The Contrarian: Planting Trees

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A Page from Willy Brant’s Diary

Rainy day last spring. Stopped at Joe’s on my way home from town. Found him busy transplanting tiny little cabbage plants into bigger pots; Joe has great big hands, my fingers are smaller and nimbler so I stayed to give him a hand with that little chore. I say “So, I came home from town by the back road, haven’t gone that way for a year or two, and guess what I saw?”

His reply “How would I know, maybe a moose or something?” “Nope, you know the old McWhirtle place over in the 4th concession? That bigger field at the back, must be 40 acres? The whole thing has been planted to trees; you can just see them above the grass, nice job, looks like a good success rate, nicely spaced.”

Joe responded, squinting as he tried to pick up a really tiny cabbage “Nothing new there, the bush is claiming a lot of abandoned fields, I saw a field over toward Minnitaki all nicely planted. Apparently you can apply to Ontario to have your field planted, and they will send a crew, no charge, and pay you rent besides!

“But only on your best agricultural land, if you have a patch that is too steep or rocky or whatever to farm, so it should be planted to trees, they won’t do that! All at the same time as Ontario is putting up big bucks to encourage new farmers in the Temiskaming district. They want to re-open long abandoned homesteads there while they shut down small farms here, even though the land and the climate there is not as good as here in the Wabigoon Valley.”

“Are you kidding?” from me, and “Nope” from him.

Then he went on to explain that some bureaucrat noticed that in Quebec, across the Ottawa River from Temiskaming, there is quite a prosperous-looking farm community. The dolt of course didn’t twig that Quebec supports small farms, while Ontario moves heaven and earth to force them to go big or go broke.

He finished “So, farming has disappeared in country like Temiskaming where the landscape is broken up by rock hills or lakes or whatever so big fields are not possible. Our soil and climate is better than theirs, so our farms haven’t completely gone back to bush like theirs, but it’s getting close.”

“Good grief!” from me, then “Remember old Billie McWhirtle? I remember him telling a story that when he was a kid, which would be like 90 years ago, their farmhouse was too hot to stay inside in summer. I can imagine, cooking for all those kids on a wood-fired cook stove and no summer kitchen.

He said they would stay outside, and in early summer the black flies and mosquitoes were so bad they would go cut brush and burn it, the smoke kept the bugs away. That’s how that big field got made into farmland in the first place. Billie must be turning over in his grave to see all that work undone.

Joe finished our talk with “Yep, well, you have heard me rant on all the possible reasons why Ontario wants us out of here, none of which really make practical sense, but all of which seem to help keep the money in the city where it belongs. Get used to it.”

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