How has an ecosystem, something that has been around for 12,000 years or 180 million years, become deemed as ours?
And when we arguably need nature the most, how can all of that soil, rock, and bark, formed by nothing but natural processes and time, suddenly become off-limits?
It got me thinking, as Ontario is poised to reopen even more business and natural areas as a function of time this week.
COVID-19 has briefly bottlenecked us into a situation where we were forced to re-evaluate our relationship with the outdoors. When the various conservation areas, provincial parks, and other natural spaces in the region were systematically shut down, some people certainly felt a sense that something was taken away, as they may have felt about a gym, a favourite pub, or a service they valued. But it didn’t make much sense when compared to a store. You own a business, you sell human manufactured goods, and you’re often in an enclosed space without adequate spacing from people during the pandemic. The law has more obvious tangibility over this human landscape, compared to the flowing creeks and fungi in the forests.
However, I was wrong. The higher tiers and organizations of our economy ultimately cover the whole spectrum of human operations. I’m not suggesting we’re being controlled by some regime, or discrediting the very real seriousness of the virus, but hear me out.
Ownership ultimately means control.
In this context, control doesn’t have to come weighted with a negative connotation. We absolutely need control in some of our natural areas in order to protect them. It looks more awkward now than ever before, though.
Silly humans. Let’s remove 90 per cent of Niagara’s original forest coverage, let’s have a few governing bodies own the remaining parts, which will remain protected under their watch, but barricaded at their order.
I’ve watched the transition unfold. More parking meters, more permits and fees required for activities that were once seen as ordinary, and now, the reminder that these places forged by glaciers, erosion, and photosynthesis belong to someone, at least on paper.
With all due respect to the various authorities and governing bodies, one thing that became blaringly apparent to me is that nature is owned. Even Crown land in Ontario got “shut down.” That, to me, says a lot.
I am not oblivious as to why many natural areas are regulated and controlled. Let’s suppose our protected areas are like people, for a moment. Some are so unbelievably attractive, that others just can’t help but feel magnetized in masses. Hey, does that sound like a waterfall in our area?
Others are so sensitive, that it would be not only unruly, but damaging, to have several people swarm the spot at once. These are your spongy wetlands and the walls of the Niagara Escarpment.
Others are respectable and keep a low-key profile, these areas where people go for lunch breaks and have been defecating on in NOTL when washrooms were closed.
Some of the most biodiverse and beautiful areas around here contain an asterisk; violent rapids, crumbly cliffs, and potentially dangerous wildlife. Those who have chosen to buddy up with or purchase these lands have also signed up for the traits that come with them.
There are a few that don’t fit the mould. These are the natural spaces that are often larger, seen as unattractive or too risky for people to properly experience. Even on a non-lockdown day, they are rarely visited and are often silent treasure troves for biodiversity.
I missed filming some critical spring transitions along Lake Erie for another Hidden Corners film, because even the most remote areas I planned on exploring were legally closed to the public.
As I sit at my desk, an ant on a giant ball spinning around the sun, I know my place in the world and in nature. During these challenging times, have you thought to yourself during all of this, “what’s my place out there, and how am I reminded of that?”
Stay safe, stay healthy, and enjoy the newly-opened trails and parks where you can.