I was sitting dozing before the fire when my two great grandchildren rushed into the room …
“Grannie, Grannie … we’re bored! Will you tell us some stories? Will you tell us about the cabin in the woods?”
“Yeah, an’ Grannie … will you tell us again ‘bout how you used to play outside … an’ how there was grass an’ you could even see the sky? Please, Grannie, please?”
Now, I know their mother would not wish me to fill their heads with what once was and can never be again, but … it is all I have left to give them … the world that once was. And so, I make room for one of them on either side of me, and I begin …
Well, you see, when I was a little girl, so many years ago, I would wake up on Saturday morning, do the few chores assigned to me, and then run outside to play with my friends. Sometimes we played football in the street, sometimes we rode bicycles, and other days we went out in search of caterpillars that we would keep in canning jars with holes poked in the lids and some grass and water in the bottom. And then we would wait for them to turn into beautiful butterflies.
“An’ you didn’t even have to wear an oxygen mask to go outside, Grannie?”
“What’s a butterfly?”
No, child, we didn’t need to wear oxygen masks to go outside back then, for the air was fresh and clear, and you could look up and see how blue the sky was … not like today when all you see is murky yellow air. A butterfly, sweetie … well here … let me draw you a picture …
They aren’t around anymore … I guess they couldn’t survive in the bad air. We would play outside all day, sit in the grass to eat our sandwiches, and when night fell, we caught lightning bugs. They aren’t around anymore either, but they were little bugs that had some chemical at the tail end of their body, and as they flew, they lit up a pale yellow or green colour. It was how they ‘talked’ to the other lightning bugs. When I was a young girl, sometimes there would be hundreds of them in the yard, all lighting up at once. Oh, it was quite a sight to see and I always looked forward to their arrival in summer.
“What about the parks, Grannie? Tell us ‘bout the parks … pleeeeease!”
Oh yes, the parks. Sigh. Back then, we had national parks … hundreds, maybe even thousands of acres of forests with streams where the water was so clear you could see the fish swimming and the rocks in the very bottom. And nobody could build a business or a factory or even houses in the national parks, because they were protected land. The government protected them so that the critters that lived in them could live in safety and so that we would always have beautiful natural land to visit.
“What kind of critters lived there, Grannie?”
Well, it depended on where the park was, but most were home to deer, elk, snakes, squirrels, bears, wolves, coyote, birds and many others.
“Why did the parks go away, Grannie? Didn’t people want them anymore?”
“What happened to the animals?”
Well, child, I think that most of us wanted the parks, we appreciated them and loved being away from the cities, just enjoying the beauty of nature. But, there were some people who thought it was more important to use that land to drill for oil and gas, and to build hotels and factories, and the government gave in to the wishes of those people without listening to the rest of us.
Because those people who wanted to get rid of the parks had more money than the rest of us, and people with more money … well, they always get their way. Now as to what happened to the animals … some of them were taken to other places, but as a rule they didn’t adapt well to their new environments and … well, they … just … died.
“Grannie … why are you crying? Are you sad because the animals died?”
Oh, child … yes, I am very sad because the animals died, but I’m also sad because … well, because the whole life I once knew has died. I remember running through open fields, watering flowers and letting a big bumblebee land on my nose. I remember hiking in the woods with my friend Herb, how green the foliage was, how tall the trees, how clear the water in the streams. And I am sad, for all of that is gone now. Did I ever tell you about the great redwood trees on the west coast? Why, those trees … some were so wide that they even made a road right through the center of the tree!!! And they got so tall that you could barely see the top … sometimes as tall as almost 400 feet!!! I saw them plenty of times when I was a girl, but they were always a sight to behold.
“What happened to the redwoods trees, Gran?”
Well, mostly I think they were chopped down, but I hear the ones that were left just died for lack of oxygen. They can’t put oxygen masks on trees like they can people, you know. Same reason there’s no grass left in people’s yards … living things need clean air to breathe, even plants. I’m tired now, children, and it makes me too sad to remember how life used to be. Tell you what … bring that book about the bears that you like so much and I’ll read to you.
“Grannie … how come you never go to church with us?”
Because, child, I don’t believe in any of that nonsense they tell there about how some people are better than others because of the colour of their skin or who they choose to love. It’s a waste of time that I can spend doing better things.
“But mommy says you’re gonna get in trouble with the law and have to go to jail if you don’t go to church …”
Hush child … it matters not anymore … now go get that book like I told you.