Creative Nonfiction by Jennifer Robinson
The elms on the grounds of this Mennonite school have been tied with bright orange ribbons and at first glance, she thinks they are marked for death. The city arborists use the same neon orange to paint a ring around trees infected with Dutch Elm, identifying the ones to be removed before they spread their disease to others. The ribbons, marking the plight of residential school survivors, and the paint, marking the trees to be imminently destroyed, look unsettlingly alike.
A gust of wind sends blood-red leaves skittering into the sky. She feels panicked and wants to shout at them to stay on the tree, to hang on, to tell them it is too soon for them to go, but all she can do is watch as they twist and swoop on their brief, airborne ride.
She thinks of all the brown-skinned children gathered up, weaned from nourishing sap, fed on chalky grain, wind-borne lives stopped short by pavement. Small brown bodies stuffed into earth, golden leaves resting atop, ground into dirt, decomposed, rotting, assimilating.
Although these elms are not marked for death, they mark it. They mark the death of the earth’s young, fall children. Their burning leaves spread out across the sky and say look closer. She likes the ones that cling to a branch all winter long. They are lonely and tenacious. Solitary and stubborn. She likes to think that when the small, green buds emerge in spring, fresh and oblivious, these old ones greet them. “Hang on tight,” they would say. “Let me tell you what I have seen.”
The leaves will return every year to drift through the sky. She tries to remember this. Every year some will tie orange ribbons around their tree trunks because they brought a dead culture, the Dutch Elm of culture, siphoned off what was alive here, poured it into their I.V. bags, dripping syrup greedily into their veins, knowing that it couldn’t sustain them for long, that they were already dying, already dead.
Phyllis Webstad’s orange shirt is both sprinkled through the sky and tied around trees. Another gust of wind sends them splattering through the air like confetti. As she leaves, she thinks that maybe they are celebrating a return.
Jennifer Robinson lives on Treaty 1 land, the territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, Dene and Metis nations. She is an emerging writer and her essays have appeared in The Dalhousie Review and Existere Magazine.