A bona fide tornado touched down in Montreal last week, bringing stuff up with it - the tree in this picture, for example, and many others - and causing destruction. It got me thinking about something I remember reading in an interview with Margaret Atwood. She said a theme in Canadian writing is survival, which I assumed must be because of our scary weather. Although now people say Canada is supposed to be a “good place to be” for climate change. Never mind how fu####d that kind of thinking is, I wonder about the accuracy. Is it really better to be in a place where you could potentially face prolonged ice storms, flooding, rotting crops, arctic war…?
Bringing it back to the more immediate though, Hurricane Harvey that just hit Texas was a much stronger force than in Montreal, so I think it's safe to say that despite what we might get here, weather hits other places hard too. Everywhere in the world has weather - oceans or rivers, snow or sun, agriculture or buildings; trees. I’d say it’s about survival everywhere, it’s the same theme all over the world but the question is, what is survival? How often do you think about it? What does it mean to you? Is survival the same thing as being alive?
The tree in the picture lost its life: in only half a second it was taken up by the roots and toppled over a garage. Luckily, no body was in the building but someone could’ve been. Trees might fall over like that in forests; they definitely do in cities. It’s known as “windthrow,” which means when the roots are not given ample room to extend, to create a network with other trees, they get pulled up in this way wreaking havoc on our carefully constructed urban environments. I remember the often overlooked factor that contributed to so much devastation in the Haitian earthquake: deforestation. Stunted roots throughout the entire country. Why do you think the Dominican Republic didn't get torn apart in the same way, notwithstanding the two countries share the island? Because the Dominican still had strong network of trees. They were never forced to sell timber for reparation money to slave owners like Haiti, the first ‘successful’ slave uprising in the world (at least in modern times), did. Haiti, being so audacious as that, naturally had to pay heavy dues - - but I digress. I’ll just say this - to those who are upset or concerned about an increase in thousands of Haitians coming to Canada from the U.S., I would say it’s as it was for any other immigrant to this country - that is, it’s about survival.
Still, I believe the universal question we contend with on a daily basis is about resilience not survival. We’re all going to die anyway, aren’t we? An individual tree will eventually collapse too, but if it has a strong root system, other trees to hold onto and space to grow into, its eventual death and decay will only spawn other trees. We’re not so different from the trees. The same way we cut down and break apart tree connections, to sell timber or increase property value, is based on the same reason we cut apart and isolate ourselves. The underlying disease is the same: selfishness and shortsightedness. We become so caught up in ourselves and the basics of survival we lose sight of how much we need each other. So then we become vulnerable to any threatening storm that has the potential to "windthrow" us. We forget the bigger picture, which for some reason makes me think of Medgar Evers’ statement that, “you can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.”
Will we ever learn?