History can be cruel. No, I don't mean the history files in your web browser, although those can be cruel too, if your boss busts you for having surfed the crossword websites instead of working.
I spent a day recently at the national park at Point Pelee, which is as far south as you can go on the Canadian mainland. It's at 42º N, which is the same latitude as Barcelona, Spain and Rome, Italy. This means that while Spaniards and Italians enjoy warm, sunny temperatures nearly all year, Canadians at this same latitude shiver miserably and say, “Hmph! What have THEY got that we didn't get? This is so not fair. Pass the doughnuts, eh?”
Okay, seriously, Point Pelee is actually one of the warmer spots on the Canadian map, and in fact it was mostly wetlands at one time. Settlers who came here took one look at the huge trees with thick trunks, the sucking mud, the billions of mosquitoes and thought “Hey! What a great place to live!”
And live they did. A newspaper article of the time describes the pioneers as “heroes” for clearing the land. The article also goes on a great length about the “beauty and science” of swinging an axe properly. This just goes to show that journalists have always romanticized the things they don't have to do themselves. I'm pretty sure that to a settler, a good axe swing was one that didn't chop off a toe. I'm also fairly certain that they wouldn't have noticed missing toes until their feet thawed out in the spring.
Looking at Pelee now, when it's only about halfway restored to wilderness, I cannot imagine turning an acre of the stuff into a farm field, armed with nothing more than an axe and an overly sentimental newspaper article for inspiration. This is because in the battle of Garden Weeds vs. Chandra, the score is currently 472 to 0. I am defeated by the thought of mowing the lawn once a week, much less the idea of pulling a stump. Or walking on one.
Wildlife was also regarded in a different life. Rabbits, for example, were varmints that ate your vegetable garden, and furthermore they tasted good in stew and made good mittens and hats. These days rabbits are cute and cuddly; they go around being smart-alecky and saying “What's up doc?” and old Mr. MacGregor is a bad guy for shooing Flopsy and Mopsy out of the cabbage patch. I don't know who the rabbits signed as their agent, but I'd like his number.
Likewise the settlers who chopped down trees and shot birds and trapped muskrats have now been recast as villains. This goes to show that graduate students who write visitor centre text have always romanticized the things they haven't had to do too. I'm guessing that any grad student who had to fell a tree and pull a stump all by him or herself would not only find it heroic, but nearly as tough as properly formatting thesis citations.
History will eventually be a bit more even-handed and the settlers will just be people doing what they thought best at the time. In the meantime, as the land is reclaimed for wildlife, the shores of Point Pelee are being taken over by a new wave of immigrants settlers. Birds are coming back to nest. The deer are back to grazing. And the muskrats have returned to, um, musk, or whatever it is they do.
And of course the bugs are back by the billions. It is a land of new possibilities. Or as the spider was saying to his 43,869 sons as I was leaving: “Lots of trees for cover. Thousands of bugs to eat. An arachnid could do worse than set up a homestead here. Go web, young men, go web!”
To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.