Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kimiko von Boetticher (1968-2010)

Earlier today a friend posted this photo of a Haida Gwaii sunrise into her online travel journal. Seeing this image reminded me of my own visit to those islands a little over 10 years ago.

Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, is Canada’s most remote archipelago and the traditional territory of the Haida First Nation. The islands' isolated location and unique conditions have made them a special destination for visitors from British Columbia, Canada and around the world interested in exploring the unique nature and Haida traditions to be found there.

My own inspiration to visit Haida Gwaii was triggered in 1997 when I first heard news reports of a sacred tree being felled as a deranged act of protest against the clear cutting of forests in British Columbia.

The story behind this tree (sometimes called the Golden Spruce, but known to the Haida as K'iid K'iyaas) is described in greater detail in an earlier post .

Although that post does provide the background of the tree itself, it doesn't explain the story of how and why I got to those islands in the first place. That part of the story starts in 1997, when I heard of K'iid K'iyaas for the first time.

When I first heard the news of this tree being felled I felt rocked to the very core of my being. I don't know why this story resonated with me as powerfully as it did, but it did. In that moment I made a vow that if I ever got out to the west coast of Canada I would make a special effort to go visit the site of this fallen tree to, effectively, pay my respects. Little did I realize at the time what kind of synchronicities would be unleashed with this simple promise.

Weeks after learning of the demise of the Golden Spruce I heard about an organization called Smartwood that was looking to certify forests and woodworkers to the sustainability standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) . Without hesitation I signed up, and on Earth Day 1998 I became one of the first custom furniture makers in the world to become certified to FSC standards.

In tandem with this I also began to volunteer time to help out the fledgling initiative of FSC Canada, which at that point consisted of a fellow named Marcelo Levy working on a shoestring budget out of a small office in Toronto.

In early 2000 I was asked if I'd be willing to be nominated for election to the FSC Canada board. In all honesty I had zero expectation of ever getting elected, because I highly doubted that anyone connected to forestry would have any idea who I was. But I agreed nonetheless, figuring that my name was just going to be a token addition to the ballot to create a semblance of competition for the position.

As fluke would have it I ended up getting elected. The news came right out of left field, and given how busy I was with work at the time I remember asking myself how I was ever going to find time for this new commitment. That question was answered a few days later when a freak accident in a touch football game resulted in multiple fractures to my left hand - effectively retiring me from that hobby.

My first meeting with the FSC Canada board was held in Toronto, and at this meeting it was determined that our next meeting would be held in Vancouver. Upon learning this I suddenly realized that the opportunity to visit the Golden Spruce had now presented itself.

Only now did I actually start looking at maps to figure out where, exactly, I would be going - and it was only then that I figured out that a side trip to Haida Gwaii was going to be a little more involved than driving a rental car north from Vancouver.

Now realizing my need for logistical help to make things happen I began to ask my fellow board members for advice and suggestions. Two of them provided names and email addresses of various people living on the islands, but for one reason or another none of these leads panned out. I resigned myself to the conclusion that a side trip to Haida Gwaii simply wasn't meant to be.

Then, a few weeks before the Vancouver meetings a friend of mine from Ottawa came by to visit. He asked how my Haida Gwaii plans were coming, and I told him that it wasn't looking like this part of the trip was going to happen.

"You're not going to believe this" he said, "But last night I was together with friends in a restaurant and we were talking about your plans to see the Golden Spruce. Someone at the next table overheard the conversation, and she handed me this business card - saying that if you were having trouble getting out there that you should give her a call."

The card belonged to a person named Kimiko von Boetticher, and at the time she was the HCSP Marine Stewardship Coordinator for Haida Gwaii. By some twist of fate she was in town to visit her parents, and just happened to overhear the conversation of my planned trip.

Of course it's one thing to overhear a conversation, and quite another to intuitively pass along a business card to a complete stranger. Nevertheless, this is what she did.

After a few photo calls I was finally able to arrange local transportation as well as a place to stay with Kimiko and her partner Andrew Merilees. But having done this a new problem now emerged.

Given how small the islands were there was only a single "puddle jumper" of a plane flying in and out of the village of Sandspit every day, and being so close to Christmas every flight was booked solid for weeks. Not willing to give up at this point I gave my itinerary to my travel agent, and hoped for the best to see what she could do.

Within hours she called me back - totally astonished. Two cancellations for single seats had suddenly appeared on her computer - one for the flight going in on the day I wanted, and the other for the flight going out. She asked if I still wanted them, and without hesitation I said to book the seats.

At the conclusion of the board meetings in Vancouver I made my way north to Haida Gwaii, where I was welcomed into the home of Kimiko and Andrew in the village of Masset. In addition to their wonderful hospitality of providing me with me with a place to stay, they also arranged for transportation to get me out to where the Golden Spruce was located.

On the next day I ended up making a solo venture into the rainforest, and my resulting experience can best be described as an epiphany. That experience not only resulted in the creation of a painting that was donated to the Haida as a gesture of Hope over the loss of their sacred tree, but several years later it also resulted in the story of K'iid K'iyaas being incorporated into an award winning film entitled "The Green Chain".

To make a long story short, had it not been for Kimiko following her intuitive hunch to pass along a business card to a complete stranger, my trip to Haida Gwaii would never have happened and, by extension, the story of K'iid K'iyaas would never have been part of "The Green Chain".

From my brief time spent with them I do know that both Kimiko and Andrew both felt deep love Haida Gwaii and everything associated with it, including K'iid K'iyaas. Probably without realizing it at the time, Kimiko had indirectly helped keep the spirit of the tree alive by keeping the memory of its story alive.

This morning, after seeing the photo of the Haida Gwaii sunrise, I decided to Google Kimiko's name to see what she was doing now. I was stunned to discover that she passed away on January 4th, 2010.

In honour of Kimiko I wanted to post this story of her to my blog - both to honour her spirit and help keep the memory of her alive. Thanks to Google I have found others have also posted stories of Kimiko as well, including Kimiko Tree by Sheri Bakes, and The Green Traveller by Robert Doane.

My deepest condolences to Andrew and the rest of Kimiko's family over her passing.

1 comment:

  1. Your story captures our Kimiko perfectly. I was friends with her for many years, visited her several times in Haida Gwaii, and was with her 3 years ago yesterday when she passed away. I have been missing her, thinking about this anniversary...your story is a reminder of her inhibition around connecting people and places---none so much as her Haida Gwaii. She loved it with all her heart and wanted nothing more than to share it with every worthy soul.
    Thankyou for this moment with a perfect reminder of why Kimiko was.