“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one less traveled by—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
—Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
The season is fully in bloom in the Kawarthas, each tree a striking flush of green, the Otonabee River wavering in the late evening summer light, cyclists’ chains clicking their way through the humid air, and a gradual sense that the urban forest is more alive with the change of weather. In among the lush greenery are young squirrels, chipmunks, blue jay chicks, red canaries, and geese. In summer, the city has a striking duality and front-porch-step access to it.
Woven through the city’s buildings are stumps and roots with great importance. It is easy enough to overlook a green stem budding from a crack in the path on a hurried stroll from A to B. But acknowledging the presence of other earthly beings, learning, listening, and being mindful is a solid foundation for a better symbiotic relationship with nature. This mindfulness and understanding space means acknowledging the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe (Ojibway), originally named and known as Nogojiwanong (“place at the end of rapids”). It means recognizing and protecting this knowledge, and the right to share equitably in its benefits.
The lands are abundant in evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, and vines. Many of these have shaped our way of living, yet their uses for cosmetics, cuisine, and care are overlooked. The medical industry has appropriated traditional knowledge and the use of medicinal plants, creating chemical drugs based on the compounds of plants. The medical industry does not often recognize indigenous knowledge, and when it does it is frequently by exploiting it.
As Peterborough expands, it loses more and more of its surrounding natural forests. Many trees have withstood countless rough winters, dry summers, air pollution, windstorms, construction, and surrounding development. These trees are not simply optional landscaping, but fundamental to the welfare and comfort of the city, the planet, and its beings. Trees replenish and cool the air, provide shading to paths and buildings, alleviate harmful compounds, store carbon, buffer noise, and promote wellbeing. Earth’s natural vegetation has a spiritual meaning for many. A diverse greenspace also provides a range of food sources and shelter to wildlife.
Woodlands are remarkable in their ecological dynamic, but we may be greatly undervaluing their importance. Instead of losing our green spaces, we should be evaluating how to protect and conserve areas and make informed decisions. To a person passing by, parks and greenery in the city may seem common, but persistent development in the area means keeping a close eye on them. A brief look at urban greenspace around the world shows that it’s neither uniformly accessible nor rightfully distributed. With climate change upon us, now is the time to embrace the opportunity to build a different society sustained by the coexistence of human beings in harmony with nature and based on the recognition of the diverse cultural values.
In many traditions, plants are essential for sustenance and livelihood. For communities in the Amazon rainforest, the people’s knowledge and skill means they are able to progress in harmony with other beings. In Ecuador, the concept of Sumak Kawasay, meaning ‘buen vivir’ or ‘good life’, is a rich, connected, mindful way of living harmoniously with ourselves, others, and nature. It now permeates through many aspects of Ecuadorean living, and has even become part of Ecuador’s Constitution, which aims to place people over profit and acknowledges the rights of nature. Though, much like the struggles faced by Indigenous communities in North America, communities in the Amazon are still facing systematic oppression, health problems, and deterioration of pristine ecosystems due to exploitation and extraction.
On a more local level, GreenUP Ecology Park, a five-acre sustainable landscape of ideas and resources is assisting and managing projects to ensure that our impact on the environment and area is positive. With an exhibition of gardens, greenery, and natural areas, a native plant nursery, children’s programs, garden market, team-building workshops, proactive presentations, and resources on the native plants in the area and other green spaces, the park has many valuable reasons to visit.
Plants, trees, berries, and shrubs are a part of daily life. In a period of monetary ambiguity, when councils and governments are looking to develop “surplus” land possessions, such as unused, overgrown park spaces, we need to quickly and wisely assess the values of these spaces before they are traded away.
To make a difference in the Kawarthas, cultivate a harmonious lifestyle alongside the environment, recognize the land and its history, plant a tree, visit GreenUP and see else what can be done. Take the road less traveled by—you won’t be the last.
Photos by Holly Stark.