herbal · personal journey · Urban sprawl

The Walk to School

walk to school-1

Its the ecological destruction i grew up with. That’s my trauma.
generational trauma isn’t just with the indigenous who lost their
farms by the always meandering power of the St Lawrence. When I heard
Waneek -Horn Miller talking about how her family lost their farm and
land when it was expropriated for the St Lawrence seaway I remember
seeing those old farms near the highway before the on-ramp to the
bridge, an old farmhouse, a battered barn, a pick up truck.  The  old
homesteads looked like they were in a Springsteen music video to my
sheltered eyes. I felt that they were what really belonged there, in
those scrubby fields and grown over pastures, these homes where
families lived for generations. no more family milk cows loafing by
the barn.  And how the Mercier bridge blockade and the Oka crisis
affected her entire generation, that the children who grew up with
that should be recognized as children who witnessed a war. It brought
me back, I saw that blockade happen with my own eyes, I was ankle deep
in the river, fishing a little south of the bridge In an idylic spot,
a channel between a sliver of an island and the shore, mayflies
pouring out of the little riffles of the silver current, shad flies. I
don’t remember catching any small mouth bass that day but i remember
looking up to the bridge and noticing the long line of cars stopped
from Lasalle to where the bridge found land again, on Indian
territory, There were figures moving along the bridge, walking where
usually only cars passed, I wondered what was happening. Later, now
weeks into the blockade i saw people of my town burning effigies of
Indians, screaming at the warriors who manned the blockades not far
from our house. I saw real hatred for the first time, directed at
other people who happened to live close to us.  Fire, the army with
machine guns, temporary metal fencing, police everywhere, and down the
road, the highway leading to the bridge and Montreal – a line of cars
and trucks and debris blocking the road, the Warrior flag, and masked
men, some of them who had been in class with us just days before. Now
they had guns and were standing up to what i thought was the absolute
law of the land, the police, the local government. I think i was
envious of them, I always loved playing guns and with army toys – and
now here was a real live war at the end of my street! In our idylic
suburban life we played cowboys and Indians, now there was a real game
of guns and I stared in awe and confusion at what I saw.  Life went
on, I was working in the city and rode in with my parents, a huge
detour out first towards Valleyfield and then over to the west island
and entering even more traffic into the city. It was a hot summer and
it seemed uneventful save for what was happening down the road, a long
standoff in the heat of summer. The long commute to work in the heat
wore on people, unable to circulate in our town normally we had to
spend a lot more time driving,  people down by the barricades vented
there anger, tempers flared and the ugliness shone. My girlfriends
sister was pregnant at the time and something happened during
childbirth and I saw the little stillborn child lying beside her in
the hospital bed, they were talking about how the stress contributed
to it.
Me thinking i was just an innocent kid from the bland suburbs, but it
was a war zone in many ways, and for me the real battlefields were the
little swamps where the muskrat lived filled in with concrete to make
another parking lot for the appartment buildings they built one after
the other in Mr Laberges apple orchards and meadows where at school
recess i would hide in the long grass and watch and listen to the
Meadowlarks and Bobolinks who taught me of the beauty and mystery of
the bird world. I watched them plow over those fields and build ugly
three story vinyl sided housing, for who? Who were these people coming
to live in the fields and forests that i considered mine. That were
the rightful home of these (now rare) magical birds?  Now i see it
happening everywhere of course, nature on the run from the parking
lot. This, the abrupt and vicious change that called itself progress,
was more my trauma than the blockade and fighting the adult leaders on
TV were involved in. That i did not understand then because i was not
taught very much in history, with Mr Falcon bellowing the news of the
fur trade and the natives, and the Hudsons Bay Company and all that
facade that was constructed for us and glorified in thick imposing
textbooks – but it was still happening out the window, conquer and
destroy for trading prowess, occupy and take land that was not yours,
push people around. But it was a good place to grow up. I had a loving
family, a loving group of neighbours on my street where diversity was
real – Indian, Jamaican, African, Greek, Italian, French, Irish,
ect…all on one street. Good training for life. I would eat Samosa
and Naan at one of my teachers houses, hot fresh Naan bread with
butter, over at another Armenian la majoun with sumac, at the neighbours
across the street stuffed cabbage rolls and kielbasa sausage

So great upringing, much love and support. Just no real roots, we lived
on land that used to be farmed, but it wasn’t ours, so we eventually
left, sold the house, we had no reason to stay, it was getting
crowded, noisier, losing the small town feel.  So the trauma of seeing
nature disrespected stayed with me. If this was my culture, these were
my role models and peers, the local officials and police were now
being called out as liars and thieves, the land we lived on not ours,
our little lives had what meaning?  It was an invisible indoctrination into
institutions, from school to the big companies our parents worked at –
Bell, Northern Telecom, Air Canada, Crane, CN – a comfortable life.
Mashed potatoes and gravy on Sunday with a roast. Playing hockey or
football in the street until our moms called out for us to come have
dinner – those were magical days.  I saw those jobs dissipate and
leave, i mean some kids just followed their parents right into Ma Bell
or whatever else,but the beginings of turbulence in the world economy
showed with head offfices leaving and the ongoing language tensions.
but i lingered too long alone in the Beaver swamp to be swept up in
that search for enduring comfort – I saw in the Pines one morning an
old but spry Mohawk man that passed me silently one winter day,
holding a .22 rifle, hunting Cottontails…..that changed me right
there, to see him gliding quietly in the woods that winter day – he
had a connection to his land, to a past, to a knowing that the land
could still provide some sustenance even though it was frayed and
tattered and surrounded by more roads and houses, strip malls and
later, casinos and smoke shacks. But there in the thickets i found an
Ironwood tree, learned about dogwood and other trees and for the first
time, saw the tracks of deer and fox, found remnants of old cabins

growing up savage, a kid from the south shore –

I know plants, i can walk through a
forest and find a path, hear the birds, identify things and patterns,
explain them to people who do not see these things. It is a gift, a
reward from the earth for my humble dedication. even if it is a secret spot behind the garbage bins
along a rotten river behind a Tim Hortons, it must be kept available
for the wandering lost spirit
in the parking lot of winter looking for
anything but the linear monopoly of pavement,
to break open a crack
and see a little Night Heron standing by the shore of the creek that
looked dead

In the picture -the walk to school – you see the faint markings of
vehicle tracks, people had already signed the death warrant for this
field – we no longer consider you inviolate, a place  where no
machines shall pass to a place with soft grass now squished under the
first muddy tire track, first two wheel then four wheel, heavier and
muddier and the first beer and pop can, the bag of Cheetos, the
descent into bleak parking lot had begun. Soon the fields that I
walked through to school, the meadows, the old apple trees, the long
grass, the marsh – became huge apartment developments four stories
high, concrete buildings each unit with a little porch and lots of
parking. Just like that there was no more field, It would become a
wasteland of human sorrow. The mycelium buried under the asphalt
patiently kept spreading, kept reaching for the right conditions to
perpetuate life, one crack in the sidewalk and the first disturbance
adapted colonizer of bare ground makes its appearance.Sacred weeds
lead the way for scrubby trees that will sprout from between the
cracks, nothing can stop the plants from growing

I feel like it was a great place to be young, I had everything i
needed, I was well fed and there was a lot of love and support in our
house for me and my older brother, the world was our oyster I said to
my grandfather one time over the phone – i could see him smiling back.
the work part of that equation took me a while to figure out. Like to
have a comfortable lifestyle, you had to work for it. And our parents
did that, they left most days to full time jobs in the city and took
us   i played in sports and had friends right across the street, there
was the river, and the fields and forests. Our parents seemed to
relish their life, it was prosperous, some mums stayed home to take
care of the kids but many families had both parents working, there was
a community and there was love and people watching out for each other.
Ant there still is – just seeing these friends from childhood on
Facebook, leading lives of their own, there is still the feeling of
warmth when you see old friends from growing up,The blockade and the
crisis stood out in all of tha innocence to be a twisted scene from a
real life movie that unearthed all the hate and alienation people
felt. It is something that i don’t feel i ever really considered, it
happened and I don’t recall talking about it much. But when i see the
images I am brought back to its bizarre ugliness, and i feel shame for
all the people who were hurt and i felt as if it left our community
with a lot of shame, many of us had good friends and coaches,
teachers, artists, athletes on the reserve, people i looked up to, and
i felt bad being a white person living with other white people some of
whom hated you, the Mohawk. I didn’t hate them, i was so curious and
really in awe of how they conducted themselves, with honour. I was
afraid of some of them for sure, these were people from a long line of
warriors and they did not hide their nature.

Regan Moran


*Natural gardening services and land design*


3 thoughts on “The Walk to School

  1. I really enjoyed this Regan. Yes you have a gift for plants, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. You also have a gift for writing. I’ve experienced that as well going to school with you.

    Looking forward to reading more


  2. Wow Regan, I knew you had a love of the land, but I’ve never had the privilege to read your writing!
    I envisioned the neighbourhoods as I read on… the fields, forests, creeks of Chateauguay. We were so lucky to grow up in a time when children were allowed, encouraged, to wander and explore.
    I remembered the shame I felt when seeing protesters at the blockades, wondering why they didn’t understand why our Mohawk neighbours were standing up for the land that they love.
    I remembered you as a young pre-teen, your goofiness, your love of life.
    Thank you so much for sharing this, and for loving and protecting Mother Nature!!!


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