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Back to the land 

Lezlie Lowe on human and mother nature.

They found the remains of Alicia Ross last week. Twenty-five and missing for a month from her home in Markham, Alicia’s remains were scattered around picturesque cottage country on a lake near Coboconk, Ontario. Three days before, it was Jennifer Teague. Eighteen and missing 11 days since she left the night shift at Wendy’s and never made it home, Jennifer’s body was found half-concealed just off a west-end Ottawa hiking trail.

In the movie of the end of these two abruptly halted lives, I see flashes of struggle and the abundant green of nature. And where there lies the incomprehensibility of trying to swallow the atrocities humans commit against humans, there’s another point of disconnect too: that the beauty of nature can hide so much horror.

It’s an idea Globe and Mail columnist Roy MacGregor wrote about September 20, but I felt it a couple weeks back visiting Halifax’s Seaview Park for the first time. It’s the little jut of land once known — likely still, to some — as Africville, before the City of Halifax resettled the last of the community’s black residents in 1967, levelled the family homes and church and appropriated the land.

Seaview Park is a lovely spot with as good a view of Bedford Basin as you’ll get from the peninsula. There are trees, grass, wild rose bushes, running dogs and ball-throwing people. And there is the sense that this park has a history, quite like the soul of an ill-rested ghost.

Stony Swamp, the park where an off-duty Ottawa police officer found Jennifer, is a greenbelt in Ottawa’s suburban west end. It’s a sanctuary — both for its wetland wildlife and the people who walk its trails.

People wonder if the same person who tossed Jennifer’s body might be responsible for committing matching indignities against 27-year-old Ardeth Wood, whose remains were found in an east end Ottawa park in 2003. Ardeth was found at Green’s Creek, not far from my dad’s house. Green’s Creek has rolling verdant trails and tall conifers. It hides an eponymous creek, and once also hid the body of a young woman abducted from a bike trail and drowned.

At Seaview Park there’s no body, unless you count the sundial monument at the park’s entrance. And you might as well, since that’s the only physical reminder of the community that used to live and breathe there. But a sundial is as much a remnant of life as the scattered parts of Alicia Ross, the half-buried corpse of Jennifer Teague or the water-covered body of Ardeth Wood. A monument hardly stands for Africville’s community. And like the bodies to the women, it’s an affront to the original.

Africville was done in by its neighbours, fellow Haligonians who decried the community as dirty and dangerous, yet failed to acknowledge the decay came from their own failure to provide essential services, like sewers, to Africville’s residents. It’s a terrible realization, and one similar to the knowledge that a neighbour of Alicia has been accused of her murder. It’s the sense that one who might have been a protector has turned into an attacker.

Neighbours hide secrets. So does nature. Like the grass that grows up and covers the remains of the extermination camps at Belzec and Treblinka and pulls the razed buildings back into the earth, nature, in its unconscious complicity, erases horror. But never completely. You can feel the ghosts alive in our geography because bodies — whether forcibly relocated by racist city governments or cruelly dumped and half-hidden by murderers — rarely stay hidden for long.

You don’t have to hide your thoughts about crime or government. Email: lezliel@thecoast.ca.

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