MONOCULTURE/
FORESTCULTURE

Domaine St-Bernard, Mont Tremblant, Hautes Laurentides, Québec, 2003. Residency : La ligne du Nord : Festival des arts contemporains des Laurentides, produced by Centre des arts contemporains du Québec à Montréal.

A narrow path (.5km) though the woods is demarcated with dark blue ribbon wrapped around the trees. It leads to a clearing at the base of a stone wall where three black stretcher-like structures are installed, each one holding a different species of conifer cones. Each form is approximately 360cm long x 70cm wide x 90cm high.

Monoculture plantations of spruce, fir and pine dominate the grounds of Domaine St-Bernard - endless immaculate lines of equally-spaced trees. Pacing up and down these rows of conifers, sometimes with eyes open, sometimes closed, I remark how easy is the walking—nothing to trip over, everything orderly, predictable, safe, still; and how it’s so very quiet—only the sound of wind rustling branches, and the occasional chatter of squirrels. Solely the cones, scattered pell-mell on the ground, are out of line, outside of some plan.

Beyond these rows, on the flanks of the surrounding hills is the forest. Walking from the monocultures into the forest, I feel my energy change. I slow down, senses alert to movement and animal sounds. I walk around live trees, step over rotting ones. Branches pull at clothes. I hear the snorting of a deer, the cries of crows.

Not far into the woods, partially hidden by the dense growth, I come to the foot of a stone cliff. Unable to see how far it stretches through the woods, I follow its direction, making my way through the brush, my left hand touching the stone. The aliveness of something as inert as granite presses upon me—tender green mosses, rusty pink lichen, dancing branch shadows, dark deep crevices. Eventually, I arrive at a clearing at the base of this wall - a place where I can sit, observe, think, pass time, feel a part of …

Mont Tremblant is close by, I reflect, as I sit in the middle of these woods. I think of the rows and rows of expensive copy-cat-condos springing up on its flanks, of the rows and rows of cars in the parking lots at its foot, of the numerous manicured golf courses surrounding the mountain with bright-even-greenness. I think of the rows of people, from countries far and near, lining up at the gondolas, anxiously waiting their turn to be transported to the summit. I think of the surrounding monoculture forests, of the scattered cones, the seeds with no place to germinate. I think of a book I recently read, Staying Alive by Vandana Shiva, an ecofeminist from India, and her concern about the ‘homogenising thrust of modernity’ threatening the planet’s biological and cultural diversity. I think of how the author describes the rural women in India as the custodians of the seeds, the women who for millennia selected, stored and replanted seeds, and how their survival has been undermined by corporate introduction of hybrids—seeds that can never reproduce. I think of the thousands of huge logging trucks I have witnessed over the years passing by my village, and wonder about the straggly new plantations replacing the old forests.

I feel a sense of urgency as I walk out of the forest and through the monocultures. I decide to create a symbolic action linking the global homogenizing phenomenon to this place - the Laurentians, my home. I become a seed gatherer, and spend days collecting pine cones, fir cones and spruce cones. I construct three long narrow stretchers, one for each tree species, using wood my neighbor gave me from his land. I think of the televised images of the wounded being carried out of war zones. I cover the stretchers with black canvas, and carry them to the clearing at the foot of the stone wall in the forest. From the monoculture to the forest, I carry the cones and lay them in the stretchers, in this metaphorical place of rest and healing. I cover them with thin blue veils—a small personal gesture of hope.