Sutton’s rich tapestry of living brings back a traveller to stay.

When I returned to Sutton last summer I had been away for more than 50 years. Although I remembered cycling up plenty of hills and sitting by rivers, it was the mountain walks I took in July that brought back to me the Appalachian character of the place: its abundance of tree species, the familiarity of rock formations, how trees will shape themselves around these boulders, the lakes… But even more so, the aroma of the soil welcomed me back after an absence that had taken me to many different landscapes. Finally, like Lemuel Gulliver, I felt I had arrived home after a long and sometimes turbulent world voyage. And I certainly know what makes me feel comfortable in a town: access to woods, an engaged cultural community, a vibrant outdoor market, people who will stand up to protect Nature and our mental and physical health, a variety of sports for all seasons, Tai Chi, yoga and dance, as well as others to play music with. I would be remiss if I left out my strong desire to be completely fluent in French. All of this Sutton can offer its community, plus enduring friendships.

Sutton’s character is defined by the beauty of its natural terrain, but that can change. I have witnessed this, unfortunately, elsewhere in the world. Yet in Ontario I have worked with teenagers who realised that the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions was an urgent necessity if their planet was to be a key source of inspiration for human creativity and the enduring protection of life on Earth as we know it. Human spiritual growth can push back the threat of ecocide. Scientific facts alone will not engage most people on the topic of climate change. Young people get excited by being in wilderness, starting a community garden or spending time on an organic farm. I have witnessed their commitment to zero-emission projects such as putting up clothes lines across a community, or hand-mowing grass for residents rather than using powered machines, thereby protecting Nature and their health.

Just as importantly, young and older people alike need to bring poetry’s primeval energy back to the description of Nature. Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks and The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd celebrate Nature through poetic, localised vocabulary. Perhaps that most banal and disrespectful of words ‘environment’ will disappear if we can embrace a profound respect for other creatures. No aboriginal group on the planet would use such a condescending word to describe all of Nature. As a Western society we are deeply disconnected from the natural world, and the crisis of climate change will never be overcome by technology alone. The technocratic and clinical word ‘environment’ is just one more symptom of the West’s inability to respect and relate to other species, unless we speak of cats, dogs and horses – who are, for the most part, enslaved by humans.

I have lived near ski and tourist towns before and there are certainly challenges that arise. Sutton is no different. Houses built for ski visitors overlook and encroach on our wonderful trails. The massive pollution produced by transportation of goods and construction materials across the border as well as by motorcycles and cars has made Rue Principale, with its narrow passageway so close to the shops, a health concern, particularly for elderly and very young people. The prestigious medical journal The Lancet recently commissioned a report on air pollution that lays out the dangers for people aged over 60 and pregnant women from walking on polluted thoroughfares. I might add that small children walking or being transported in buggies along Rue Principale, as well as outdoor staff and clientele at the restaurants, are all at risk from diesel truck emissions in particular.

There is hope. Electric vehicles are here. Companies such as UPS are transforming their fleets. Sutton needs to work with Québec and the federal government towards implementing mandatory pollution-free zones in our towns. Sutton is happily a bicycle haven. Let’s encourage such activities. Sutton’s new mayor, Michel Lafrance, assured me that the town’s new municipal council is committed to being “green”. We need to focus on ‘road ecology’, to mitigate the impacts roads have, not only in wild places but also in urban settings. Fortunately, the not-for-profit Québec-based Corridor appalachien is keen to educate and help us lessen the destructive effects of roads.

2018 can be the year to bring to fruition many community goals. Let’s make it happen.

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