A Face of Shifting Leaves

A review of Urban Green Man Edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine (Edge, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Have you ever looked into the woods and seen a face looking back at you made up of branches and leaves? These are the moments that can’t be caught on film but can be evoked through tales, through our own folklore.

Turning the pages of the Urban Green Man collection is like opening a window from a stagnant urban environment into a verdant treescape filled with life, reflection, and the potential for change. These are transformative tales, tales of growth that evoke fertile thoughts and development in the reader as she or he touches these pages that used to be trees themselves. These pages are trees with stories written upon them, inked with potential. Each page sings its papery roots.

Like growing things, like the forest itself, characters in these tales change and reach toward illumination, shifting with new potential. The stories in this collection explore the lighter and darker shades of green, bringing the reader both into the dark places of the forest where fear and danger evoke speculation and to the treetops where flights of fancy free him or her from their bounds. The authors explore the complexity of human interactions with the natural world and the interconnectedness of humanity and our green spaces.

Urban Green Man writes a mythic modernity, a set of tales to help us explore the world around us and our own impact on that world. It is a reminder of the hollowness of human nature without… well, nature. The Green Man’s face is so reminiscent of our own and yet so different, evoking our connection to the world and our simultaneous estrangement from it. His face is uncovered through the leaves of these pages.

To read reviews of some of the short stories in this collection, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/clear-cut-future/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/rabbi-sherlock-holmes-and-the-case-of-the-excessive-greenery/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/tweets-in-the-woods-that-arent-from-birds/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/post-apocalyptic-green/

To find out more about the Urban Green Man collection, visit their website at http://www.urbangreenman.com/

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Post-Apocalyptic Green

A review of Alyxandra Harvey’s “Green Jack” in Urban Green Man (Edge, 2013)

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

By Derek Newman-Stille

Alyxandra Harvey reveals our uncertainty about the future of vegetation and food in her post-apocalyptic story “Green Jack”. After crops begin to fail on a regular basis and the weather becomes unstable, a city tries to survive by perpetuating the same behaviours that endangered its vegetative life in the first place. Government and industrial regulations control the vegetative world, constraining and controlling plant life to human will, harnessing it exclusively for human purposes.

Instead of allowing biodiversity to flourish, the city begins to kidnap Green Jacks, figures who are linked to the vegetative health of the world and who bring growth and fertility in their wake. Instead of allowing for the freedom of plant growth, these Green Jacks are abducted by the city, controlled and regulated, their power drained to fuel an industrial complex focused on human interests. Walls are erected around the city to tightly control the population and provide the image of security while all securities and choices are removed from the populace.

Harvey explores the atrocities that can be committed on a population’s behalf when they are starving and examines the coercive power of hunger. People willingly give up their freedoms for the perceived protection from hunger provided by a society that tightly regulates food.

When the protagonist steals a Green Jack’s mask in an attempt to gather enough food for herself (since the mask fuels growth of food) she becomes a target for the military and this mask brings with it either the potential to free her from the tight regulations of the city and allow for free growth or to become the subject of incarceration and control.

Alyxandra Harvey explores urban uses of population control and the danger that hunger poses for policing people’s actions. Much as the tight regulations of the city control vegetation and bring it under government will, so too the people are regulated, denied freedom of growth and become stagnated under imposed control.

To find out more about Alyxandra Harvey, you can visit her website at http://alyxandraharvey.com/ .

To read more stories from Urban Green Man, visit their website at http://www.urbangreenman.com/ .

Tweets in the Woods that Aren’t from Birds

A review of Michael Healy’s “Cottage on the Bluff” in Urban Green Man (Edge, 2013)

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Michael Healy’s “Cottage on the Bluff”, a figure reminiscent of Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford intrudes into the woods with his cottage, blighting the landscape with his building and his rage-filled presence. The local Green Man is bombarded with communication signals from a culture dependent on the endless stream of data. The mayor’s cottage brings a foreign presence into the woods, and the Green Man, conscious of every change in the woods has every meaningless tweet and vapid pop song running through his head as long as the cottage is on his land.

When he seeks to try to bring the cottage down, reclaim it into the earth to remove the blemish from his landscape, the mayor and his family unexpectedly arrive, leaving the Green Man with a choice to either reveal his presence to them and risk being experimented upon or to let them die with the building. Despite the Green Man’s worries and the awareness that the mayor is a corrupt monster, his role as protector of the forest means that the Green Man needs to keep them safe.

In his attempts to rescue the mayor’s family, despite the fact that he has been bombarded with human communication, the Green Man meets a communication barrier from his own lack of familiarity with speech and the mayor’s rage-filled reaction to what he perceives as an invasion to his territory.  The Green Man is forced to protect the mayor’s own children from his rage-filled random gun shots and uncontrolled violence.

Healy reveals the vapidity of modern urban communication – the lack of deeper communication and understanding when the focus is on meaningless self-indulgence and vapid self-fixation. Rather than attempting to understand the depths of communication, the mayor focuses on notions of property and protective ignorance, trying to erect barriers around himself and what he perceives as his instead of paying attention to the signs around him. Configuring his consciousness around ideas of threat he loses the potential to see actual threats around him, such as the ground beneath his cottage disintegrating.

You can explore more about Michael Healy’s work on his GoodReads page at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7064856.Michael_Healy

To read more about the Urban Green Man anthology, visit http://www.urbangreenman.com/ .

Rabbi Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Excessive Greenery

A review of Kim Goldberg’s “Neither Slumber Nor Sleep” in Urban Green Man (Edge, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

A rabbi loses his position at the Beth Shalom Congregation when he becomes interested in a new supernatural phenomenon that appears in Nanaimo. Called in to investigate a series of strange events regarding the sighting of a huge Green Goddess figure and sudden surges of greenery over the urban space, the rabbi’s faith is challenged and questioned when he sees a bizarre series of events that defy his beliefs in the logical universe and that seem to reflect a pagan belief system more than they do a Jewish one. But, it is his belief in logic and the undeniable facts of the Green Goddess’ appearance in the city that cause him to eventually believe that she is appearing in the city.

He investigates the situation with logic and deduction, looking at these strange tales and gradually piecing together undeniable evidence that convinces him of the accuracy of these unusual reports – as Sherlock Holmes would say “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

Much like the bumbling police in a Sherlock Holmes tale, the RCMP in this story grasp for simple answers instead of investigating the case, blaming the sudden appearance of vinery overgrowing buildings on student pranks and acts of protest. Goldberg critiques the RCMP’s too easy assumptions in recent years that youth culture is linked to acts of rebellion, and their desire to suppress instances of protest as though they are symbols of a decaying society. Her vision of the RCMP reflects the issues of police violence against protestors who are advocating for environmental issues in Canada.

As the Green Goddess’ acts of environmental re-assurgency continue, environmental advocates join her in their pledge to “assist the Green Goddess in her mission to refoliate Nanaimo by whatever means necessary”. Although originally the police had assumed protest, eventually protestors join this environmental cause, seeing the Green Goddess’ actions of refoliation as beneficial for urban spaces.

Despite his assertion that “I am a man of both Talmud and science, neither of which places much store by pagan rituals”, the rabbi begins to see that there is not so much difference between the religious ideologies expressed in the Talmud, the principles of scientific investigation, and the likelihood that the Green Goddess represents a real change rather than an urban legend (particularly when it is reported that the Green Goddess has a series of Hebrew letters inscribed across her forehead that are the same as those that are used in evoking a golem). Moreover, he begins to wonder if the behaviours of this golem are threatening or if the world needs further acts of refoliation.

Goldberg examines the role of faith in modernity, and the interaction between notions of logic and belief. She creates a character whose observation of facts has isolated him from his community and resulted in his expulsion from his own congregation. Using the combination of environmentalism and the discourse of faith and logic, Goldberg explores the idea that modernity leaves many things unquestioned, particularly our assertion that an urban space and notions of progress have ascendency over green spaces and the significance of natural growth. By situating police powers in opposition to assumed (and then eventually real) environmental groups, she calls attention to the need to question government and media images of environmental protestors as violent people and instead suggests that we, as a culture, need protest – we need to question social messages and interrogate how our actions impact the environment.

Although, of course, not named Sherlock Holmes, the rabbinical protagonist of this story shows many similarities to the canonic character from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales. By leading her readers through a similar analysis of the evidence, deep detective work, and psychological insights, Goldberg evokes this figure from literary history and questions the foundations of the idea of logic, reminding her readers of the importance of looking deeper into what appears to be “evidence” rather than accepting the assumptions that are presented.

To find out more about Kim Goldberg, visit http://pigsquash.wordpress.com/ .

Clear Cut Future

A review of Susan J. MacGregor’s Evergreen (in Urban Greenman. Edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine. Edge, 2013).

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

By Derek Newman-Stille

The quest for self-discovery can be painful and difficult and often people who seek to discover themselves encounter questions that they don’t want answered, murky areas that they fear to look too deeply into. When Cat’s grandmother does a card reading for her, she shies away from the tough parts of the future that are revealed. She doesn’t want to reveal that she is conflicted about her future, and she is unwilling to peer too deeply into what her future can hold – should she go to law school or get a government job until she figures herself out? She is still sorting through her values and fears the transformative potential of making a decision too soon….

But, decisions sometimes occur when we least expect them to, when events coalesce around us and push us into an avenue we least considered. As Cat’s grandmother predicts, she is pushed by circumstance into a meeting with a man who will change her life and cause her to question her relationship to the world around her. She is asked to explore her roots… literally, and is transformed into a tree by her new companion, able to question her relationship to the world around her and explore her values. He seeks to transform her into a tree in order to paint her suffering, to explore the human intersection with the environment and evoke human compassion for our natural world… but the lack of compassion that already exists means that workers try to clearcut the forest that Cat has been entreed in.

In order to save herself, she must question the logic that she has applied to her life, her relationship to the natural world, the ideas she has taken for granted, and eventually determine her future’s course (if she survives to have a future).

Sometimes we need to transform literally to transform our way of thought, and Cat discovers that she needs to become something else to discover what she wants to become.

To read more about Susan J. MacGregor, visit her website at http://suzenyms.blogspot.ca/ .