Trees on edge of cliff, Valdes Island

On Valdes Island, Gabriola’s neighbour in BC’s Gulf Islands chain, fault lines have exposed the underlying sandstone to the elements. With the passing of time, the combined forces of salt, sun, rain and wind have carved an intricate design of hollows, crests and ledges in these west-facing cliffs.

Atop the cliffs, the soil is thin and dry, and I’m left wondering how large trees like these Douglas fir and Arbutus in the photo above can manage to take root and survive on what seems such a perilous edge. How do their roots find purchase in such a thin layer of soil, and how do they make it through the driest summers? How in the world do they hang on when the winter winds blow?

The cliffs they sit upon are not insignificant, as you can see below. In places they rise more than 200 feet, and they seem to go straight up – in fact you can approach very close with no worry of grounding, even if you’re in a larger, deep-keeled boat than the one in this photo. The view is worth it: the sandstone galleries beneath these cliffs are stunning, especially late in the afternoon, when the western sun reveals the depth of their contours and rich mix of light and shadows.

Boat in front of Valdes Island cliffs

Nearby, among the smaller Flat Top Islands, weather and time have also created challenging conditions for trees. The elevations here are much lower than Valdes – there are no real cliffs on these aptly-named islands – but the textures of their shorelines are no less complex. Weather, salt water and waves have created myriad ridges and hollows in the sandstone, and over time, have worn rough surfaces smooth. Here’s an example:

Arbutus tree growing out of a crevice

Life on the Edge #2 (Flat Top Islands), © Laurie MacBride

Many of the rock crevices in the Flat Tops are tiny, but even so, trees like this Arbutus are able to grow there. By sending their roots down into tiny fractures in the sandstone, they open up larger spaces in the rock, enabling more growth. But despite understanding “how” these trees manage to do it, I continue to be amazed each time I see them: living on the land’s edge, perched so precariously over the sea.

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About Laurie MacBride, Eye on Environment

Photographer and writer focusing on nature and the environment

2 responses »

  1. ehpem says:

    I really like that top picture, it is so unreal to think that is stone, when it looks like a soft eroding river bank.

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