A short, 73-million year history of Tlell

What was the old Tlell? I asked around. But no one was talking.

A likeness of the Tlell ankylosaurus

A likeness of the Tlell ankylosaurus

In a month it will be 11 years since we decided to make Tlell our home. Like many, we came to visit and found we couldn’t really leave. Since then, we’ve bought a property, built a home and respectable jobs, and birthed two children on island. As my wise sister once said, “Haida Gwaii will either suck you in or spit you out, and you’ll know within a year.” I’m happy to report that Haida Gwaii has sucked us in, and become home.

In my expert opinion, Tlell is now populated by aging hippies, young rural professionals (Yrppies?), tradespeople, ranchers and small-scale farmers, all of whom make up a very interesting lot. The parties are never dull, and the conversations always lively.

So if the new Tlell is young families with two incomes, epic dance parties, even more epic music festivals, and community events rivalled by none (if I may say so myself), then what was the old Tlell? I asked around. But no one was talking. Or no one accurately remembered. So I’m going to make an educated guess and hope I offend someone well enough for them to set me straight. Yes, this is an imagined history of Tlell, informed both by facts, possibly distorted, and plenty of alternative facts. See if you can tell the difference.

Fifteen years ago, if you ventured to Tlell, you might meet a blond goddess who would tap an inner performance artist you never knew you had. You’d find yourself doing slow-motion summersaults on the mossy forest floor, and loving it. Nearby was a fledgling gathering of music lovers, gradually organizing a way to offer more music to more people. They picked a beautiful site on the ocean side, and parking that was Highways’ worst nightmare. The problem was, the music and atmosphere were so good, that strong winds couldn’t help but join. Not like they literally had to hold down the tent or anything

Tree planters regularly got lost somewhere around the Anvil Trail and just stayed. Social and environmental scientists were drawn in droves, captivated by this local phenomenon of ‘balance.’ Some family homesteads were now well established, people who had created their own little paradise in a world seemingly going mad. Others were arriving, curious, lulled by the lack of judgement in the air. Some just vacationed. Some stayed.

Forty years ago, love ran wild in Tlell. It dashed through the trees, tumbled down the river, and swirled with the waves on the beach, admittedly crashing down heavily some days. Ladies could be found giggling over mushroom tea at their kitchen tables, and not the chanterelle variety. As a direct or indirect result, a special breed of children were being raised, ones who would grow up to be industrious, compassionate, and thoroughly sarcastic. Eventually, some would leave to conquer a small south-seas republic, bankrupt a large multinational, or save a near-extinct animal. Others stayed, realizing that they could shape this community into a diverse but tight-knit blanket of fun and self-sustainable love.

A century ago, European men and women arrived shaking their heads in disbelief at the package of land they had been so generously gifted by the government a government that wanted the lands simply so the U.S. couldn’t have them. They stood among the ruins of a once vibrant and strong culture and nation, but they sadly paid it little mind. They were concerned about the quality of the soil for agriculture. They would discover that it was really no good at all, especially if you had no connection to it. But the trees were large, the sea otter pelts thick and shiny, and the fishing abundant. So much was taken, but only some of it honoured. Some left when the resources ran out, but others stayed trying to restore the balance.

Two thousand years ago, there was a village here on the banks of the Tllaal. People walked with the bears, spoke to the frogs, and listened to the trees. They were the diplomats and mediators of the island. Skidegate and Massett were always getting into a tiff over one thing or another. They’d all come marching down, waving argillite spears, and face-off in Tllaal. It forced the locals to get very good at conflict resolution, lest their longhouses, so nicely outfitted with wood-fired cedar hot tubs, got ruined.

Seventy-three million years ago, an ankylosaur scooped a small hadrosaur out of the river, looked around, and thought, “Hummm, this really seems like a good place to go fishing. I might just stay here forever…” Scientists are divided over the size of the ankylosaur population on Haida Gwaii some posit that a lone ankylosaur came to the island to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday dinosaur life, and focused on living off his art alone. Sadly, shipping costs made this impossible.

Correct me if I’m wrong! sewnart@haidagwaii.net.