Thursday, October 01, 2009

Reading to Those Sitting in Trees

Red Hill Literary Festival (Aug. 5, 2004) from Lake Ontario Waterkeeper on Vimeo.



There's only one time in my life, so far, that I've read to human beings living in trees. Five years ago, I was invited with three other performers (Dave Bidini, writer & late member of the Rheostatics; John Terpstra, Hamilton poet/writer; and Sarah Harmer, brilliant singer and Escarpment activitist) in the Red Hill Creek Literary Festival. We were to read to an audience which included one or two (I can't remember) people who were living in the trees in order to protest the building of an expressway through the middle of a beautiful natural area, and destroying a swathe of the Niagara Escarpment (a World Biosphere Reserve) in east Hamilton. The tree-sitters were living in trees that were in an area that was to be leveled. There was vociferous opposition to the expressway, mostly because of the tremendous enivironmental damage, and partially because there seemed to be much better places already existing to build it which would both be more cost effective and, more importantly, preserve more of the Escarpment. The entire Expressway project cost an extraordinary amount of money. We read in a woods overlooking a huge razed area created to build the expressway. Across the stone area was another wooded area where the tree-dwellers lived. We had an audience, but really we were there to cheer up those in the trees, to show solidarity, to provide some entertainment. The video is a recording of the event. We had to hike in to the area. The police were there and made us take a circuitious route, for some reason. I was hoping to be arrested for reading my work, but I had no such luck! I guess it's just not that dangerous. (Maybe they missed that totally scandalous enjambment in the second poem...)

It appears that some of my first story (about 7 1/2 minutes in, is missing.) John Terpstra read some poems about trees, one which I remember vividly was about how a tree is an expert about the place where it stands. Sarah Harmer performed some very striking songs. Standing next to a singer who is so expressive and such a brilliant perform was very inspiring. Though the expressway was built and is now filled with traffic, Sarah Harmer has devoted the last few years as an activist to trying to protect the Escarpment, particularly focussing on a quarry that is scheduled to be build on land near where she grew up. She has created a movie and a benefit concert including David Suzuki, Great Big Sea and Jeremy Fisher. Though Hamilton is renowned for its steel mills and steel industry which are now fading fast, it is really a remarkable natural area filled with waterfalls, conservation areas, and part of the Bruce Trail. Indeed there is a movement afoot to have it recognized as the 'Waterfall Capital of the World,' since there are over 120 waterfalls in the city. I told myself that I wasn't ever going to use the Expressway, but once, late at night, I accidently drove onto it by continuing on a highway that led directly into it. Since then, and since it is already built, I have used it. There seems little point now in avoiding it, though every time I do, I remember hiking along the creek and woods; I remember giving this extraordinary reading.



Tree

all this holiness and i'm asking for holiness

like the one tree over which it rains

when the forest flames

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