Time heals. This is something that is often said as we experience the passing of a loved one. Time can heal quite slowly in some cases — especially if someone is not prepared for how to handle the event and the feelings that come with it.
How do you handle the loss of someone that was there throughout a significant part of your life, and stands tall in your memory?
What if that someone wasn’t a person, but a tree?
This loss of ecological life may lead to ecological grief. Defined as the mourning that occurs when we lose parts of the natural world, ecological grief is just one way that climate change is increasingly impacting global mental health.
Whereas time may not heal grief or sadness completely, stories may help with processing those hard emotions that come with loss.
Commencing in the aftermath of the May 2022 derecho storm, “Stump Stories” is an initiative from the Kawartha World Issues Centre (KWIC) that holds space for the ecological grief experienced by Peterborough/Nogojiwanong community members. By inviting personal stories and reflection on the role of trees in the local environment, this initiative hopes to destigmatize grief in general and build awareness about ecological grief.
GreenUP is grateful to be sharing its Stump Stories, alongside those of KWIC’s team, to help raise awareness of the emotional aspect of climate change.
Grief can come in many forms. For Ev Richardson, KWIC program and outreach coordinator and creator of Stump Stories, grief was an unexpected consequence of the derecho storm. One of the hidden gems of East City, Rogers Cove, was hit especially hard by the extreme weather event.
“There was so much vibrancy down by the water that day, with families entertaining small children, people walking their dogs, and the occasional senior citizen enjoying shade,” Ev wrote. Walking home, however, the weather resembled a tropical storm. “I felt very helpless, imagining those laughing, joy-filled community members still at Rogers Cove.”
Over time, Ev recalled seeing the shock and sadness from the event transform into altruism.
“I remember a power generator running between two homes, both occupied by two elderly women. Seeing that they were sharing the generator warmed my heart.”
Seeing glimmers of hope after a devastating event such as the derecho can transform feelings of grief into feelings of acceptance and empowerment.
For Dennis Howlett, a member of KWIC’s board of directors, this meant seeing Inverlea Park as a space that inspired community action.
“[The park] was not spared from the fury of the derecho,” he wrote. “A dozen of the large old trees were blown over. Our beloved park, used by many community members, was a mess. After the storm, I took a sad walk through the park with my neighbour’s dog and mourned the loss of trees that had been growing for many decades.”
It was only until the city planted 11 new trees that Dennis was able to understand the importance of action to help deal with grief.
“Although the stumps that remain in the park are a sad reminder of the loss we experienced, they also inspire me to do more to protect the trees we do have — such as keeping the newly planted trees alive.”
An appreciation for the memories of trees and what remained after the storm was voiced by staff at GreenUP as another tool to deal with grief.
“I grew up walking in woods of maple, birch, and beech, sleeping in tents under pine and hemlock,” wrote Laura Keresztezi, program coordinator at GreenUP. “I’d never encountered a catalpa. The tree still astounds me with its whimsical, tropical, and fairy tale look. I’m feeling thankful for all the trees that are still standing in our mid-sized city.”
In his Stump Story, KWIC staff member James Outterson reflected on the opportunity that ecological grief and loss of biota can bring for renewal and action.
“As we lost trees in our yard, we gained space and light — and the chance to grow a large vegetable garden, orchard, and native species patch. From destruction and sadness, we now see an opportunity to rebuild and the ability to experience the same joy we got from our lost trees.”
Stories can be antidotes to ecological grief and inspire empowering action. If you have lost a loved tree, we invite you to start replanting and reflecting on the role of trees in our changing community.
This fall, GreenUP staff are replanting some of the many trees lost in Ecology Park. Our tree and plant nursery remains open until October 7th if you’d like to plant or replant loved trees in your area.
For more Stump Stories, or to submit your own, visit www.kwic.info/stump-stories or follow @kwic_ptbo on social media.
Local historians may know GreenUP began as emerging initiative under the umbrella program of KWIC, a long-standing partner working on sharing local stories and empowering the community to take action for their environment and climate.