The new (ab)normal

After natural disasters, the landscapes around us feel decidedly unnatural.

I can only imagine how disorienting it must be for people recovering from catastrophic hurricanes, because I find the damages from our neighbourhood’s much smaller scale natural disaster bewildering enough.

Last fall, a tornado tore a swath through the Ottawa, Canada region. The twister uprooted trees and destroyed forests in the Greenbelt near my home and on paths where I used to walk my dog. For months the National Capital Commission kept portions of the path closed because they were too dangerous, and clean-up operations were underway.

Orange barrier fencing with the words "Temporarily closed for safety reasons."

I walked there for the first time two weeks ago, and I stumbled around lost. Paths that I used to walk on every day and knew as intimately as old friends looked completely different.

At one crossroad, I used to walk straight ahead into dark forest, but instead of dense trees and low light, the path ahead was bright with sky. I stopped and did a double-take. Was I in the right place? Had I somehow lost my way?

I retraced my steps to make sure, and I was not lost. The dense forest that used to lie ahead was just . . . gone.

Stacks of felled trees lay piled beside the trail. Ancient trees had lost limbs, and slender trees bent to the ground.

And then there was the swath.

Everything felt topsy-turvy and all wrong.

But, in the undergrowth, in areas suddenly bright with unfiltered sun, young trees sprouted. Buzzing insects had made a home in the torn-up turf.

Out of the new (ab)normal, life springs anew.

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