Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Once Mighty Elm

     This tree might be 125 yrs old. It is just budding out and, as you can see, the graceful appearance of the Elm is projected through its branch structure. The tree would have been planted sometime in the 1880s. You could say it’s seen a lot of history. It’s safe to say it’s seen a more than a few governments come and ago.
     Now the Elm (Ulmus) thanks to Dutch Elm Disease is a tree in peril. Dutch Elm Disease (while a fungal infection transmitted by insects) is sort of like a flu or cholera epidemic in that a lot of people die, some don't and when they don't nobody knows why. This particular Parkdale tree is a survivor.
     Around about the time it was planted, probably by Scots immigrants (it's a non native variety I believe, Ulmus glabra, so an immigrant tree) the Metis and the Cree were stirring things up in Saskatchewan. After some initial victories the rebellion was put down. Louis Riel, a belated Father of Confederation, was hanged. John MacDonald and the Tories were in power. The building of the Transcontinental Railroad, and the judicial killing of M. Riel are to this day active metaphors in the psyche of our nation.
     That little Elm tree probably got off to a good start. Parkdale was a village in those days, sort of an independent bedroom community, with lots of posh houses. The Grand Trunk Railroad passed through the Village and if a passenger had business here he would have stayed at the Gladstone Hotel. The train station is gone, but the hotel is still around, newly recovered and gentrified.
     In 1889 the Village of Parkdale was subsumed by the City of Toronto. Wilfred Laurier was the Liberal PM. He was our first Quebcois PM and yikes, a Catholic! He sent the troops on a dopey unwinnable military adventure; South Africa and the Boer War. We lost about 224 soldiers in that one. So I guess we’re ahead in the dopey war department with the Afghan lark courtesy of both the Liberals and Conservatives. Now Laurier (like Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney) was a free trader. It was known as Reciprocity back then. Robert Borden, the leader of the Tories, was the Made in Canada hero.
     Parkdale went through some tough times. It wasn’t such a great place to live after The War to end all Wars. There was the birth of the League of Nations, not to be confused with the League of Extraordinary Men but about as memorable. The Roaring Twenties came along. In those days greed was good, sort of like the 1980s. Another War to End All Wars. The war the Commies won unless you watch a lot of Hollywood movies.
     In August of 1945 my father was enroute in his Lancaster bomber from Europe to the Pacific theatre of operations. The Yanks dropped the bomb on Nagasaki and it was as bad as the British and Canadian fire bombing of Dresden. My Dad got drunk in Halifax, got de-mobbed in Calgary and married Margaret Mary, raised a family, voted Liberal all his life and believed that technology would save us from ourselves.
     Our little tree by then was a big vital specimen, easily towering over the houses. Saskatchewan was making some noise again. Tommy Douglas put an end to outhouses. He also went up against the Doctors. The Doctors threatened to move to Las Vegas or Reno. Tommy stared them down and went on to become the greatest Canadian.
     I voted for the NDP candidate Peggy Nash, who, as Joe Fiorito pointed out, showed up to all the Parkdalian meetings. In the last provincial election I voted for the NDP candidate Cheri di Novo. I last saw Ms. di Novo at the the George Wass memorial. I believe Ms. Nash and Ms. di Novo want what is best for Parkdale, for the Province and for the Nation. My difficulty is that I'm not sure they or their Party have a handle on the main problem..
     The Greens have mushroomed to one seat in the House of Commons and continued irrelevance. One has only imagine a room full of decapitated chickens to get a sense of things going down at Liberal and Bloc Headquarters. No help there. My sense is that we don't have decades but years to solve our main problem. So?
     The real story for me is this Elm tree; this great and lovely survivor, a benevolent witnesses to our neighbourhood’s and our nation’s journey. To me the Elm is, like the Nation, bigger than Stephen Harper and his obese local toady, Rob Ford. I worry about this particular Elm.
      I've read that some of these magnificent trees live 500 yrs.   It seems to me this tree, at 125 or thereabouts is old. This once mighty Elm has become old, perhaps before its time, and it seems ever so vulnerable. I worry that it will become, like the railroad and a dangling Louis Riel, a powerful image of our Nation.
     I worry that this old and vulnerable Elm is to become the last image of us, a defining metaphor, perhaps a cell phone movie on You Tube, the final blurred, shaky images, the chipper truck and its chain saws parked on Elm Grove Ave, orange safety cones, reams of yellow caution tape jumping in the wind as the dead limbs fall.
     That's the Main Problem.

# 7: A Parkdale Walk:

Joe Fiorito:
Doom and Gloom: re the Main Problem

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