Eastern Canada is subject to the occasional violent storm. So far, this summer of 2013, we have had not one but two of them.
The first one was during the early evening of Monday, July 8. I had attended the Memoir Writing Group at the Lillian H. Smith Library Branch on College at Huron Street and - as I was walking home - I noticed that the sky to the north and northwest was blacker than I had ever seen it before. Obviously, a storm was in the offing but I made it home before it broke.
There was a strong wind (but not a tornado) and torrential rain. As I have mentioned before, the land upon which Toronto is built slopes down to the north shore of Lake Ontario and, along this slope, are a number of rivers and creeks which carry the runoff water to the lake. It was raining so hard that all of the creeks and rivers filled to overflowing in no time.
East of downtown is the gentle Don River Valley - only it became a raging torrent overflowing its banks by a good margin, flooding the valley and three commuter routes - the Don Valley Parkway (freeway) on the east side as well as the Bayview Extension (Road) and the railway tracks to the west. That flood trapped countless motorists and a commuter GO train bound for the northern suburbs. There were images on the TV news of motorists (and their passengers) wading away from stalled vehicles and other images of passengers from the GO (Government of Ontario) train being carried off of the cars. As the train was filled to capacity, that rescue operation continued throughout the night until next morning.
However, as quickly as the water rose, when the rain stopped, it subsided - but not until the following day.
Moving ahead to the following Friday there was a second storm. While the rain was not as steady, the wind was powerful and was accompanied by lightning flashes and crashing thunder. I had stepped out onto my balcony to observe the scene and my kitten followed me. As I was reentering the apartment, there was a flash of lightning and a sharp crack of thunder so I was nearly bowled over by the running cat who was in a bigger hurry to get back inside than I was!
Because of the violence of the wind there were tree limbs down all over the place and the occasional toppled tree. Due to a major fire the weekend before, streetcar traffic through the Broadview Avenue and Gerrard Street East intersection was disrupted while the mop-up continued. This effectively blocked the streetcar route that I use normally in order to get to church. Instead I took the Bloor/Danforth subway to Broadview and walked down. For the first part of the walk the sidewalk was clear of debris but, down near Gerrard East, there were tree limbs all over the place. Upon turning off of Broadview onto Simpson Avenue I saw a car parked with a big tree limb on the roof and the windshield smashed.
Now this story has reached the point where I will connect the title to the yarn.
Southeast of the church and off of Queen Street East is Laing Street which heads south towards Lake Ontario. Along that street - and at the corner of Memory Lane - stood a magnificent maple tree. A man who lived quite near to there during the mid-nineteenth century was a Scotsman, Sir Alexander Muir. At the time of Confederation - 1867 - he wrote a song which (for a while) was Canada's National Anthem and I remember learning the words during Grade 1 - "The Maple Leaf Forever".
Due to the storm, the tree was virtually destroyed. What to do? The voice of somebody who lives in that neighborhood has supplied the answer.
A number of years ago a couple collected some 'helicopters' from that tree (the seed sprouts a wing and, when it falls, the wind catches the wing which twirls like a helicopter rotor so that the seed lands away from the parent), planted and nurtured it and then replanted it in a park near the parent tree. Therefore, the tree which inspired the national song will live on as a symbol of this country - Canada!
While we are a verbal people, we do use symbols too.
My partner, Ric Reed, and I were married here in Toronto on June 28, 2003 so we wear identical gold bands on the fourth finger of our left hands. This tells all and sundry our situation - the symbol which most of our parents, family and friends wear as well.
People who belong to lodges wear - or carry - symbols. This silently tells others of their affiliations.
Our money - be the currency Dollars, Pounds, Francs, Deutschmarks, Euros, Yens or whatever are indicated by a symbol.
Symbols identify us and communicate to others. So the giant tree that inspired a national song has gone but one of its offspring is nurtured to grow and live as our national symbol.