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Tree-Hugging Your Way to Tranquility After Pride

Medicine Tree

Nature gives one gay reporter a moment of healing after a tumultuous Pride season.

Pride in Toronto this year was a whirlwind of excitement, protests, drama, and politics. Black Lives Matter staged a sit-in on the parade route in order to advocate for greater inclusion at future events. Justin Trudeau became the first sitting prime minister of Canada to march in the parade. Everywhere, signs, banners, T-shirts, and speakers mourned and remembered the victims of the Orlando shooting.

There was also celebration. LGBT people and their allies took to the bars and the streets in record numbers, showing the world that yes, we suffered when shooter Omar Mateen took 49 lives at a gay bar in June. But the message sent by Pride this year was loud and clear: We are not broken, and we are not afraid to be visible.

It has been an important year for Pride, which has been reminded of its political roots in the wake of this tragedy. However, it has also been an exhausting one, particularly for LGBT reporters, who every day are still working to cover the event and its aftermath. (Recently, The Advocate interviewed out journalists like Don Lemon, Thomas Roberts, and more who discussed the "special anguish" that affected these reporters in Orlando.)

After covering Pride in Los Angeles and Orlando remotely for weeks, this writer had the privilege of being part of an international contingent of LGBT reporters who were brought to Pride Toronto to witness Canadian history and cover its events. And it was certainly eventful. The festivities ranged from an empowering speech by RuPaul, to dance parties like Fit Primpin and the Glitter Ball, to demonstrations like the Trans March, which with 11,000 participants became the largest of its kind in the world. Last weekend, the nation was also celebrating Canada Day, which added a whole other slew of fireworks and festivities for Pride attendees to enjoy.

After the rainbow smoke had cleared from the Black Lives Matter protesters and the last calls at the gayborhood bars on Church Street had been called, it was with some relief that we were whisked to a final destination: the Algonquin Provincial Park. As large as some nations, the park comprises nearly 3,000 miles of trees, lakes, and rivers carved millions of years ago in the last ice age.

Initially, it was jarring to drive nearly three hours north of Toronto to be immersed in nature after being surrounded by crowds of people and their politics. But the experience offered something that many of us had not had the opportunity to do for some time: reflect.

Together, we donned our hiking shoes and climbed the Hardwood Lookout Trail. On the way, we passed a rock that had been deposited ages ago by a melting glacier, gazed at the long blue stretch of Smoke Lake, and touched a 200-year-old tree that had almost been forested out of existence by Canada's logging industry before the Ontario government established the area as a park in 1893.

Later, meandering on the trails near the Arowhon Pines resort, we came across a medicine tree, a 400-year-old specimen that native tribes believed represented a human soul. Four stones surrounded the tree at the four compass points -- north, south, east, and west -- to form a medicine wheel. Although beliefs vary, a sign nearby explained that the wheel's points represent various aspects of life: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical. A soul, in order to be whole, needed a balance of these parts.

As night fell and the stars multiplied in the sky, we sat around a fire, marshmallow sticks in hand, and discussed the medicine tree. Afterward, the talk turned back to the weekend, to Pride, to Black Lives Matter, to intersectionality and the erasure of indigenous peoples and trans people and communities of color. How could we, as a community that comprises all peoples -- women and men, gay and straight, transgender and cisgender, white people and people of color -- ever find such a balance?

The loons who sang their love songs across the lake offered no answers. The fire only flared, then dimmed and hissed smoke as we poured water over what remained at the night's end. The next day, we took one last canoe trip around Oxtongue Lake and boarded our bus to return to our native lands -- England and Brazil and Mexico and Germany and the United States.

As we said our farewells to each other and Canada, it was with much sadness. But after so much fear, excitement, and pain, we were grateful to have had time for some peace and communion. And in our minds and in the forest, a tree remains. It survives, because over a century ago, men had passed a law to protect it. That in itself was also a reason to be hopeful and to fight.

DANIEL REYNOLDS is an editor at The Advocate. Find him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.

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