I walk along the Ganaraska in Port Hope almost every day and in all weathers. The river is never silent. It roars like a train when it’s at full torrent, mutters under its breath as it twists back over itself on the rocks, sighs in slow ripples as it laps its wider banks further up. Even in winter, its voice comes growling up from underneath the ice. It always seems to know my mood, communing with my anxiety, sadness, or delight, offering a salve or a pick me up, a revitalizing Come on, let’s get moving, or a Why not sit here and watch me, as if it could sense whether I need soothing or encouraging.
The trail along the Cavan Street towards the fish ladder is a gentle stretch that leads eventually to a park and to a grove of cedars along the river bank. In the company of those beautiful old trees, I can always breathe more deeply. It’s mysteriously dark there, cool even on the hottest days and usually isolated. I worry a bit about the trees, not knowing enough to judge if the fracturing of branches and ripped bark fabric means they are under threat. I hope not.
The other way takes me across the bridge and through town down to the Lake. Here the river is in its wedding-dress frills, frothing over rocks, breathing, calling, singing to itself as it picks up speed, boiling over as it moves across the shale shelves, settling down as it reaches the mouth. Once I saw a floating tree trunk there, overgrown with roots. It looked to me like a Viking ship heaped with treasure as if prepared for a burial. It disappeared after the winter ice, but I still look for its ghost. Other times, the East Beach is a lunar landscape, a misty other world, a frozen waste in winter, a colourful set of figures dotting the lake in summer.
At the beach, there’s a picnic bench and two ash trees. My app tells me that the one on the left is a red ash and the other a white. In warm weather, I take my folding chair and sit under their shade. The other day I saw with a shock that one of the trees had lost almost all its leaves. I thought at first it was because of the Emerald Ash Borer, but when in alarm I called the municipality, a friendly and knowledgeable man told me that the trees are not diseased but at the end of their natural lives. Both of them. They’re scheduled to come down and will not be replaced. They have never grown as large and leafy as ash trees often do, he said, because the soil is poor there, and the trees are exposed to harsh conditions, growing, as they do, so close to the sandy edge where the cold winds come in from the lake. Their roots, too, might have been damaged by the last few years of high water.
The ash tree’s name itself is infused with the sadness of dissolution. When I looked it up to discover its mythological and magical qualities, I learned that Yggdrasil, the famous world tree of Viking myth, whose spreading roots and branches were believed to encircle heaven and earth, was an ash. I couldn’t help but connect it with my Viking ship, and, of course, with those little stunted dying trees which, I imagined, must be contained in Yggdrasil’s larger embrace.
Trees do die, you know, the man from the town told me. I know. I’ve been reading in Richard Powers’ The Overstory that trees in distress speak to each other in myriad ways, through spores in the wind and the fusing of roots underground. It seems to me that the tree on the right knows and talks to its mate. The one is still fully leaved holding up the other. Like an old couple.
The river, the lake, the shoreline, the trees, speak of ceaseless change. Those changes are part of my daily walks, infusing me, teaching me, reminding me of the ancient cycles of which I too am a part.