New Star Blogs

Garry oak meadows: A tender preoccupation

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Maleea Acker’s Gar­dens Aflame: Gar­ry Oak Mead­ows of BC’s South Coast was launched Novem­ber 16, at the Moka House Cafe in Vic­to­ria. The author of two books of poet­ry, The Reflect­ing Pool (2009) and The Almond In the Earth (forth­com­ing in 2013; both from Ped­lar Press). A writer who iden­ti­fies as a poet, and who works in envi­ron­men­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Ack­er was try­ing her hand at some­thing new — non-fic­tion — when she agreed to write about the Gar­ry oak for New Star’s Trans­mon­tanus series. Here Maleea offers a few reflec­tions on the process of com­ing from poet­ry to writ­ing non-fic­tion about the nat­ur­al world. — Eds.

Maleea Ack­er and friend, Vic­to­ria, BC, Sum­mer 2012.

Jan Zwicky once told me that poet­ry is a polit­i­cal act. When I think of the tra­jec­to­ry of this book, and my life in the last two years of research­ing and writ­ing it, what comes to mind is my slow­ly evolv­ing rela­tion­ship with writ­ing, art, soci­ety and the world.

My work has always built upon the sus­pi­cion that I was unwant­ed in wilder­ness. Nat­ur­al land­scapes seemed jarred when­ev­er I entered them. My solu­tion was to stay as qui­et and unob­tru­sive as pos­si­ble, while attend­ing, hop­ing things might reveal them­selves. I did not imag­ine, how­ev­er, that my pres­ence was improv­ing things. To para­phrase Mark Strand, I moved to keep things whole.

A Gar­ry oak mead­ow, how­ev­er, is an ecosys­tem that would not exist in its cur­rent form with­out human inter­ven­tion. Cared for using con­trolled burn­ing and selec­tive har­vest­ing, these “wild” mead­ows owe their exis­tence — includ­ing the largest vari­ety of flo­ra and insects of any ecosys­tem in BC — to human par­tic­i­pa­tion by First Nations, stretch­ing back thou­sands of years. And the mead­ows are but one exam­ple of many ecosys­tems around the world which humans have had a col­lab­o­ra­tive role in tend­ing and per­pet­u­at­ing — ecosys­tems pre­vi­ous­ly under­stood as untouched wilder­ness.

This book has helped to cement my belong­ing in the world. It has taught me about col­lab­o­ra­tion, the  slow work of phi­los­o­phy, and the ways in which our species actu­al­ly makes the world a bet­ter place. Writ­ing this on US elec­tion night, in the face of Mitt Rom­ney, the North­ern Gate­way Project, glob­al warm­ing and the long list of errors we have com­mit­ted, these are teach­ings to which I cling. Lined up togeth­er, they acknowl­edge that there is no pos­si­bil­i­ty of liv­ing an uncom­pli­cat­ed life.

But the feel­ing that this belong­ing pro­duces in me is akin to the fierce hope I have when I dri­ve past a pick­et line, or when I see anoth­er munic­i­pal gar­den bed plant­ed with native plants or with food. This book is a polit­i­cal act. And because I’m a poet first and fore­most, it quotes poets and philoso­phers along­side sci­en­tists and politi­cians. We’re going to need them all.

In my front yard, three new fresh­ly mulched gar­den beds now sit between the stretch­es of long grass that got me in so much trou­ble last sum­mer (you can read about that sto­ry in the book). In the beds, there are camas bulbs, res­cued from a devel­op­ment prop­er­ty on the oth­er side of Saanich. Some­one in Queenswood has cho­sen to build their new house on top of a coastal Gar­ry oak mead­ow bluff. But before they did, they opened their prop­er­ty to the Saanich Native Plant Sal­vage Group, so that the bulbs, ferns and shrubs could be relo­cat­ed before earth was scraped from the rock. Now some of the bulbs live at my house. The roots were three inch­es long when I plant­ed them; hope­ful­ly, next spring they will flower.