Hamilton’s poison forest, dismissed and abandonned for 30 years, holds hopeful secrets about the resiliency of the wild. This land was once a tannery, then an oil storage facility, and now it holds back the plume spreading underground from a burned-down plastics factory. In the evening, we sit here in stillness among the scrubbby willows, our hearts holding the toxic legacy of this land.
But what does it mean for us to be visiting this forest ? What part do we play here, if any at all? How can we act on our desire to support this land’s obvious desire to heal? But before we ask what we can do, we instead try to ask, what is this place already doing to heal?
Like slow and careful raccoons, we take time to listen and watch this place. Over seasons, we have considered the work being done by the willows, goldenrod, sumac, burdocks and junk-trees growing here. We find signs of coyotes moving along the traintracks, and celebrate the return of the falcon who likes to hunt these meadows.
It is only from this place of knowing the poison forest that we cautiously begin to contribute. There’s a mushroom that likes to grow in certain places here, breaking apart old asphalt and concrete – a visiting friend taught us it’s called Shaggy Mane. Some parts of the poison forest have succeeded into a dense thicket, but others have remained “stuck” in the early meadow stage. With the help of a new friend, we have learned easy ways to inoculate soil with mycelium (like mushroom burritos!). We hope that spreading the Shaggy Manes to other parts of the site might help the soil there sustain something more.
As night falls and the industrial skyline of blinking lights and fire rises, we wish that the poplar trees will grow across this whole site to help contain more of the contaminated groundwater and the chromium left from the tannery. Through its resiliency, the poison forest contributes to the health of our neighbourhood, our habitat. As we step out through the fence, we plan to carry stories of this beautiful place with us, to encourage others to appreciate and value it the way we have come to.
For more information about the Knowing the Land is Resistance Collective and their work, check out www.knowingtheland.com