The sand hills that rise from the Credit River’s floodplain are held together by the roots of a Carolinian forest. This land was cheap in the 1930s, when a group of Jewish factory workers looked for a Zumer Haim (“Summer Home”) for their kids. They weren’t allowed on the beaches of Toronto, where their families lived and worked. The land-owner didn’t want to sell to Jewish people either, but the workers found a way.
As times changed, Camp Naivelt’s occupants became more diverse, but are still devoted to arts, community and resistance. Its tiny cabins leave plenty of room for hummingbirds, woodpeckers, deer, rabbits, coyotes and bats. Snakes flee underfoot; cicada-song saws through hot August afternoons. Skunks swagger, so confident that only an idiot dog can get them to spray. Shadows of snapping turtles haunt the river, and sometimes an old giant emerges to walk the hills.
But surrounding farms are giving ‘way to suburbs. Sometimes, a blow hits the side of a cabin like a shot: a wild drive from the neighboring golf course. Over a chain-link fence draped in Virginia creeper and wild grape, errant balls whistle daily, plough into grass, shatter windows.
This is a familiar enemy, to me. I grew up in a prairie suburb that bordered a wild valley: dotted with bluebells and shooting stars, ringing with grasshopper buzz. In modest bungalows around the valley, kids fell asleep to a lullaby sung by a chorus of tiny tree frogs, spring peepers. Until one March, when bulldozers buried the frozen creek. I had nightmares of the hibernating peepers being crushed and smothered. The meadow was fenced off and ploughed into a golf course.
At Naivelt, we wonder how our Zumer Haim will meet the changes. Monarch butterflies didn’t return last year, and baby toads no longer dodge every footstep. The golf course is a problematic neighbour, but how will we fare when the suburbs, with their monster homes full of bored children, butt up against the fence? Will their children look though the fence and hate and envy us because we have forest to play in?