This past Sunday the Outdoorsmen had an exciting hike at Cypress Falls, getting youth off their phones and throwing nature and knowledge at them instead.
Cypress Falls was an ideal mid-winter hike with its lower elevation reassured us that we wouldn’t be buried underneath snow. Sunday was a shot in the dark, with the week of rain, the warmth and sunshine that came with Sunday was miraculous, (we even all paused to sing Hallelujah mid hike as the sun called to our singing and danced onto us.)
We had a couple of challenges organizing this hike, getting teens to move and getting teens to learn. Both challenges happen to be prone to getting the same result, “Please stop and let us sleep.”
Many people confirmed that they were going, enthusiastically got their hiking gear, said they were going on the Facebook page, got really excited, then promptly forgot that an important part of going hiking is going up into the outdoors. So we ended up, very sadly, not waiting around for those who overslept and left with a core group of seven youth. These seven were ready to become hiking enthusiasts, now for my next challenge, telling them about trees and stuff or whatever.
“Hey guys, we’re going to talk about Gymnosperms today!”
“What does that mean?”
I realized then that scientific words weren’t going to cut it with a group of friends eager to have fun and BC park it.
After a short twenty minute walk after getting off the bus, we entered the park, already anticipating the walk up Cypress Creek up past two beautiful waterfalls.
We walked past the sound of the rushing water as the trail slowly went up, muscles burning, I brought attention to the Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees. Just a little further along the trail was a rocky viewing area of Cypress Falls, we paused to admire the water flowing into the canyon.
Somewhere here, we took a snack break, which meant education break. I explained that gymnosperms were in four different categories, one of them being conifers. And what makes a gymnosperm is it’s like of fruits or flowers. I pointed out how looking at the needles you can tell the difference between the Red Cedar and a Douglas Fir, which people found interesting. (I think?)
Explaining that they have cones, male generally at the top and smaller to fertilize the female, there were some epiphanies as most people didn’t know that cones had a sex. At this point though, I’m sure everyone just wanted to enjoy their snacks and have me stop talking- but I asked a question: Why are evergreens always green do you think?
This surprised me, they were so stumped by this question. Someone merely replied, “Because they are ever green.”
I took sometime with a group of interested individuals to look at a fallen piece of a Douglas fir, examining their needles and seeing that their shape is most likely an adaptation to conserve water. Their waxy coating, and leathery texture also helps to keep water during the winter. A fun fact I forgot to mention during the hike was that long ago, botanists discovered that needles are actually regular leaves that are rolled up very tightly.
Everyone already knew that photosynthesis is when trees use light to make food, they need that light all year long to survive, so they need to do it in the winter. From my super duper awesome info packet I made for this hike, I elaborated in closer detail that needles or leaves are the part of the tree that make sugar from air and water. They do this by a chemical process in which energy from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and water recombine to form sugars and oxygen. However, trees can only photosynthesize when water is available in a useful form, so when the only available water is snow or ice, even evergreen trees are dormant. They rest until conditions are right for photosynthesis to start again.
We walked up a steep part of the trail, everyone maybe even slightly intrigued about gymnosperms!
Eventually we approached a the increasingly loud sound of rushing water we followed the volume to the top of the cliff which was located very dangerously close to the waterfall, we stood and admired the site, the bravest of us venturing a little close to the edge. Luscious green came from all sides around the waterfall, there were moss covered trees circling the area and plenty of ferns growing in cracks of rich soil. (But moss and ferns is The Outdoorsmen hike #3!)
We went to another safer viewing point and stopped for a lunch, where I brought up the idea of why Red Cedar, Western Hemlock and Douglas Fir trees were the most prevalent, people chimed in that because they are what naturally grows here, they survived the longest, and they are the strongest and thrive in this climate. We had a conversation about what makes them work in this mild and wet climate, their strong roots and their ability to spread their fertilized cones and resistance to insects.
We continued to see the very large Cedar and Fir trees, some of which are 200 to 300 years old, this old growth part of the forest was incredible to compare to the second growth forest we were primarily walking through, since most areas of the North Shore have been logged in the last 100 years.
If we just left Douglas Firs without constantly impacting the environment more of them would reach this incredible size. The entire group of us linked hands and circled around a the ancient Douglas Fir, successfully making around one loop of the massive old growth tree.
We crossed a log over the Cypress Creek and followed the hike back to the place where we started the loop, with new ideas about the connection of structure and function in trees, take home ideas in that super cool info package and sore leg muscles.