Yesterday was a blissfully sunny day, unusual here in Kingston during this long, cold winter. That seemed a sign: today, I’m taking advantage of the weather to do some guerilla advocacy on behalf of Greenpeace Canada. At seven-thirty Saturday morning, it’s overcast but warm, so I set out with my twenty cloth ribbons, many of which bear the phrase #StandForForests. ‘Why would I need so many?’ I wonder, but bring them all anyway. Greenpeace had suggested that I could ribbon whichever trees I choose, but that the best ones are those with a story and those in high traffic areas. My friend Simon—a recognized expert on the city’s urban forest has armed me with a list of Kingston trees he recommends for this purpose. Deciding to go for a tree story first, my immediate destination is north and west of me, what used to be on the edge of town.
On a bus with my ribbons, I ponder my part in this advocacy. That Resolute is clear-cutting the boreal forest is horrifying for anyone who considers it, but I have personal reasons for wanting to protect my forest, boreal or otherwise. Four years ago, my body reacted violently to an allergen. My doctor advised me to spend time beneath trees—to camp out in my yard, even. Quite apart from the fact that I rely on trees for oxygen, I now know to rely on these giving creatures for healing and to restore my calm.
In the parking lot of the Kingston RONA Home & Garden stands an ancient black walnut tree. Simon said it’s considered one of the largest in Ontario. When RONA bought this land with the already historied black walnut growing there, they worked hard to preserve its roots. Sadly, the tree is in slow decline, likely due to soil compaction. I tie two of the ribbons together because the trunk’s girth is too big for one, and then realize I’m going to need four. Now I know why Greenpeace gave me so many. Stepping back to admire my work once I have the ribbons in place, I turn momentarily girly: the pure majesty of the tree, as well as its current situation, make me weepy.
Just a short walk from here is another stellar tree spot, a location famous for its old trees as well as its old inhabitants.
Inside the gates of the Cataraqui cemetery, I follow the signs to Sir John A. McDonald’s gravesite. Simon had recommended a large Kentucky coffeetree—native to the Carolinian forest in this area, and one of my favourite native species. It stands about fifty metres south of McDonald’s final resting place; it’s girth requires three ribbons. Few people would seek out this magnificent tree, but there are those who venture into the cemetery— even in half a metre of snow—to find the first prime minister of Canada. I hope those people will be drawn to read the hashtag on my ribboned tree.
McDonald’s grave is surrounded by a small, metal fence. Just inside one corner of the fence is a very old cedar tree. Cedars are meaningful to my childhood, so I ribbon that one, too. Two ribbons are needed, officially making this the largest cedar I know.
Before I get low on ribbons, I need to find a highly trafficked area, so I grab a bus back downtown.
The first suggestion on Simon’s list is a large bur oak tree near the intersection of Stuart and Barrie streets. As I turn the corner onto Barrie, the bur oak makes itself obvious at once because of its enormity. The tree is gorgeous. The weather is not. The weather has changed to a miserable rain shower. With damp feet and wet hair, I tie two ribbons together and bind the tree with a friendly bow.
Two strangers are walking huddled together on an icy path, several metres from the tree.
“Excuse me!” I interrupt. “I’m doing a Greenpeace initiative and wonder if you’d mind taking my picture?”
Luckily, they don’t mind at all.
As I’m putting my camera away, the weather turns again, this time to snow. I decide to head home and wait it out. Even with my head down against the weather, I’m aware that I’m sharing the street with a surprising number of people. A sign in front of one of the buildings announces an “Open House” on Queen’s University campus today. An opportunity is presenting itself: this could be the high traffic area I need.
Waiting in a vestibule for the weather to break, I consider the Summerhill grounds: there are dozens of old trees here, many meaningful to me as a child and then a Queen’s student. There’s a terrific black walnut directly in front of the principal’s residence. The sheer volume of pedestrian traffic being shepherded in guided tours along this very path is both astonishing and timely: there will likely be thousands of campus visitors today, many actually looking up, gauging the value of this historic campus for their child’s future.
Tying another three ribbons together, I beg a student passerby to take my photo with the tree. He agrees, with a conspiratorial wink.
“I may have just lost my alumni status,” I say, eyeing the walkway for security personnel.
Even if the day’s work did result in my losing alumni status, it certainly resulted in a huge gain. A regain, in fact. Despite the unreliable weather conditions, working under these old trees has returned my equanimity and made me more myself. Around trees, according to my doctor and Lewis Carroll, I’m “ ... much more muchier.” I’ve reclaimed my “muchness.”
You’re probably wondering why anyone who does guerilla advocacy would need to question their muchness levels. After all, muchness is obligatory for ‘guerilla’ anything. That may be, but we all need to be topped up occasionally, and now I know some outstanding examples of Kingston urban forest that will readily assist me with this task. All I need to do is visit them
By:Christine Bruce, author of This Road Continues One Block North
Photos courtesy of Christine Bruce