Birds of a Feather

Local logger looks to new career path working in a different way with wood.

The Courtenay Estuary is a large part of the Valley’s history and has been rich “in terms of the food and resources it has provided people over the centuries,” says Castleden. The productivity of estuaries has attracted humans for tens of thousands of years. Estuaries are natural transport hubs and, because of this, have been among the first areas to be settled.

This long history with human activity means that there are very few estuaries that have not been changed. Straightening and hardening shorelines, such as at the old Fields Sawmill site on the Courtenay River Estuary, reduces habitat, eliminating side channels essential to young salmon smolts on their way to the sea. These artificial riverbanks change natural seawater flows, eliminating salt marches and mudflats.

“With population growth in the Valley, more people just mean more pressure on all of our natural systems,” Castleden says. “I think it is important that as we build human habitation we have to also try to integrate with the ecosystem that we are a part of and preserve important aspects of that.”

Castleden emphasizes that it is important that people understand that “whatever we are letting into ditches and drains ends up flowing down into the estuary and Baynes Sound”. With population growing like it has, people need to recognize that “water is going to flow, but it’s got to be clean and the natural features have to be preserved to have that system working effectively,” he adds.

After having stopped at the Dyke Road lookout for lunch, Castleden says, “It is just amazing to think that you are in the heart of the city and yet it could be anywhere out along the coast. You have to stop and get out of your car and go walk around, or even just sit and take it in—it’s amazing. It just drove it home to me what a prized thing to have in the Valley.”

Campbell River has been working to restore its estuary, reopening channels and working with the support of the community. “They have done a lot of work up in Campbell River and I thought if they can do it there, there is no reason why we can’t be doing it,” Castleden says.

Gayle Ord, a resident of Dyke Road and volunteer at the symposium, says that people should attend the symposium “to gain information, education, awareness and appreciation.” She feels that “We have many community projects. Though Project Watershed has been here in the Valley since the early ‘90s, it’s just starting to really gain momentum.”

One of the groups that will be assisting at the symposium is the Comox Valley Young Naturalists Club. Lisa Zervakis of the Club feels the symposium is an “important means of bringing people together from politicians to students to educate and discuss the issues surrounding the estuary.

“People need knowledge of why the estuary is important and by coming together and sharing information we can hopefully achieve this,” she says.

An important part of educating people is starting the awareness at a young age. “The Young Naturalist’s club connects local naturalists with families in monthly explorer days. The local naturalist leader shares their knowledge with our group. We have done several activities such as Low Tide Walks, Local Geology, Tree Identification, Hiking on Quadra and more,” says Zervakis, adding “we are very fortunate to have the support of the Comox Valley Naturalist Society.”

Zervakis notes that The Young Naturalists have gotten involved in the symposium because one component of the Young Naturalist’s Club is environmental action. “It’s very good for children to be involved with a group protecting water in our local area,” she says.

The Young Naturalists will be volunteering at workshops, taking photos, helping presenters and creating artwork to display. “It’s important for kids to be connected to understand our local natural areas and how they can be involved in helping our local environment,” Zervakis says. “The teenagers in our group in particular want to do something about protecting the environment and feel passionately about it.”

Comox Valley Project Watershed Society is organizing the Symposium and has received planning assistance from members of the Comox Valley Naturalists Society, Comox Valley Land Trust, Tsolum River Restoration Society, Puntledge River Restoration Committee, Millard-Piercy Watershed Stewards, Comox Valley Water Watch Coalition, Landworks Consultants, City of Courtenay Planning Dept, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Georgia Strait Alliance.

The Real Estate Foundation of BC, the Pacific Salmon Foundation Community Salmon Program, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Wildlife Habitat Canada, and Fisheries & Oceans Canada Public Involvement Program have confirmed funding support to date. The Comox Valley Regional District will be contributing a Grant-in-Aid, and Coastal Community Credit Union is providing support.

Local businesses will also be sponsoring the event, including Architecture in Balance, a new company formed by Dishlevoy Hagarty Architects to tackle the challenges the world faces in terms of energy, water and materials use.

Several community groups are providing additional activities during the symposium, including an exhibit by members of the Comox Valley Camera Club, a historical display by the Courtenay Heritage Commission, and music organized by the Blue Planet Songfest. Local choral and music groups will share their favorite songs that honour the earth and environment, including the Forbidden Plateau Barbershop Chorus, women’s barbershop group Island Phoenix, The Evergreen Seniors Gospel Group, The Lettin’ Loose

Choir of Fanny Bay, Just in Time-we’ll SING vocal jazz choir, and David Embry of Vancouver.

The symposium is a great opportunity for people to hear experts speak about the importance of estuaries and how to restore them. It’s also a chance to get out and visit the estuary and learn how it works. The Courtenay River Estuary is at the heart of our community and it is important that we all work together as a community to preserve it.

Visit the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society website over the summer months for regular updates, program information and to register for the symposium, October 3-4.

Wes Seeley starts piecing together his next wooden eagle creation.  Inset: The start of the face.

Wes Seeley starts piecing together his next wooden eagle creation. Inset: The start of the face.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

A dolphin, adiposity
arcing gracefully on a silver rod mount, health
seems to have been magically turned to wood in the act of leaping out the ocean. The glowing red cedar invites touching of its curved belly as it flattens out to its flanged tail.

This piece of sculpture is the result of the passion of Wes Seeley. The dolphin is mounted on a shelf at the top of the stairwell in Seeley’s Comox home and swivels in its rod casing, supporting the illusion of being alive.

“When I get a piece of wood I look at it, turn it around, this way and that,” says Seeley. “I spend a lot of time holding it and observing it and feeling it. After a while, whatever is captured inside the wood comes to my mind and I see it. Then I start the carving.”

Seeley’s clean cut and compact being seems to vibrate with an inner delight, particularly when he speaks of his art. “Even as a kid I was always whittling at a piece of wood, making little boats for the creek and other things. I often seemed to have a piece of wood in my hands.” Perhaps in another time and place Seeley would have been able to pursue his art in a more formal fashion. As it was, however, like his father before him, he went into the logging industry when he finished high school at the age of 18.

“They were the options for boys like me,” he says with a shrug. “It was either fishing or logging.”

Seeley grew up on Quadra Island until he was 13, when he moved to nearby Campbell River with his mom and sister. “Quadra was a wonderful place for kids,” he remembers. “There was tons of bush to play in and rove about. It’s where I learned to love Mother Nature, I’m sure. Wildlife was abundant, much more than now, and we were living among it. Deer were everywhere; orcas went by frequently in those days.”

Andrew’s latest work is very ambitious—an eagle caught in the moment of take-off with a salmon in its talons. “I had to build this—it was calling to me,” he says. The body of the bird is about a foot long, its wings will be approximately five feet and they are curving downwards as the bird thrusts skyward. “The wings will support the sculpture on either side, and the salmon’s tail will form the third point of a triangle,” Seeley explains. “The whole piece will be free standing.” At the moment, the body of the eagle stands on a frame in the driveway of his home where he is working on it.

“Each feather-tip is cut with a band-saw,” he says as he turns a delicate two-inch piece of wood over in his capable fingers. The wood blends from a swirling ashy color to a slightly darker brown and is aromatic cedar. “I’m not too sure where it comes from—I must find out, it’s not from BC,” Seeley says.

“But once the varnish goes on, the colors really come alive.” He holds the piece down on top of another, showing how the small pieces overlap to give the image of feather tips. “When I go against the grain of the wood, the colors seem to all mesh together; with the grain gives two distinct colors with a line separating them. I experimented quite a bit before being satisfied with the way I was working the wood.”

Like most works of art, countless hours of painstaking work go into its creation. “I’m anticipating, oh, maybe 1,000 hours on this one,” Seeley says with a grin. “Time just flies for me when I’m working though. I come down to my workshop after supper and when I look at the clock, it’s two in the morning!”

The body of the bird is made of red cedar; the beak is also red cedar, but with a darker hue. The wing feathers are fir, before having the aromatic cedar glued on to them. “I’m going to have feathers on the underside of the wings too, as well as the tail,” Seeley says. “Because it’s free-standing, people will be able to see the underside of the eagle. I’m going to encourage people to really look closely, walk all around it, you know?”

Seeley is hoping to sell his work and make the transition from woodworking as a hobby to a full time career. “At the moment, I’m laid off—like many people in the logging industry,” he says wryly. “So it suits me well. I’m able to spend more time with my woodworking. Plus, I get to be at home with my family, which I cherish. Working away from home for two or three weeks at a time—I don’t like it. I’d much rather be here.”

Seeley still works as a boom-man. “I’m 50 years old now and I’ve worked all around the province on various contracts since I started as a teenager,” he says. “Of course there’s been some change in the logging industry during that time.

“Probably the biggest change has been in the way camps are run. There’s zero tolerance for drugs and being drunk. Accidents have gone down a lot because of that,” he adds, proudly noting that he has been sober for 23 years. “Best thing I ever did. I know that my life wouldn’t be the delight it is now if I were still drinking. I have a wonderful wife and two great children. I’m sure none of that would be possible if I still drank.

“I’d like to be able to say that logging practices have changed too,” he continues “but they haven’t. It’s still the same mentality. It can’t go on for ever, taking and taking.”

He shakes his head, then smiles, happy to have found a different way to work with wood. “I’m just so grateful I have this hobby,” he says. “It brings me into contact with other creative people, apart from bringing me lots of satisfaction for myself. I find other artists full of interesting ideas, talking about alternative ways of being, it brings inspiration.”

Seeley points to one of his earliest pieces, a one-dimensional feeding orca with a calf. The piece is about five feet long. “I did that piece about 10 years ago,” he says, noting the differences between this and his more current work. “Of course that’s what it’s all about—learning more about the woods and the creative process with each piece that I do. It’s one reason I’m so excited about the new eagle I’m currently working on.

“I did another eagle—they’re sort of a fixation with me,” he says. “But it was in flight, with its wings held aloft, unlike this one, where the wings are almost touching the ground as it takes off. That one had a wing span of over six feet and took about 400 hours of work to complete. It was bought by the owner of the airport in Port McNeil and his company is called Pacific Eagle Aviation. He thought it was perfect for the airport. It’s the first piece of art work I’ve sold, so it was very exciting for me.”

Giant eagles and leaping dolphins weren’t the first works Wes Seeley started with though. “I used to carve replicas of the boats I would see on the coast—fish boats and tug boats. The first commission I had was from my uncle, Brian McCabe of Quadra Island. He had a salmon troller fishing boat. I must have taken about 200 photographs of the inside and the outside before I started work on it,” Seeley remembers. He still has a photograph of the gaily painted replica, and even his boats seem to have a life about them.

“Other people on the coast saw my models and I did a replica of Jim Humphrey’s tug, ‘The Regent’. I probably sold about 10 of those replicas. It’s a funny thing, but I think my uncle liked the replica even more than his real boat!” He laughs, then adds: “Of course, there’s less work to do on it. The fishing boat looks a bit rusty and beat up now, but the model’s like brand new.”