Lambton County is one of the hardest-hit areas when it comes to the devastation brought on by the emerald ash borer. Nearly 1/4 of our entire canopy was native ash and now those trees are all dead or dying. This was a crisis of our own making as far too many people refused to heed warnings not to carry firewood out of infected areas, thus spreading the pest throughout North America. My response to this ecological crisis has been to study this phenomenon in depth and to express this profound loss through works of art. Signposts and Traces is a community-engaged, ecological artwork at Canatara Park which memorializes the ash trees of Canatara. This artwork, which takes the form of a trail of mourning with 14 stops, or stations at which the remains of ash trees are located, features temporary ‘shrouds’ for the trees made from phragmites stalks, and QR codes which leads participants with smartphones to an online exhibition in which each tree is memorialized through mourning art and jewellery reminiscent of Victorian mourning practices, death notices, and stories of the individual trees. There will be a community event on the Saturday following Arbour Day (April 29th, 10 a.m.) at which people from the Sarnia/Lambton community will be invited to participate. This event, to be held at Canatara Park, will take the form of a memorial service for the ash trees of Canatara, which were culled in 2014. People will be invited to share poetry, music, and other artistic expressions to eulogize the trees and then will be given the opportunity to walk the trail, contemplate the loss of the trees, leave birdseed offerings at each site, and use the QR codes at each stop to view each tree’s memorial page. The shrouds, which are made from all biodegradable materials will be left there so that they will eventually decay and nurture the soil.
This project will become an ongoing legacy for the community through the establishment of permanent, unobtrusive signposts along the trail that will direct visitors, via etched plates with QR codes, to the permanent online exhibition of mourning art and stories about each ash tree whose remains are marked along the trail. This project and the Arbour Day community event will be documented by a local photographer/filmmaker so that it will live on through the dissemination of this film, and there will be a 3-week display in the lobby of the JNAAG which will help to engage the community and raise awareness about the project and about the plight of the ash tree.
This is an aerial view of ash tree devastation in Lambton County.