In the middle of Vancouver Island the “Tsolum” (pronounced “sõlum”) is a peaceful river flowing through emerald forests. It is a ribbon of fresh mountain water snaking slowly down from the lakes of Mount Washington toward the Comox Bay estuary and the sea.
Creatures of all shapes and sizes share the surrounding space. Bears lumber and slumber, cougars stalk and sleep, deer roam and rest, wolves wander, 'coons creep, beavers build, otters swim, Douglas squirrels scurry in a hurry and bunnies bounce. Owls, eagles, turkey vultures and ravens rule the sky. Trumpeter swans and Sandhill cranes congregate on the wetlands and farmers' fields, while kingfishers, mergansers and mallards dip and dive to stay alive. Frogs, toads and salamanders croak and crawl. Crayfish, lamprey and mussels mysteriously move along the bottom of the river. Salmon spawn and trout travel. Insects and spiders thrive and humans survive.
In the middle of winter when swimming in the river will make most creatures shiver you will find a friendly little toad known as “Tsolum Sid” doing the froggy (or toady) kick. He makes his home in an old log lodged against the riverbank several kilometers upstream from the Bay. Sid has a few temporary homes on higher ground in the nearby forest for the numerous times when the river swells her banks and floods the riparian zone. But the old log is his favourite hideout.
Tsolum Sid loves winter. I know what you are thinking – don't toads, frogs and other amphibians hide and hibernate from the harshness of our freezin' season? Not Sid! He rejoices when the wind whistles up the river corridor while the water sometimes slowly, more often races down to sea. Some years it is so cold that ice forms along the shallow shore. Sid's fragile feet freeze as he hops along his log which makes his leaps longer and Sid stronger.
Today he is on his way to visit Olive the Otter. Olive is a river otter, a leaner cousin of the adorable ocean otter. She is usually found frolicking in a series of small, slippery caves that dot the river walls a short way upstream from Tsolum Sid's current space. Sid slides into the crisp water for a slosh through the slush. Ever cautious of the sounds that abound Olive's ears perk up as they interpret Sid's slight splashes as he advances closer. The river twists and turns frequently limiting visibility, and Sid is pretty tiny in the grandness of nature, after all he is a toad. Just as Sid shouts ”Hello” Olive spots her friend gliding under the greenery overhanging the bank. “Well, what a pleasant surprise!” exclaims a delighted Olive.
You see Olive is a young otter – it is her first year on her own since leaving her parents who live higher up the River. She visits them often but sometimes Olive gets lonely so she is always excited to see Tsolum Sid. They have great fun, chatting, chasing and challenging each other to diving contests. “Beat you to the bottom” Olive shrieks as she holds her breath and plunges purposefully into the depths of the local deep hole. Sid's legs flail furiously as he descends a mere second later. Olive wins – this time.
Just as she is giving Sid a big, wet thumbs up, joyous in her victory, Calvin the Crayfish suddenly appears from under a big, round rock. He is waving his claws wildly at his surprised friends. They all ascend quickly to the surface popping out of the water in unison surprising a crabby kingfisher on a nearby beach. The disturbed bird takes off downstream chattering angrily as he flies.
“Looks like Olive beat your bumpy legs again Sid!” Calvin taunts. Sid replies graciously. “That's OK. I'm a happy loser. The fun is in the thrill of the race and the company of friends.” Just then they recognize the excited cry of Ernie Eagle. The sound is coming from high above the woods to the west. He soars skillfully descending in slow circles. The air currents and his enormous wings guide his bulky body down to the rocky beach near Olive's set of caves. The three aquatic friends swim over to greet him, splashing and laughing as they go.
“What`s up Ernie?” Calvin asks. “I hoped I would find you here Sid” Ernie breathlessly blurts ignoring Calvin's query. “Catch your breath now” Olive coaches. Once Ernie's breathing returns to normal he tells the trio that he was on his way to visit Beth the Beaver and her family in the wetland when he noticed some men standing around Beth's summer hideout near the old bench by the big bend in the river. He didn't think much of it because he has seen lots of men standing around before.
“Just as I swooped away from the river I heard a loud buzzing sound.” “Were those guys raiding Blackie's honey stash?” asks Sid referring to their hibernating friend, Blackie the Bear. “The buzz was not of bees but chainsaws” clarifies Ernie. He tells his friends that he circled back around to have a closer look. As he glided slowly above the river the old willow tree by the bench that had stood guard over the water and baby salmon for as long as anyone could remember crashed to the ground snapping side branches which tumbled into the water. “I couldn't believe my eyes” declares Ernie “and I have great vision” he adds. He explained that all that remained was a 3' stump where the majestic protector had stood.
Olive was speechless. She twitched slightly and tiny tears slowly ran delicately down her brown fur. “I understand why man cuts wood” says Calvin “but not why they destroy streamside trees especially ones like Old Willow which are so important to us and the river.” And Calvin knows what he's talking about – years ago his family had to relocate when a group of large shade trees lining the river near their home were senselessly sawed and the water temperature soared seriously disturbing the aquatic climate.
And Sid remembers and shares with his friends the story of when his home was almost destroyed after Cooper's Corner collapsed into the river due to serious erosion the winter after the Coopers cut down all the trees to better the view from their cabin. The friends agree that they will spread the word about the importance of riparian trees for the health of the River and for the stability of people's land.