In my teens, I suffered from addiction and mental health issues. As a result, I dropped out of high school, couldn’t hold down a job, and felt hopeless. I attended several detox and treatment centres but relapsed each time. Eventually, I became an intravenous drug user and risked my life daily. In 2013, at twenty-one years old, I moved from Regina, Saskatchewan to Nanaimo, British Columbia for one last shot at treatment. It worked, and I’ve been sober since.
I decided to stay in Nanaimo because of the strong support network I built with other people in recovery. But Vancouver Island’s stunning nature was also a factor. I spent much of my first few months on the Island hiking and photographing the temperate rainforest, a landscape so foreign I felt like I was in a different country. I was mesmerized by its lichen and year-round green, its damp, crisp smell, and the birds that called it home.
For me, watching the lives of birds unfold—from a Pacific wren singing in understory to a great blue heron snatching a stickleback—is both exciting and healing. When I’m alone in the forest and lock eyes with a barred owl, my heart races. When I watch the same owl bring food to its young ones, my heart slows. That sense of wonder is what I hope to bring into your life through Birds and Bark.
- Spenser Smith
Spenser Smith is a writer, wildlife photographer, and Vancouver Island University student. His work has appeared in Maclean's, The Malahat Review, Prairie Fire, and The Puritan. In 2017, he won the Blodwyn Memorial Prize in poetry.