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A lesson, a warning, a flare

Here in Montreal, my window looks out onto Parc Laurier. With this view, I have been drawn with a cord of tenderness into the intricate politics of neighbourhood cats, the love between a chickadee couple, the diligent industry of iridescent black birds nesting in a nearby tree, the aesthetically pleasing daily walk of the man in the red coat with the Dalmatian, and the ceaseless antics of the squirrels.

This year has been one of partings without end: one billion animals dead in the Australian fires, swarms of locusts in Africa on a scale never seen in living memory, mass bleaching of the coral reefs, the warmest January on record.

And so I have found some comfort in the stories of nature ‘rebounding’ during the pandemic. Shy but adventurous wild boars, coyotes and deer wandering the empty streets; skies clearing to reveal faraway mountain ranges not seen from industrial cities in a lifetime; the canal waters of Venice almost crystalline (with rumours of dolphins!). It is breathtaking, the sudden clarity, the speed, the utter brilliance of the blue, and green, and the rough fur of the wild against our city surfaces.

These stories offer a peephole to another kind of city. One that is wilder, one that is allowed to go to seed, one with cleaner water and skies. Once you have seen the mountains, you will know to miss them.

And through this eyelet of possibility comes a lesson, a warning, a flare. The pandemic teaches us this: rapid, coherent change is possible. It has also laid bare that there is much to be actively dismantled, and much to be actively built.

Down in the park, I found the body of a young squirrel, small and sleek, under a tree. I marked its place with the most ancient of human writing, pushing sticks into the frozen ground, setting a circle of stones around it. A call for dog walkers and gentle children to observe the perfection of its paws and the almond shape of its closed eyes.


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