A Raid in the Ash Forest

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This is the third post in the series, Succession II: Queering the Environment, a fourteen-part series in which contributors explore topics related to unruliness, care, and pleasure. Succession II centers queer people, non-humans, systems, and ideas and explores their impact within the fields of environmental history, environmental humanities, and queer ecology.

Of Beetles and Boys  
Jamie Ross  

The cops must’ve come up very quietly ‘cuz  I
didn’t notice the sound of their tires on the gravel 
a tree around here  

and he came up to me  
and grabbed my crotch  
and I was getting hard and  
then under the pouring rain  
with spit and will  
he fucked me  
up against a tree  
it was amazing  
it was so hot  
maybe the best sex I’ve ever had  

This flood of lights came up  
and this whole area was ringed by cop cars  and a paddy wagons  
It was a major raid  

-A.C. as told to Jamie Ross, 2020 

Mount Royal Park, Montreal. Photo by the author, 2022.

They said it was ‘overgrown’ where we used to go.  Jean
Drapeau chased us out of that part we called Le Jungle.
But when the old growth forest came down,
the soil poured down the mountain

“Des arbres malades y sont abattus.
Les épaisses broussailles sont éliminés.
Et l’on procède à des travaux de nivellement
[sic] sur le terrain rocheux.
D’autre part, dans d’autres secteurs, 500
arbres seront plantés cet automne.”

The sick trees there cut down.  
The thick bushes are eliminated.  
And we proceed with levelling work on the 
rocky terrain.  
Furthermore, in other zones of the park, 500 
trees will be planted this fall. 

Most of the trees cut down were birches which would be
replaced by more “vigorous” species”:

Norway maples and silver maples, pines, spruce, oak, 
elm, and the ubiquitous tree of planted everywhere in Montreal streets: the ash.

Seventy years later, the cutting has started again in our grounds.
The plantation of ash trees has succumbed like we did
succumbed to the glittering green beetle
that carves little trails along the bark.
Like we did.

Public sex is illegal here, they say.
But when we enter the grounds, it doesn’t feel like we’re in the heart of metropolis.
Is sex deep in the woods still sex in public?
We have our own names for our favourite parts of our slope of the forest. After one hundred
years as a gay slope, it feels like a our part of the forest. A grove. Is not the quiet grove on a
summer night sacred with the memory of the flashing lights of the raid and the shame of the
filled paddy wagons.

Have we not created our own privacy with the trees?
Have we not moaned in personal ecstasy against the bark, protected by the bushes? Protected
by the mountain’s boulders?
Has our spit not fertilized the forest floor?

Still from The Magic Hedge (2016), Frédéric Moffet, courtesy of the artist

Since its arrival in Montreal 13 years ago, the Emerald Ash Borer, a small green beetle named for the only tree it feeds on, has devastated the forest that still bears the mark of the gay surveillance 70 years ago. Since 2019, the Ash plantation has been cut in a contemporary clearance of the same areas that were originally felled in the Morality Cuts of the 1950s. This new cut is the second dramatic thinning of the gay city forests in a century. Social control and police surveillance of the woods continues to entangle with the vital ecology of Montreal’s central park.

Ash Borer trails on a tree in Mount Royal Park. Photo by the author, 2022.

Further Reading

1. Kavior Moon. Sowing Discourse. Art in America. January 31 2022. URL: https://www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/sowing-discourse-1234617345/
2. Luther A. Allen. L’aventure sexuelle clandestine: le cas du mont Royal. Irène DEMCZUK et Frank W. REMIGGI, eds., Sortir de l’ombre. Histoires des communautés lesbienne et gaie de Montréal (Montréal, VLB, 1998), p. 81–101. URL:  https://bibliomontreal.uqam.ca/bibliographie/notice/TSXFG6XD

Featured image: Ash tree in Mount Royal Park, taken by the author, 2022.
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Jamie Ross

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