Once when I was a child, I went on a car trip with my parents. We passed through miles and miles of pine forest between Toronto and Montreal. Looking out the window I was mesmerized by the endless, depthless green. I leaned over to the Oldsmobile’s front seat and said “one day i’m going to go live in the woods.” “You can’t,” said my mother. “It’s all Crown land, or else it is owned by people. You can’t just go there and live.”
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. When we got to my grandmother’s house in Montreal I lay sobbing on the bathroom floor, my face against the cold tiles. The idea that the forest was ownedâ€“a place I could not goâ€“was bigger than I could process.
Since then I have wandered far and found many sanctuaries â€“ places that I loved, and thought were safe. The scrubby vacant lots of my childhood, the tadpole-rich streams. I felt that they were wild, and they were mine, and that they were free, and that I could always return there. But there are no more wild lots in North York, and the frogs of cottage country have been silencedâ€“their marshes drained and their streams diverted into culverts. Savary Island, La Manzanilla, Cortes Island, the desert valleys of Santa Fe – all are fenced off, or for sale, with a sign at the gate reading: PRIVATE PROPERTY. No matter how hard I might fight to save them, I am forever a trespasser.
The rage I feel about this crime of property is a howling wolf in my heart. Experience tells me that I have access to all the riches the world has to offer, and that I have the resilience to be happy anywhere. My intellect knows that securityâ€“the notion of a permanent and unchanging homeâ€“is pure illusion. And my smug political mind declares that it is exactly this mad assumption that we can own the earth, turn it into property, into real estate, then exploit and destroy it at willâ€“that got our species into the mess we are now in.
But it only takes a KEEP OUT sign to unleash the wolf in my heart, and I scream into the sky and I wonder if I will ever find home.