By Sandy Reynolds
I am often confronted with the destruction of the natural world from my backyard. I live near the escarpment trails that run through the city of Hamilton, Ontario. On a clear day, you can see across the bay to the CN Tower in Toronto. Frequently the view is hazy and the landmarks in the distant are barely visible. Looking through the all too familiar yellow-tinged smog I try to imagine what this land was like when it was pristine. Before my people came.
“Prior to European settlement, Cootes Paradise and the shallows of Hamilton Harbour sheltered vast and thriving freshwater coastal marshes. … Once nearly 100% covered by emergent and submergent aquatic plants, the extent of marsh vegetation has declined to 85% cover in the 1930s, and to only 15% in 1985. A variety of stresses were responsible for this decline. Human development and farming in the watershed contaminated the marsh’s tributary streams with sewage effluent, eroded soil, and chemical runoff.” (Source)
It’s November and in this place, the trees have shed most of their leaves. The green curtain of summer has fallen exposing the defiled landscape of a city still trying to escape its rust belt history. Darkness has now started to settle over the land. The words of Haggai echo through my mind, “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory?”
Former glory is a phrase that conjures up nostalgic thoughts of “the good old days.” In the case of Cootes Paradise, former glory is often thought of as the days when Captain Thomas Coote, a British Soldier, for whom the marshland was named became enamoured with this land. But discoveries made by McMaster University researches suggest that aboriginal people were hunting along the shores of Cootes Paradise as far back as the Archaic Period, which extended approximately 1500 BC to 800 BC. Archaeological digs have unearthed a seasonal fishing camp, circa 900 AD, at Princess Point on the south side of the marsh, with clear evidence that the occupants had feasted on local fish, freshwater clams, turtles, deer and rodents. Fish and wildlife were abundant. The former glory being a land that sustained the people not a paradise for game hunting.
I think of the words of Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, “Things get very clear when you are cornered.” Apparently enough of us don’t feel cornered yet. It is easy to lose hope that we will ever be able to restore our earth, this house of the Lord, where the spirit roams, to its former glory.
The prophet delivers the word of the Lord,
My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land: and I will shake all the nations so that the treasure of all the nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and I this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.
This reading from the second section in the book of Haggai was written to a despondent people. A people who had grown weary in rebuilding. A people in need of encouragement. A people needing to be reminded that the story is not finished.
We can only imagine the day when we shall see clearly. When all the earth will sing and the seas and all that fills them will roar and the hills to sing together for joy – the Lord will restore the world with justice and the peoples with equity.
Today, Cootes Paradise is slowly being restored. It is a long and arduous task and we need to hear stories about the history of this place. And on the clear days, we remind each other of what could be. And dream about the former glory of this place.
Sandy Reynolds is a facilitator and coach living in Hamilton, Ontario. After 25 years of active church leadership, she has shifted her focus to bushcraft skills. She is part of the Wild Church network and is looking for local people who would like to explore worship with nature. Sandy lives on traditional territory of the Haudensaunee and Anishnaabeg in the Grand River Watershed. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties, is within the lands protected by the “Dish With One Spoon” wampum agreement and is directly adjacent to Haldiman Treaty territory.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.