Travel, Uncategorized

Of travels, trees and tales: Everyone’s a storyteller


After an eventful month of travels through New York, Malmö, Copenhagen, Dublin, Toronto, and Montreal; I’ve been thinking a lot about people and about the associations that we make with urban places and the memories that resonate from various experiences. For some, it’s the architecture, for others it’s food, some like sculptures and monuments, some (like me) prefer the parks and cemeteries. Stories permeate all places, and the people who inhabit those places (both resident and transient) enhance the social and cultural features that enrich those narratives. I often stroll through cemeteries to practice tree ID, but more to imagine the stories that are compiled and concealed in those small unassuming dashes between two engraved dates on every tombstone.

People make all the difference in our experiences and associations. In New York City, with the Totten Fellows of the USDA Forest Service, I learned though our exchanges and field tours, that contributing to ways of knowing and fostering interdisciplinary in urban nature is necessary to enrich planning and practice. In Dublin, Ireland, my adventures with the staff of Wild Rover Tours, hearing our remarkable tour guide’s stories, reinforced the notion of narrative and its importance in our cultural evolutions, but also that the friendly and welcoming delivery of such histories significantly contributes to place-based learning. In Toronto, at the Canadian Dermatology Association Awards, I was reunited with colleagues from the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition with whom I have worked for twelve years to help pass Toronto’s Shade Policy for the benefit of public health in urban areas – we were honoured with this year’s Public Education Award for our film “Partners in Action”. And in Alnarp, Sweden, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present my academic research at the first International Urban Tree Diversity Conference, where an inspirational group of urban forestry professionals gathered to share knowledge and best practices for urban forests, trees and greenspaces. The most important lesson from these travels is that people are integral to the quality and resonance of the experience, but also to the outputs and the practice of urban landscapes. New ideas inspire change – or sometimes old ideas with new perspectives!

Here in Ottawa, our core team at Tree Canada is providing and strengthening national leadership in urban forestry to ensure that all Canadians have opportunities to work collaboratively through greening programs and projects. As the national Programs Manager, working with members of the Canadian Urban Forest Network, I help build our internal infrastructure for strategic urban forest leadership by developing new programs and resources, fostering relationships, and generating and sharing knowledge across the country.

Now, as I prepare to depart for Vancouver and Victoria to help coordinate our 11th Canadian Urban Forest Conference, Urban Forests by Design, I’m excited about the eclectic program on which we have embarked for this year’s event. We have incorporated aspects of design, diversity, management and community engagement, and we are continuing the dialogue of learning from the Social Sciences in urban forestry that was highlighted at the international conference, Urban Forests & Political Ecologies: Celebrating Transdisciplinarity in April 2013. It is at this juncture where narratives of the physiological, conceptual, emotional and creative weave together in our urban forests, through dynamic and knowledgeable citizens; whether it’s over a coffee break in the shade or hiking through a wooded path.

And so I invite readers to consider in more depth: What is the story that we want to be telling in 10 or 20 years about nature in our cities? What are the narratives that we want to resonate with our children? For whom and by whom are the stories told and written? What will our legacy be as Canadians?

~ Review written and posted online for Tree Canada Blog on Mistik; June 15, 2014 Ottawa, Ontario, Canada