the beach, afternoons the same, and then magical, wonderful sunsets. We seemed to walk forever, and we stayed until the darkness consumed the sky, the water, the sand, and the two of us.

Sand & Shell! Tofino, BC.

There is something romantic about the sea, the waves, and the coast. Really special when the sun sinks in the western sky turning everything to pink, orange, yellow, and gold. Winding down a long day together, watching surfers heading home, families together, late night dog-walkers, and bon-fires starting up. Reflecting on how lucky we are to be here, to be with one another, and how the end of this day optimistically previews tomorrow and our future.

“I watched the sunset last night. And given the utter brilliance of it, I likely sat in the company of thousands who found themselves awash in its blaze of colors as well. But sadly, it is just as likely that I was surrounded by thousands of others who never saw the colors because they were awash in lesser things. And I realized that far too often I am in the company of those people. Therefore, I’ll be sitting outside tonight.”

― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Sand & Beach! Tofino BC.

There are beautiful sunsets around the world. But winter sunsets on the west coast can be really phenomenal. As the sun rises or sets, the sunlight has further to travel and more blue and violet light is scattered out, leaving brighter reds, oranges, and yellows. Along the coast, salt and water particles scatter even more light, and produce even more intense colors. Throw in a bit of refraction, and both the sun and moon can appear larger at sunrise and sunset – a perfect center piece for beauty, passion, and coastal photography.

Add to this the wonder of winter on the west coast, when wind originates onshore and blows out to sea carrying ocean spray and pushing colder air higher into the atmosphere. This makes it harder for clouds to form in the evening, resulting in clear skies and better sunsets. As winter storms approach, thin, wispy clouds appear that turn brilliant shades of pink, purple and orange while setting.

Seafood Buffet! Tofino BC.

I am not a meteorologist, nor an expert on sunlight and/or refraction, so check out the links above to learn more. What I do know, is that all of this came together for Stephanie and me this past week. Beautiful water and sky, great color, starry skies –- romance was literally “in the air” and all around us. And, at the end of day, a different reflection, this time on our lives together and what the future may hold.

Wood, Sand & Stone! Tofino BC.

These images share some of that coastal splendor, the specialness of place, and we are wishing each of you golden sunrises, warm sun, and a beautiful end to each day!

"I like people who get excited about the change of seasons, the sound of the ocean, watching a sunset, the smell of rain, and starry nights."

— Brooke Hampton


· Tough City (or Tuff City) is a nickname Tofino has worn proudly for years. The name originated in the days when logging and fishing were the primary industries, referring to the tough nature of both the jobs and the people who did them. The pure wildness of the land echoes the sentiment of resilience.

· Clayoquot Sound covers over 3,000 square kilometers immediately north of Tofino. The sound can best be described as a tranquil wilderness, and its rugged slopes are home to the largest expanse of low-level, old-growth rainforest left in North America. In 2000, the area became British Columbia’s first UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and a critical piece of the Emerald Edge—a 100-million-acre coastal, temperate rainforest that stretches from coastal Washington, through British Columbia and into Southeast Alaska. Read more on how the War in the Woods stopped most industrial logging in Clayoquot Sound.

· First held in Alberta in 1990, Family Day is supposed to reflect the values of family and home that were important to the pioneers who founded Alberta, and to give workers the opportunity to spend more time with their families. It was introduced in Saskatchewan in 2007 and in Ontario in 2008. British Columbia observed Family Day as a statutory holiday for the first time in 2013, New Brunswick in 2018.

· Tofino is often considered the most westerly point in Canada, although that title actually belongs to Kluane National Park, Yukon.


Paddling in the Bunsby Islands, Wild West Coast of Vancouver Island. BC

Nearly every year, around this time in early spring, I decide I need to go away. Sometimes it is the rain, or the grey of winter. Sometimes, just the urge to wander and see new wild places. It is a great time to head south, that great migration when friends leave the Pacific Northwest and winter in Palm Springs, California, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, or Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona. Sun, blue skies, deserts, and birds.

And I have gone south many times, but for some reason each spring I dream about Vancouver Island and the Wild West Coast! The coastal areas of British Columbia (BC) are definitely a destination that calls me back again and again, and I hope, in the next year, to spend even more time along this vast coastal region, sharing my time with whales, coastal wolves, bears, oyster catchers and puffin.

Tidepools, West Coast Vancouver Island.

If it is raining or grey here at home, it most definitely is even greyer and rainier up there along the shores in BC. Several years ago I tried to scratch that itch by loading up my sea kayak and traveling up to Port Renfrew. It rained so hard the entire week, that not only did I never take my boat off the car, but I really never left my vehicle. After several days of poor light, poking the camera lens out the window, and nights car-camping in a complete deluge, I found a good hotel with hot meals and stayed there until I came home. Some of the photos in this blog are from that trip. Rare finds in the rain.

Ocean Surf & Light. Wild West Coast. BC

But other trips to coastal BC were fantastic and make up some of my greatest adventures and best memories. Right after moving here in 2001, I backpacked along the 75 km (46.6 miles) West Coast Trail from Bamfield to Port Renfrew. Canada in all her untamed splendor and magnificence! That was my last backpack, the beginning of so many stories about bears, mud, and ocean tides, eating fresh caught Dungeness crab at Nitinat Narrows (all within Pacific Rim National Park Reserve), and the point when I absolutely knew that I would be coming back to BC again and again.

Bunsby Islands, Wild West Coast. BC

Soon after that, paddling friends told me about a kayak trip to the Bunsby Islands and the Brooks Peninsula. After a few minutes I knew I had to go and blurted out “can I come along?” Maybe the only time I’ve begged onto a trip, and I am so glad I did. Ocean surfing, rips, ocean swell and my first time paddling out of sight of land. Daunting at first, but then my love of paddling kicked in and I was in the moment and enjoying each stroke of the paddle.

Night Sky! Port Renfrew, BC.

Later on, a kayak trip with Stephanie to BC’s Broken Group (over 100 islands in Barkley Sound on the southern west coast), early mornings sitting watching beavers near Port Alberni, salmon fishing near Port Hardy, and return trips to Port Renfrew and Botanical Beach in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. I remember sitting on the tailgate of our Subaru with Stephanie after a hike to the beach, taking off my boots… when maybe the largest black bear I have ever seen wandered out of the woods and spent an hour munching grass not twenty feet from us. We were tired, it was sunny, the bear was happy, and we just watched him until he finally wandered off.

Port Renfrew Eve! BC.

Not too long after, I learned about the Great Bear Rainforest, and I have targeted trips there for years and expect to spend even more time there this spring and summer. Then trips to Sitka and Juneau, going to Alaska either by driving through BC, or by ferry, sailboat, floatplane, or private charter. Alaska is not the wild west coast of BC, but both those towns (along with Victoria and Prince Rupert in BC, and Ketchikan, Petersburg, Skagway, and Wrangell) are coastal in nature, and all, along with coastal BC and Washington State make up the inside passage, an amazing five -hundred mile journey among fjords, tidewater glaciers and temperate rainforest and island scenery.

Nurse Log! West Coast, BC.

Vancouver Island, and really anywhere along the coast of BC (and further north), is just a favorite place for photographing otters, bears, tides, and winter storm waves. And often, after I spend the fall months up in the Great Bear Rainforest, kayaking along Salt spring Island, or traveling up to Sechelt or to Skookumchuck Narrows on the Sunshine Coast, I really miss this wonderful land of tidepools, ferries, cougars, and of course…. rain. In all circumstances, it is a favorite destination that draws me back again and again.

At some point, I may learn my lesson and wait for days of sunshine and hours of light. But not this year. My wife Stephanie and I left for the West Coast yesterday.

Room with a View! West Coast, BC.

I tried to set this trip to Port Renfrew, the southern terminus for the West Coast Trail, home to Botanical Beach. But most campgrounds are closed for the winter, and hotels and rentals were booked up (they must know something I don’t). So we are headed for Tofino to find new shores, adventures, photo opportunities, and, if lucky, that winter explosion of waves on rocks! Of course, we also packed a few good books and look forward to just spending time together. Hey -- we’ve learned something over the years!


· If you would like to learn more about the amazing West Coast Trail, there is a great book called Blisters & Bliss. Visit the website for some videos of the area and buy the book if you want to laugh. Mostly, my days of backpacking are over. But I still hold out hope that I can do this trail once more. The last trip was a solo adventure, next time I need to convince my wife, daughter and son-in-law to come along and share the load!

· There are an estimated 4,000 cougars in BC, with an estimated six to eight hundred living on Vancouver Island, making it the highest concentration of mountain lions in North America.

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