Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A Remote Spirit Lodge

Some years ago I became involved in a joint venture between Ecotrust and the Haisla First Nation in an unusual venture to preserve a quarter million acres of virgin Pacific Northwest rainforest. This adjoined an existing three quarters of a million acres of preserve that would be returned to the protection and management of the Haisla First Nation.

They wanted to build a structure on a remote bench of land that was the gateway to that wilderness.

The geography of that area is snow capped, mountainous, deeply incised by profound indigo salt water fjords. These fjords penetrate a hundred miles into the mountain system. Mountains rise sheer from the deep waterways dripping boisterous waterfalls, cloaked in mossy spruce and cedars and dramatic ice polished granite faces hundreds of feet tall.

The topography is vertical.

At the mouth of the Kowesas River valley is a small unusually flat rock shelf. This was to be a staging area and entry for logging operations in that valley.

Ecotrust approached me to talk about the feasibility of building a small cabin on that shelf. There the Haisla could use to lay claim to their ancestral homeland and possibly thwart logging development.

I responded that I would be delighted to be involved in such a project and that I would like the structure to be something that would be a statement of the deep spirit of the Haisla Nation.

And so I began three of the most wonderful and difficult summers of my life.

Logistics were a significant hurdle. The Kowesas River Valley was a three hour jet boat ride from the end of the road. The only other access was float plane. That was how I arrived at the beginning of the season with my plane load of tools.

The first summer we established a construction camp. There was already a trapper’s cabin there that three or four of us shared with a city of mice and a pine martin with a lot of attitude.

Two Haisla men, Frank and John, became the mill men. They got into a jet boat early every morning with chainsaws, raingear, my cutting list, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They went to nearby river bars and milled all log posts, spectacular beams, other lumber supplies. They returned at the end of the day with my next days construction supplies in tow.

Back in camp, we had a cook, George, who kept our bellies full and our morale high. He also lent his back to the construction. We had a supply boat arrive every two weeks and it brought food, fuel, mail, volunteers, and clean laundry.

This is what we got built in the first three months.

The foundation is 15 laid granite columns and one existing boulder.

The posts are whole logs averaging two feet in diameter, cut to fit the irregular stone bases. A steel rod pins the center of the post to the foundation.

The tidal range there averaged fifteen feet and that diurnal lift was crucial to our ability to move huge logs and beams. We also had a large supply of winches, come-alongs, snatch blocks, and line.

The posts are cut halfway up in an unusual joint that allows the floor beams to pass through them with a “Lincoln Log” type joint. The upper half of the post is replaced, straddling the joint.

The structure is traditional mortise and tenon construction pinned with 1” oak pins. No bolts, no nails.

The exterior walls are slabs of clear old growth Red Cedar 2” thick, averaging 2 feet wide and 9 feet tall placed in a slot in the bottom sill and stopped to the underside the overhead beam. We battened between the slabs.

The roof was raftered on two foot centers with rafters 4”x20” then sheathed with 1 by cedar, two inch rigid insulation and steel roofing.

We anticipated a 12’ snow load.

All doors and windows and furniture were built there.

The Kowesas lodge was a significant life event for many of us who worked on it. It was a monument to the efforts of the Haisla. We built something together that was so much bigger than what any of us could do on our own, both physically and spiritually.

It is always spiritually renewing to create such beauty. For many it was one of the few experiences of that they had.

The Haisla Nation declared that this wilderness area would be alcohol and drug free and so for many who lived and worked there it was a very important opportunity to enjoy long term sobriety while living in an extremely beautiful and creative place.

Upon completion the Haisla celebrated with a massive feast, a three day salmon barbecue, with ceremonies and traditional dancing, chanting, carved masks, button blankets and magical carved rattles late into the night.

The Lodge still stands.

The Kowesas valley remains wild, rich in wolf packs, grizzly bears, and big beautiful trees.



Terry said...

Mark, What a wonderful story, certainly a worthy testament to you and what you have built through the years. It's stunning what you've created. Here, here! Thank you for sharing this with me.

Terry Bostwick Designs

Sharpshooter said...

Hey Mark,

I am putting together a newsletter for the Haisla people and they were just approved to build a trail and upgrade the lodge.

Dale Robinson

Serena said...

I just found your blog - your work is beyond impressive. As a former Seattlite, this post spoke to me. What an amazing story- the stuff documentaries are made of.

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