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personal essay- June 12th 2024 

my flower-friend(s)

Is it snowing? Screw it, I'm gardening !

That was me. I was obsessed with gardening. Especially the first few months, in spring. No, not even in spring... in February! Planning the garden, choosing the seeds, doing germination tests, every day opening the wet napkin to see if the seeds had germinated... not being able to throw any of them away... transplanting everything, ending up with far too many plants...


I have to say, smelling soil when it's minus a thousand outside, absorbing a little light from the heat lamps and playing with living things brings sunshine to the winter blues.


So, between February and June, I was always completely absorbed by the thousand and one little daily tasks that these little organisms demanded: water, transplant, feed, repeat.  By the last frost of spring - at the end of June in Abitibi (in the Northwest part of the province of Quebec) - I was already a little tired of gardening, while the rest of the normal world was just starting to get its hands dirty. By then, all I wanted to do was go for a swim in Lac aux fesses (literally: Butt Lake)...


There were about 50 species of edible and medicinal plants, shrubs and trees on my property: violet, calendula, echinacea, elecampane, marshmallow, lemon balm, catnip, sweetgrass, tobacco, sage, pine, strawberry, sorrel, oats, alder, coltsfoot, yarrow, balsam poplar, rhubarb, fireweed, mullein, euphrasia, arnica, chicory ... to name but a few. Not many vegetables. I left that to those who were really good at it: Annie and Luc from La Ferme La Turlute, my friend Nancy from Les Jardins de la Colonie... or even Michelle, my flower-friend. I shared her love of living things.


As I was saying, vegetables weren't really my thing - except maybe Jerusalem artichokes, a vegetable that grows back every year (I love them!!!). I much preferred the pansy flowers that decorate salads, roasted chicory root as a coffee substitute and all those so-called “invasive” plants that attract insects. Every year, I added new varieties. Sometimes it was for the fun of seeing how they would fare in a northern zone - Goji berry, for example - and other times it was for ecological reasons.


I had learned that in 2013, the number of monarch butterflies in the east of the continent had fallen by 95% compared with the 1990s. This was due to the disappearance of a billion milkweed plants between Mexico and Canada. This “weed” is essential to the monarch's survival: the females lay their eggs on the leaves and the larvae feed solely on this plant. It is toxic to most animals, so it protects them from predators.


Michelle told me that the David Suzuki Foundation had launched an awareness campaign to get people to replant milkweed on their land. So, in 2017, I invited milkweed to come and take root on my property.


In 2018, for reasons too complex and numerous to name here, I, along with my family, decided to sell our garden (er... I mean house): a difficult decision.  (On the other hand, I have to say that a snowstorm on the 15th of May... makes this kind of decision a little easier).


The flowerbeds had never been so vibrant, full and colorful in the weeks leading up to our move, which made my departure a little more difficult. Michelle came to get some plants to put in her garden: elecampane, marshmallow, arnica, pansy... and milkweed, which unfortunately I hadn't had time to see bloom.


How do you respond to someone who asks: “You're moving and you're sad to leave your garden? You can plant carrot seeds anywhere, can't you?" As anyone who's into gardening knows, there's nothing to say to that. A garden isn't just rows of carrots to be eaten when visitors arrive to show off being close to nature. A garden anchors us. Makes us dream. It colors us. It inhabits us. And it can't be moved.


But I'm moving. 


More than 3,400 km away, to a community in the verdant mountains of the Kootenays, Nelson, British Columbia is where my family and I decide to settle. A colorful, vibrant and lively little town. Zone 6 (I'm talking hardiness zone here), the climate is perfect for growing plants like lavender, cherry and walnut - an Abitibian's dream! On my small plot, I really don't have much room to garden, but there's a peach, pear and plum tree. I get so excited the first time my kids come home from school with their hands full of edible nuts picked around the corner. I'm happy here, but when I look at images of my land in St-Mathieu-d'Harricana, the tears come. I'm in mourning.


The summer after my move, I am back in Abitibi for a few weeks and decide to drive past my old house. All gone! Not a trace of marshmallow, milkweed, mallow or lemon balm. Even the greenhouse is gone, replaced by a garage housing a tractor. The only plant I can see is the beautiful burdock, which used its invasive powers to escape the cruel blades of the lawnmower. Ouch! It hurts. I have a hard time swallowing. I continue on my way. I don't regret my departure, but I'm still sad to see that there's no trace left of all my work and love.


The years go by. My native Abitibi is far away. With time, visiting family and friends becomes a priority. I decide to spend every summer with my parents.  


My parents live in a beautiful brick house on the shores of a small Kettle Lake in the boreal forest. They live next door to the sweetfern, the Moccasin flower, the bunchberry, the black spruce, the Goldthread, the blueberries, the pearly everlasting, the chanterelles... and Michelle, my flower-friend.


On a sunny morning, I go for a ride around the lake. I stop for a moment to readjust the seat of the yellow bike my mother lent me. That is when I see it: facing the wind, fragile, clumsy... I'm not dreaming: a monarch! My heart flutters. I smile from ear to ear.  I can't believe it. I've got to go and see Michelle.


She looks like she is waiting for me. At 70, she looks 7. Her eyes sparkle. She jumps for joy, gives me a quick kiss and leads me over to the milkweed. She shows me the cocoon clinging tightly to a leaf. Further on, we can see a chunky, colorful caterpillar. And while we're deliriously happy, a butterfly lands a few meters away on a rudbeckia flower.

I am so moved. I feel like I am witnessing something much bigger than myself, something grand, bigger than, say, a row of carrots... (I've got nothing against carrots!).


I no longer have a garden. My hands thirst for the soil. There is almost nothing left of the habitat I built, but this moment came like balm on a wound. My garden has left its mark. Michelle and I have together, in a small way, helped the monarch butterfly survive.

A garden is an oasis, a refuge, a nest, a place where anything can come to life. Gardening means giving life to three monarch butterflies and who knows how many more. It's helping to save life... it's the living helping the living...

Gardening is contributing to the beauty of the world.


Michelle died of cancer in 2021. Her last words to me: “Life is beautiful, don't ever forget it”. I'm sure she has become a plant... or a monarch.


This music and these images are for you Michelle. For all the things you've done, big and small.


P.S. This short film was created, without a camera, using plants picked in an alley in Nelson: quackgrass leaves, nasturtium and goldenrod flowers...

​Accompanied by videographer Bryan Lye, as part of his Let's Phytogram workshop at Oxygen Art Centre in in fall of 2023, this process greatly helped me reconnect with my love of plants and unite different parts of myself that could no longer exist separately: music, plants and creativity.


Following this workshop, I created a poetry booklet Je rêve de jardin using images from my herbarium, and in 2024, I started to get my hands in the soil again: I offer gardening services to the people of Nelson.

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