Eocene Walk


A short walk through a tony Kelowna neighborhood has particular meaning for me. This walk is one taken by our fellowship of Cancer Center patients too cheap to pay parkade fees, and who don’t mind the three-block walk for free neighborhood parking.  I have another personally meaningful walk in the White Lake Basin, an hour or so by car south of Kelowna. These two walks are joined by a tree, and separated by 50 million years. 

During the Eocene Epoch the White Lake Basin supported lush semi-tropical vegetation. The signature tree species of that Epoch was Metasequoia, the Dawn Redwood, a deciduous conifer with lovely pinnate leaves. Fossilized bits and pieces of those delicate leaves can be found in the Basin, encased in sandstone. A few small samples I have collected are on display in our living room.  

I was dimly aware of the history of Metasequoia, thought to be extinct until a single grove of it was found in China in the 1940’s, but I had no idea it had become a landscape tree, until I discovered one on my Kelowna cancer walk. There it was, big as life, in someone’s front yard. The tree’s unique foliage, a kind of hybrid cross between needles and leaves, provided instant recognition. I nipped off a single leaflet from the suburban Metasequoia, took it home and laid it alongside my fossil specimens from White Lake. They were absolutely identical.

I’m not altogether sure what meaning I should draw from this 50 million-year personal coincidence. How could I have not known Metasequoia is now a relatively common landscape tree? Should I marvel at the amazing durability of nature? Or the humbling of human history by fossil trees? 

When I do the cancer walk, starting from free parking, past the Metasequoia and down the three blocks to the Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins Cancer Centre, I am part of an unspoken community. We are all heading there for diagnosis, radiation, chemo or consultation. I am also keenly aware of my trivial membership in this community, an old man with low grade prostate cancer. That is forcefully driven home to me whenever I pass a middle-aged woman wearing a headscarf. But like the Metasequoia, we all soldier on.

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