Andrew holding a corduroy.

I joined SERS just over two years ago and before I had students to supervise, an office with a window, or a group of co-conspirators with (occasional) late-afternoon thirst, my office was overflowing with waterlogged—potentially mold-steeped—ancient wood.

The landscapes that surround us have so many stories to tell. Vestiges are often ignored but when we learn to see them, they offer glimpses of the future by resolving where we came from.

These days, the future of the Waterloo Region is wrapped up in the light rail transit (LRT) that is nearing completion after over a decade of planning and building. Last year, excavations to install tracks in Uptown Waterloo unearthed earlier efforts of people seeking to revolutionize transportation when workers discovered a corduroy road that had been buried below the modern streetscape.

Cutting through the territories of the Anishinabek and the Haudenosaunee (and prior to that, the Neutral Nation), perhaps following their trails, early European settlers felled trees and carefully arranged them along what we now call King Street through the riparian area of what we now call Laurel Creek. Evidence of this past landscape is hard to see today. Even Laurel Creek has become an enigma, flowing underground through a concrete shoot like a dangerous but undoubtedly popular waterpark feature.

King Street North, Waterloo, torn up with corduroy exposed.Preserved wood from this corduroy road can be used to reimagine local forests and climate. These trees, having likely started growing in the 1500-1600s, are the keepers of an ecological and cultural memory from a pre-colonial landscape. They might remember flocks of passenger pigeons over a kilometre wide and hundreds of kilometres long, taking the better part of a day to pass overhead. Or, they might remember the extensive land management of the Anishinabek that shaped this landscape for generations. Passenger pigeons are now extinct and the area managed by the Anishinabek has been greatly reduced. However, these memories may be archived in the annual growth rings of the trees, whether as nutrient pulses from bird droppings or cambial scars from land-clearing fires.

The ancient wood from the corduroy road has since been dried and is now safely stored in my new lab, awaiting attention from Maddie, my soon-to-be undergraduate honours student. My light-filled office is often brimming with research chatter and the hatching of new plans but if you come by late on a sunny Thursday afternoon, you may find the door closed with a chicken-scratched note taped to the door reading, ‘At the Grad House – come join us’. And by all means, please do. We can always find room to squeeze in another chair around the table.