At the end of August, as Cardinal Divide was about to come out, a group of landowners on the North Mountain decided to fight the aerial spraying of some forest land. Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment had just issued a list of parcels of private land approved for spraying with a Glyphosate based herbicide. It included 250 acres owned by a corporation that had previously clearcut the forest to supply wood to the Northern Pulp mill. Now the corporation wanted to poison the hardwoods that were regrowing on the site — all the maple, birch, ash — leaving only the softwoods. That’s the function of these aerial spray programs, to stop the regrowth of the natural Acadian forest, instead creating an industrial monoculture ready for (climate change permitting) another clearcut in forty year’s time .
The government might have approved but the landowners did not. Many had lived in the area for over thirty years, tending their woodlots gently, sustainably. Several lived in houses built with timber cut from their own land. I knew two of them, Anna and Don. We had met at an ungodly hour one morning last October to car pool into Halifax. There we gathered in the cold dawn with other Extinction Rebellion activists to block the John MacDonald Bridge. Similar actions happened across Canada that day, part of a week of global rebellion. Some people hated that we disrupted traffic but it certainly got people talking and thinking about climate change. And for Anna and Don and me, it forged a bond.
So it was natural for me to lend a hand as they planned their protest, not that they needed much help. ‘Who’s willing to camp out on that land?’ Don asked at their first organizing meeting. Six hands went up. ‘Who’s willing to get arrested?’ Six hands went up. A long white canopy left over from somebody’s kid’s wedding was painted with the words “Don’t Spray Us”. It and some tents were raised on that clearcut land on September 1st, the first day spraying could happen according to the permits. A neighbour with a drone took pictures. Media got interested. Within three days the corporation caved. Their spray application was withdrawn.
Meantime those of us living a little further down the Annapolis Valley found out there were two sites on the South Mountain scheduled for spraying. We were nervous about going up against the company that owned those lands, the biggest sawmill in Southwest Nova Scotia. Anna and Don came to our planning meeting, bringing encouragement and the Don’t Spray Us canopy. This time we set up on two sites, one near Paradise Lake, the other Eel Weir Lake. It took four days for the company to decide not to spray this year.
That left us just enough time to scramble a camp together for two more parcels in Hants County. They didn’t get sprayed either.
Spending time on a piece of land that is trying to recover from the assault of a clearcut, you feel the will to heal. The land is a mess. The moist mossy floor of the forest is gone. The complex, invisible networks of fungi and roots in the soil have been disrupted. The soil, exposed now, is releasing the carbon it has been storing for decades. You know that but you see the stumps of maple and ash and oak sending up sprouts. You see birds and frogs, hear coyotes, know there’s a mama bear and two cubs in the woods nearby. And sometimes you think you hear the sound of a helicopter. You think about it, a chopper flying low over the clearcut, spraying poison on everything. How even if it’s true that Glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans, even if it doesn’t cause cancer in animals that eat the leaves and berries, even if it only does exactly what its proponents claim it does, it is going to kill all of the broad leafed plants in this clearcut. And because it has surfactants added to it to make it stick better to the leaves, it will kill any frog or salamander it comes in contact with. Why? Because the surfactants make it stick to their skin and amphibians breathe through their skin.
You sit in the clearcut and you think about these things and you feel a fierce joy that you are there, putting your body in the way. Saying no. Saying ‘Don’t Spray Us’ and meaning the true ‘us’, all of us. All living beings. You are not alone. I am not alone, out on the clearcut, saying ‘no’ for all of us.
So, in a strange way, I can’t imagine a better place to sign a copy of my book and put it in the hands of another person who has also travelled rough roads to stand with us.
All in all, this September, we occupied land in three counties in Nova Scotia. We stopped the spraying of 615 acres of the 3700 that were approved. It’s a beginning.