“He who plants a tree, plants a hope”
– Lucy Larcom
I voted early yesterday in the Provincial elections here in BC. Having lived in Europe for so many years, voting locally is an artisanal gelato of a treat! I give thanks to the suffragettes who suffered for women to be granted the right to vote about a hundred years ago. So many steps and firsts women have fought for. My Master’s thesis advisor Martha McClintock told us tales of the first bra-burning and about women having to use separate entrances in Ivy League colleges in the 1960s . Martha is one who has pushed peacefully, elegantly and eloquently for equality. I have had wonderful mentors and role models of powerful and loving women in my life.
Norah Beatrice Lee was an eccentric who helped to raise me. One of my fond Norah memories was ‘doing Norah’s hair” which involved putting twigs and leaves on her head and any other bits of ribbon and elastic bands we could muster, plus the occasional insect. She would close her eyes during our gleeful administrations and then shake it all out. Norah was most famous in the community for never wearing shoes. Never. In all weather: snow, sleet, hail and ice she went barefoot. Having loaned my parents seed money to start their first business, Nora’s hard-cracked heels were always welcome in our home. A child of Saskatchewan’s bitter depression, Norah became the first woman to operate a digger. She was on the cover of MacLeans Magazine I was told. When people asked her the secret to her long-life, she barked, “I stay away from men and doctors!”
My great-grandmother from India was widowed at 18 with three young boys. Abstaining from men and re-marriage, she dedicated the rest of her life to her sons and my mother, She fought to keep them alive during India’s Partition. Beiji passed on her iron will and determination to my incredible mother, who has fought many a winning battle in the game of life.
My husband’s great aunt Tante Bite was the first French woman to get a PhD in Physics in France. Today I came smack upon another trail-blazer. It was at an unlikely setting, a beautiful bridal shower. I had just given a gift of trees to my friend Harmony when her mom Barb spoke up, “I was the first tree-planter, you know. *Woman* tree-planter, “she clarified, “I bet you didn’t know that,” she said with a smile. No, I didn’t know that at all. For those of you unaware of this profession, tree planters spend summers planting thousands of trees to help rectify clear-cut logging practises. Now, I grew up knowing Barbara Roberts in the community as a warm, effusive and practical soul. But I clearly hadn’t spoken to her enough. “Really!” I exclaimed, “The *very* first?” I perked up my eager ears. Barb raised her fist, emphatically as she told the tale: Her hippy-friend-tree-planters in the early 1970s wouldn’t hire her or permit her to plant with them. “Tree planting is not for women,” they shook their heads; No Way Sister. Not one to take No for an answer, Barb banged on the door of MacMillan Bloedel and insist she be given a trial. Up for the back-breaking work, Barb was hired as BC’s and perhaps Canada’s first woman tree planter in 1972. One small step that opened the gates.
My busy friend Lucy who co-farms up in Pemberton was telling me how many organic farmers (aka Heros) she knows who are women. In these frightening times Ecocide is sad new word and the direct result of the war machines of GMO production. In these times where the GMO issue is the equivalent of last century’s “Big Tobacco,” women are stepping up for the land. Along with men of course (love men), women are saving seeds and preserving bio-diversity in the face of adversity. These farmers are nurturing the planet one precious tract of land at a time. These heroines are purifying our waters, detoxifying our Earth, allowing ecosystems to flourish. And giving bees a chance. I was recently given a medal for being a living organ donor. If I was given a medal for saving 1 life, our organic farmers should be honoured daily. I dedicate this medal to them:
Women. Fighters, nurturer’s, life-givers. We women become ecosystems of our own when motherhood comes to us through the trial and fire of labour. We sacrifice our sanity and sleep for that little helpless creature we created. On my 40th Mother’s Day as a daughter and my 11th as a mother, I salute the fighting courage of my mother and every other mother who has stood up for common sense in the face of a fair or an un-fair fight. For mothers who have fought for freedom, for change, for justice, for the meek, the voiceless and the helpless. I. Honour. You.