Close Encounters with Science: Picks

My Moment of Rebellion by Myrna Rootham

I pouted and told Uncle Bill that I would leave the city as soon as I could, for somewhere green. You see my teenaged friends and I had just been punished for spray painting the Welcome to Sudbury sign with Welcome to Mordor. It was a clear description, a simple truth about the black Sudbury landscape of the 1960’s. Over 10 000 hectares of land were barren. The hills beyond the lake that flanked our family home had been denuded by lumbering and then the sulphur emissions from the nickel smelters burnt off any secondary growth.

My little bit of Sudbury paradise was my Uncle Bill’s garden. Bill could grow a landscape of colourful flowers and vegetables enough to feed his family for the winter on bald Canadian Shield. He listened to my whining about the unfairness of being punished for my bit of vandalism- without anger, simply stating that instead of complaining, I should help turn the rocks back into forests. At the time I thought him a daft dreamer. A successful garden was one thing, a green landscape was another.

Uncle Bill lived in a fantasy world. He told me about how a university professor from Laurentian stopped to admire his garden and asked how he got such a green thumb. First you start with lime, then you use a phosphorous fertilizer every year. Lime, he said, Throw it everywhere. If everybody walked around with a backpack of lime, I bet we could bring this area back to life. Bill told me the university professor intended to try out his theory on small areas denuded by sulphur and time sending students with backpacks of lime out along the hills.

I missed Uncle Bill’s little miracle. While I was away for thirty years trying to grow my own family and gardens, 3,302.7 ha of land were limed and 7,226,401 tree seedlings were planted - some on the denuded hills of Southview Drive in my old neighbourhood. Hundreds of citizens more focussed and more optimistic than I volunteered in huge numbers to regreen the Sudbury area so it would never be known as the bleak polluted city where astronauts practised moon landings. The regreening of the Sudbury area also gave jobs to hundreds of workers and best, the Vale Mining Company financially supported these initiatives.

Uncle Bill passed on. I drove to Sudbury for the funeral, and was shocked by what I saw. Sudbury is a beautiful, green city now, with trees - Pine, Spruce, Larch, Cedar, Maple, Ash- the names of the city streets that were once an ironic joke. I stopped by Uncle Bill’s simple garden to pay homage. A simple man with a bit of scientific knowledge and sack full of common sense. If acid rain had caused the pollution, very simply neutralizing it with a base would correct a man-made error. There is always hope, that’s what a garden is, he had said to me, hope.


Myrna Rootham is from Ottawa, ON.

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