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North-End Traintrack Weeds: building healthy communities

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

 Knowing the Land is Resistance is a project based in the remaining Carolinian forest around Lake Ontario. Our goal is to explore the ways that a deeper connection to wild spaces around us can advise our work as activists. For more, check out our website: knowingtheland.wordpress.com

 

The afternoon is full of sunshine, warming our cheeks into squinting smiles. Today in Hamilton, there’s a street festival on James Street North, and it’s easy to get caught up in the joyful atmosphere. The street is closed to vehicles, music is playing, and everywhere we look, some performer or information booth seeks our attention.

Up ahead, a cop is hassling someone to leave. As we approach closer,  we see it’s that same friendly person who often stands on that same corner chatting with voices we don’t hear. This prompts us to look around again, and we notice that many of the familiar faces who are on this street every other day are conspicuously absent. It’s starting to seem like invitation to this event excludes many local residents as undesireable.

These festivals are a much-celebrated vision of the new downtown, but are they really increasing the health of our communities? Hamilton is littered with the abandonned storefronts of former development enthusiasm – is the trend on James North any different? And what would building a healthy community even look like? With these questions rattling around inside us,  we descend the hill along the west side of the james street train bridge to explore the meadow that grows there and seek some clarity.

We tumble through the tangled meadow community of raspberry, asters, goldenrod and grasses that have strengthened these damaged, polluted traintrack lands over time. Last year’s growth has formed into a dry mat along the ground, offering shelter for the insects and small mammals that live here all through winter. Gall flies have lovingly laid their eggs inside goldenrod stems so that as soon as their young hatch, they can start eating. Chemicals in the hungry grubs’ saliva then trick the goldenrod into growing a perfect, round belly in which the young flies can survive the winter freeze. Low to the ground, we see a meadow vole hard at work designing elaborate tunnels beneath the matted grasses. In creating their homes, voles do good work of spreading the networks of fungus that are essential to the restoration of healthy land. While scurrying around, the tiny voles are also unknowingly distributing nutrients evenly over the land in convenient pellet packages. The value of this little community’s accumulation of health seems huge in contrast to the destruction and poisoning of so much of the land around here.

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