July 26 dawned clear and another in our seemingly endless string of hot dry summer days was in store. After breakfast I donned my work boots and loaded my shovel in the car, I wanted to get to the Shoreline Stewardship Project work site by 9 when the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society (CLRSS) Planting Party was set to start.
The project has the goal of restoring 3% of the Cowichan Lake shoreline and there were over 800 native plants in pots spread over the ground by the shore. When I arrived I was not surprised to see picks and shovels in the air, with several people hard at work already. It was evident that they had been working for some time and I later found out that Gerald Thom and other directors of the CLRSS had started a 6 am when Gerald had loaded his barbeque into his truck and hooked up his trailer full of topsoil and fertilizer and drove to the restoration site on Lake Cowichan Band property.
When I got to the site Gerald greeted me with his characteristic smile and suggested that I would have better luck digging in the hard ground if I used a pick first to soften things up a little. He then went down to the water to start up a water pump to feed the hoses that would be used to water the plants as we put them in the ground. Dozens of others from the CLRSS, local government, other conservation groups and First Nations soon arrived to join in and we toiled together for hours in the hot sun.
Gerald worked with us all the while keeping an eye on everyone and making sure to suggest we drink lots of water and take a break if we got too hot. I took him up on that one more than once. He kept on working, sometimes attending to the somewhat fiddly water pump and making sure everyone knew the planting procedure; dig, add topsoil and fertilizer, water, plant and water again.
When lunchtime came his wife Caroline was at the barbeque serving up delicious hamburgers and cold drinks. Gerald and I sat together by the shore enjoying our lunch and commenting about how our feet should be wet sitting here, but not this year because the lake is so low. I will remember those last few moments we had together whenever I think of him.
Gerald’s last day was very typical of his contribution to our community. He was a great leader who led by example and was the hardest worker in the CLRSS. He could find common ground with anyone. He was never judgmental and would listen to both sides of any story. He was a champion of our environment and watershed. He inspired our youth with his talks in the local schools about the importance of a healthy lake and river. He was not in our community for very long but he will have a lasting impact on the future of our watershed.
Gerald died suddenly while pursuing his passion for flying. Flying was his release and I am sure he felt getting up in the cool air of the evening was the perfect way to unwind after such a hard day.
Gerald may no longer be with us in a physical sense but his spirit lives within all of us. He touched so many of us and changed our lives for the better. His passing will not signal the end of our stewardship initiatives and we will all work harder to do the best we can to continue in his footsteps.
A "Tribute to Gerald" is planned for Sunday August 10th, 1 PM, at the Cowichan Lake Centennial Hall. Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society.