Hope … amidst the destruction

The Nature of PEI by Gary Schneider

The fruit of an American Fly Honeysuckle

Toward the end of May, I took part in the Arbour Day planting at Victoria Park. Organized by the City of Charlottetown staff, it was the first of many planting events that will someday help that woodland become a healthier and more diverse forest.

The student planters were from different schools in the Charlottetown area, seven classes in all. They were of various ages, with some having experience with planting while others were new to this type of endeavour. They were great assistants, planting a mix of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and ferns.

As we planted some of the rarest plants in the province—including ironwood, witch hazel, yellow violet and Christmas fern—it occurred to me that we were doing more than enriching the forest. We were also giving the students an opportunity to learn about nature, about biodiversity, about ecosystem health. We were giving them a chance to develop a passion about forests.

I gained hope from seeing these young people so enthusiastically learning about what to plant where, how deep to plant, and why they should use mulch to keep moisture from evaporating.

I gained hope from hearing the robins and chickadees singing throughout the woodland, a sure sign that despite Fiona, nature hadn’t abandoned us.

And I gained hope as I was on my knees demonstrating how to plant. Before me were two tiny red maple seedlings that had recently emerged from the forest floor. I took this to be a sign of the resiliency of nature. Despite the storm, which smashed tall trees that then knocked over others nearby, there is still life in the forest that is just waiting for warmth and moisture and sunlight. There is still hope.

Fiona was a broom that swept away the results of past land-clearing and overharvesting, which resulted in unhealthy forests. Some of those woodlands had already started to fail before this particularly forceful visitor came along. We’ve been seeing it for years—the old field white spruce dying, the plantations infected by insects and diseases. Fiona, for all the damage it caused, has provided us with an opportunity to renew and rejuvenate our forests that might not have occurred without the gale-force winds.

If we are to move forward, we truly need to embrace this opportunity. We first must understand the science around forests and diversity and resiliency. And then we will start to see the potential that is all around us. Recently, I visited a stand of trees near Murray Harbour that had grown up on an abandoned field. The vast majority of the larger white spruce, balsam fir, and trembling aspen had been leveled. Yet two large red oak that were planted 50 years ago stood as though nothing bad had happened.

In Victoria Park, the yellow birch and gnarly beech trees for the most part still stand tall, despite the carnage all around them.

And at Brudenell Park, many of the white pine elders that I have been visiting for decades as part of my Christmas Bird Count area came crashing down. Yet it is still a white pine forest, and it remains quite beautiful.

We need to fall in love with forests. This includes our sugar maple and ironwood, hobblebush and round-leaf dogwood, trilliums and Braun’s holly fern. It also includes the gorgeous summer warblers, the woodpeckers and the thrushes. The amphibians and snakes are also part of a forest, as are the flying squirrels, foxes and deer mice. 

It’s a package that can fit together so nicely if we just act on this opportunity.