The soil in my garden spits up dry red needles
They logged the greenbelt behind our house two weeks ago. Since then the stump grinder has been running for hours at a stretch. My kids are fascinated. They say Wait, Mum, he’s going over it again, and so we stop on our walk and watch the stumps get shorter, inhaling the bright scent of pine and the diesel fumes.
The landmarks of Prince George disappear from week to week: the copse of trees across from the high school becomes a sorting yard; the trail where the feller-bunchers park at night is broken up by treadmarks in the mud.
We knew it was coming—we got our notice in the mailbox before Christmas. We are to stay out of the parks and playgrounds until further notice. After New Year’s the real falling starts: the trails are blocked with flagging tape, and men with chainsaws hanging from their waists grapple up backyard trees. We walk in the street to avoid the falling branches, which spray red needles when they hit the ground. Somehow the kids are lulled to sleep in the stroller though it rattles over the logging debris that covers the sidewalks. Their toqued heads knock gently together as I swear and struggle to push it over the wood chips.
The National calls from the CBC in Toronto. They want me to be their “eyes on the ground.” I try not to laugh—I’m a part-time poet who lives in the suburbs. The woman on the phone asks what it’s like to live in a city in a forest. Does she mean here? In Toronto, she explains, that’s how they described it to her. She must be picturing deep woods with houses and corner stores tucked in among the paths, and roads more like wagon trails. When I drive past Winners and Costco I don’t think “forest.”
No, I tell her, Prince George is a lot like the outskirts of Guelph. She falls silent and I amend it: Prince George is like Edmonton but planned by drunken loggers. She seems to like that better, so I carry on: it’s like living in a logging camp but with easier access to big box stores. What about the trees, she asks. Oh, they’re fine, I say, just shorter and mostly gone.
When they talk about the pine beetles, everyone says things like “decimated” and “chewed through hectares.” Finally, people outside the area are using the word epidemic. My soccer team complains—it’s so windy since they cut down the pine trees. The soil in my garden is spitting up dry red needles. You can see farther in the suburbs since they logged. You can see down one cul-de-sac into the next, and the next. I’m not sorry they did it, I tell the woman from The National, knowing I’m not going to be on TV, I like the wind. I think I’ll get better zucchini this year.
We still go for walks. We notice the new views across the river and into our neighbours’ backyards. As the snow melts, the chips start to blend into the mud. The logs too small to sell become our new balance beams and backrests when we go out for picnics. The kids hop from stump to stump and throw bark up in the air. They are too young to remember winter ending last year—instead of waiting for spring, they wait every day at the window for the logging trucks to drive into our park and haul away loads of beetle pine.