And in my dream I walk into my old school in Montgomery Place. The old red brick crumbling on the south and east sides of the building. There used to be a large concrete pad with painted hopscotch and Four Square patterns for games at recess, and tether ball poles, with bicycle stands that would be crowded with bikes, and the bike locks, chains covered in clear yellow plastic, sparkles embedded, and still, silent locks.
My dream starts on the east. There’s a large row of trees, as there used to be north of the parking lot, and the walk going to the main doors of the building. I am lying on the lawn, covered in fall leaves, and many many people are in small groups, as you find at any school where kids gather together to insulate themselves against the others. I was alone, and decided to nap in the sun. I walk away from the crowd and lie down on sparse dying lawn covered in brown dried leaves. I can hear them rustle as I shift to get comfortable. Donna Wahl, grown as I am in the dream, and others walk by. She smiles and say, “Hello Evonne.” And I reply, “Oh! Hi, Michelle,” surprising myself that I can remember anyone’s name.
There’s a crowd pointing to the sky waiting for something. It’s dark out and there is suddenly a large burst of red and orange, as far away as the sun, a ginormous explosion out there, and something is flung through the air leaving a mad trail of red and orange sparks. The crowd gasps and takes in their collective breath and cheers! It’s beautiful, and then gone. Someone has tied a tractor to a tree and children are on it. The wind, very wild just then, is swinging it round and round, like an exhibition ride, and the people in it are laughing, fully enjoying this. I am horrified! The weight of the tractor is going to pull that tree down and no one is concerned for the health of that tree! The tractor will land on the crowd and the kids in the tractor will be crushed! I’m yelling to stop it and my eyes follow the huge chain from the tractor to 2/3 up the tree to see the tree cracking right at that point.
And then I’m inside the school, and lost. There were only three halls then, in my childhood: a U shaped building with the south hall reserved for grades K-3, and the long east hall having grades 3-8, and home to the library; the north hall leading to the gym past the offices and storage and custodian rooms. There were bathrooms at the northeast juncture, and a huge boot room, which is where I entered in my dream, where I always enter in my old school dreams.
But I was suddenly lost inside the building. It had grown and overgrown again, around and around itself. Through a door I found myself in a small courtyard, underdeveloped, and looking up from between brick walls I could see the sky. I managed to get out of the building and was on the southwest side of the building where there was a soccer pitch but no more. Wandering to the south side I expected to see the long run of playground – it stretched on for, oh, must have been a block or more. But I only found more of the building. I came around and around it and looked back: a more elaborate building, smooth concrete, and a large full face of it, with pillars in my dream where there should have been humble wood windows leading to children’s classrooms. No, a sprawling community library. Part of me felt that a community library was a lovely addition to any school, but it felt sad somehow, as though all that was left of my beautiful childhood space was an archive of memories.
I walked what used to be the playground, past statues and small buildings, over dying brown grass, until I stood on a dirt mound which I determined must have been the hill. I stand there, beside a white monument honouring I don’t even know what and try to look around. I used to stand on that hill, slip on the long, unmown grass, wet with dew; used to run up it for exercise, panting and avoiding gopher holes, remembering to be careful because other kids had fallen, twisting their ankles, but racing against the other kids. I should have seen a paddling pool with a lifeguard’s shack – I peek in and rather than smelling the chlorine tablets and moist concrete, blue with paint, there’s mildew and mould, darkness, and a concrete slab where someone could rest. The corners of the shack are full of dead leaves and beetles. Turning I should have seen a wood and green play structure, a small concrete pad with monkeybars and merry-go-round. Nothing but development and I’m stunned. Kim Doetzel is there, apologizing to me, telling me how sorry she is for my loss and her eyes fill with tears. I ask her to take photos – I left my camera where I’d lain down and could she just get pictures please, to show what isn’t any more?
I turn her around and point to what used to be the “forest” at the back of the lot where we’d run and play hide-and-seek, and where young dating couples pre-adolescent would go to get their first kiss. But a tall, tall glass and metal building stood there with a dozen or so trees housed inside: an arboretum. There were families in there, a woman holding a child’s hand, and they were standing on a little boardwalk pointing up into the tiny canopy.
We were in the teahouse room there; people at tables, with little cakes. Decorating the room were small trees in lovely pots hung from the ceiling, a kind of suspended nursery. To give the feeling of the outdoors there was a fan and if it was imitating a burst of wind the pots would swing wildly. A squirt of chemicals presented an isopropyl suggestion of fresh air. One room was highly decorated, and Kim and I stood in the large entry, French sliding doors pulled fully open. It was terribly clean. To our left was a wall with painted climbing roses, very realistic and beautiful. Directly in front was some kind of performance area, and the space to the right had full floor to ceiling windows to let in natural light but there were only clouds overcast out there. There were round tables set for an event. I could barely breathe and asked Kim to take a quick video – I was nearly begging, “Please, just six seconds of video so they can see what’s happened! Just two seconds on each side of the room, a quick scan, and send it to me. You have my email! Please?” She fumbles with her camera to document it all.
We left the building. There should have been a road with a few middle class homes, and a tiny United Church. There was instead a parking lane, and rising to the sky were grey apartment buildings, presenting a formidable wall. I could go no further into my childhood memories. I turned around and around looking for the little twisted alley, lined with wild overgrown roses and lilac shrubs, that used to lead to my piano teacher’s house, or for the little church. I could identify the main road to the south with the boulevard that would amaze me in my childhood for its broadness – I could see how it had changed but I still recognized it – and that’s all. Nothing was the same. I was pierced with grief and woke up.
My first thought was of actually going back. No! No, I don’t want to know what has become of my childhood haunts. I don’t want to see progress. What if I went back in my 60s full of nostalgia and sweet memories and had those robbed from me by seeing the new reality? What if I remembered the strength in my ten year old legs to run and run in all that green space, and what has become of that girl? Where is she now?
Oh gosh! My mother! How she remembers her childhood homes and schools – the farm and the towns, the houses, and the gardens, the neighbours and pots of soup! How she loves her photo albums and her stories. I don’t want to grow old. I don’t. I’m fearful of the loss and the grief of it.
And then I thought of our beautiful world – how much I have loved nature – forests, and plants, the stunning beauty of expanse with no sign of man, and the breath-taking splendor of an unexpected solitary flower in a field. The gorgeousness of lakes and rivers, mountains and oceans, with the canopy of sky; the shocking chill of a first step into a clear, spring lake; the delicious repulsion of a handful of earthworms; the awe and reverence of a blue robin’s egg …. What of it? How will we grieve if when we go back to find it, we see expanses development and progress and only our memories of that luxurious and indulgent space are left to sustain us?
Oh no! What if, instead of me going back to my childhood, our children’s children go back to find the spaces in our photo albums and learn instead that all is lost and gone, no more, that they have only concrete and steel and glass in which to raise their children? The magnitude of that loss is incomprehensible. I can’t dwell on it. I pray it doesn’t get to that, but I fear, I have no confidence in us ….
My scriptures teach that there is a Creator God, Who created all the universe and put us here, on Earth, for our pleasure, and for His in watching our discovery of it. It tells the story of a species called Man who were meant to hold this space and tend to it as a garden and live in harmony caring for all the species, but who instead destroy each other and it in their quest for power and control and rush to get away from God. It’s devastating, and come true. However, in those same scriptures there are promises scattered throughout of restoration, of resurrection, of redemption for Man and for Earth; a promise that the Earth will teem with life, and fresh water, and species – all of them – will recover. There’s a promise of a 1000 years given as a gift to Man, when the Creator will come to direct us, to teach us how to reign here, how to govern, and how to be gardeners again; when we will have a second chance to recover the green and blue spaces of our memories and our dreams.