The Forces of Nature: An Origin Story
Written by Chúk Odenigbo and Samantha Matters
Illustration by Alex Kwizera
SDGs 15: Life on Land; 17: Partnerships for the Goals
Inspired by The Nature Playbook — a call to action created by The Canadian Parks Council that aims to connect young people with nature — Chúk Odenigbo and Samantha Matters have teamed up with illustrator Alex Kwizera to create The Forces of Nature: An Origin Story, an exciting and fantastical allegory that explores how teamwork and collaboration can promote sustainable positive change and social justice in the 21st century.
Every passing day brought news that curdled the soul. Advancing oceans swallow hikers in British Columbia; Entire forest decimated in Alberta; iPhone app turns children into living zombies. The targets were different and the methods were constantly changing, but the one true goal was clear — the destruction of nature.
But there were people working against these forces of evil that seemed to conspire together in their eternal hatred of the natural world. Individuals were standing up and taking arms — individual heroes, each with a unique background, exhibiting sonder such that they were able to traverse the principles of vigilantism. The work they did was dangerous, daring, and necessary.
It was June 15, 2015. The sun peeked through the northern clouds the birds began to sing, as was customary to signal and acknowledge the beginning of a new day. This day, however, was not like the others. Having noted the unfurling madness happening across Canada, Chloe Dragons was ready to take action. Not a series of responses when an attack happens, but a preemptive directive aimed at revitalising the spirit of the people: cultivating the next generation of stewards to sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, cease biodiversity loss, and most of all, love nature.
Drawn together from all three oceans of the nation, twelve Canadian heroes were on their way to an incredibly important summit. Chloe was assembling these activists, teachers, researchers, musicians, healers, public servants, educators, and the like from different generations, with different cultural backgrounds, together with the goal of creating a league of superheroes to save the country.
That day in Yellowknife, Chloe stood at the head of the room, tables arranged in a circle, awaiting the delegates. At the stroke of nine, they started strolling in, giving each other polite nods, the occasional whispered greeting, and a quick scan-over, sizing one another up. The group was formidable, each person an entity of difference from the other.
Once everyone looked settled in, Chloe silenced the room and spoke, her voice emanating both excitement and conviction about the journey on which they were about to embark. She called on each member of the group.
“I would like each of you to share who you are and what your story is — why do you love nature?”
As each invitee stood to discuss their backgrounds, their already obvious differences became more stark. Sam discussed her life spent mostly outdoors; Be’Sha spoke of her duties as an elder; Chúk repeated quotes that influenced his existence; Chloe shared images from her childhood; Guylaine chatted about forest schools; and Kevin made reference to his studies on urban transport. Despite their numerous differences, Chloe could sense the future power of this group as bonds were formed and links were weaved. Each of their stories, despite their differences, were all centred on nature. Nature was the glue, the binding force that held them together despite their variance.
Yet there was real fear in the room. They knew that as the number of people heading out into nature reduces, the cognitive awareness of what goes on in the natural world would diminish. The value placed on this shared resource would cheapen, thus harming the future of the earth. They had to fight these villains with every ounce of energy they had, and they were willing to do it.
After a long and productive day, the newly formed team were taken by boat to one of the many islands off the lakeshore to fish, hike, enjoy the view, and soak up the beauty of the land. The sun was shining late into the evening and it was shaping up to being an incredible night. Everyone spread out, some exploring the new piece of land, others creating a camping area, practising shooting, and heading out to the water to fish. That is when the trouble struck.
Without any warning, the ground began to tremble, cracks appearing in the earth as grim cloaked features crawled out of the newly formed crevices. With mangled bodies looking like they were brought forth from the pits of hell, the creatures attacked — and the team responded. Kyle and Denis were on a boat fishing when Denis launched himself in an incredible bound, landing on the island as fur started growing on his body. Kevin’s eyes turned an intense ruby red as the clouds started to gather. Sam called out to the wind, remaining the image of serenity as chaos began to unfurl. Bill and Tim continued to chat as if nothing were happening, ignoring the creatures approaching them. Pascale stood up, taking a fighting stance, waves of heat radiating off her body. Robin had disappeared and Guylaine furrowed her brow. Chúk smiled, his eyes darkening.
All hell broke loose. There was a grey wolf ripping out the necks of each creature in its path, a giant golden dragon incarnated in the sky started raining fire on the land, animals from near and far were blinding the demons, ramming into them. Insects were biting them, clouds of mosquitos buzzing around but somehow ignoring all the metahumans. The waves in the surrounding lake were scooping hordes of these creatures, dissolving their existence. Be’sha was talking to the land, conversing with it to close the crevices that were letting these beasts loose.
Chúk was crying jet black tears as all the demons around him dropped to the ground, their bodies imploding around him. Sand and heat were melting all those who targeted Pascale, whereas the monsters around Guylaine started to tear at each other. Bill and Tim continued their discussion, the demons becoming sluggish in their approach towards them, often collapsing before being able to lay a single finger on either man. Sam sat next to a young moose, watching the action around her unfurl. Occasionally there were invisible attacks against some of the hellspawn.
As the land closed and the last of the demons died, the golden dragon let loose a bout of heavy rain to drench the remaining fires. Throughout this ordeal, Chloe had been silent, her eyes closed. Ripping forth from the nearly healed earth burst a man — short and pudgy with wicked green eyes and a shock of jet black hair. He seemed held in place by some sort of magnetic force. The team drifted towards her, feeling called — pulled almost — to that location.
“You brought this attack upon us. Why?” Chloe asked, her voice reverberated with a sadness that fondled the heart, becoming a permanent frost that brought about perpetual angst.
And the villain wept.
Your Heroes/The Authors
The Scientist (Alberta)
Role: Resident technopath
Power: Self-duplication into yin-yang; epidemics and antidotes
Chúk Odenz was looking at the mess he made, trying to determine the best way to clean it all up before he was caught. While he was waiting for one of his experiments to finish, he had gotten bored and decided to play with some chemical compounds, combining them to create small explosions. Unfortunately, due to his carelessness, one of the explosions had been much larger than anticipated and created quite a mess of broken beakers, test tubes, wash bottles; an assortment of random objects obscured by the momentum. He would need some help.
“I got you bro,” Chúk high fived a tall slender dark-skinned man with a mischievous smile and eyes filled with secrets. A man who looked exactly like him.
Chúk grew up around the world, constantly moving cities or countries and frequently changing schools. As a result, although he got to see the world from quite a young age, he was constantly lonely. Everywhere he went, every new place of temporary residence, Chúk would find a tree, and it is there that he would plan, draw, read, and play. He found companionship in the trees, but one day his grief, his loneliness, was too much to bare. Chuk felt himself fall into an abyss of madness, into a never ending dark hole to which he saw neither the light of the surface, nor any indication to signal the end of this free fall.
As he cried, his tears turned as black as the night, spreading an undercurrent of death throughout the ground. The tree he sat under, the grass, the animals in the vicinity… they all fell deeply sick. He lay there comatose, losing his touch with reality, until finally a hand reached out to grab him. Chúk felt a jolt, a sharp sense of surprise that someone clasped his hand, and that he had stopped falling. He looked up into the face of his savior, this person who had dislodged his state of madness, and saw himself — or at least someone that looked exactly like him.
“Chúk?” this perfectly identical stranger asked. Chúk, who did not know how to process what he was seeing, remained speechless. The stranger then wrapped his arms around him, and Chúk’s tears started to shine. The sickness left the land; tree regained its spirit, the grass became lush, and the animals came back from the brink of death. Ever since that day, Chúk was never alone.
“Wouldn’t it be interesting to sneak some pure potassium into the swimming pool?”
The Scientist (Alberta)
The Thinker (Alberta)
Position: Writer and Researcher
Power: Communication across species
“Faster,” she called into his ear. She loved it; she loved the smell, the speed, the power, the distance, and the majestic raw beauty of the horse. She could feel the wind blowing her chestnut brown hair around; her legs strong against his body and her fingers entwined in his long mane. The horse was galloping at full speed, letting itself move with abandon, and Samantha held on, melding herself into one with this graceful beast.
Ever since she was a child, Sam had always felt a connection with animals. She loved every single creature that lived on the farm with her family in Mannville, Alberta. In fact, they were a part of her family. Unlike her brother and sister, she had not named the creatures, but let each one tell her what they preferred to be called. She looked into each one of their eyes and felt an instant connection, like she could understand who they were, what their story was and their existence was immediately intertwined with her own.
On this particular day, the sun was shining and her blood was singing. The land called her name. It spoke to her through the hooves of her four legged companion, it yelled at her through the ferocious movement of the wind, it kissed her through the warming light as it fell from the sky. Sam was a blend of European and Cree background, never quite sure who she was or where she came from. Although she was only just beginning to regain a connection with her Indigenous heritage and culture, the land still called her name, knowing she was of it.
“Sam!” she heard an eagle call to her. The horse slowed to a trot as the eagle came near her side. Sam was laughing, her face flushed and her body still vibrating with energy. She turned to the beautiful creature. “What can I do for you?” she asked.
“I need your help, they are clearing the woods again,”
Sam looked to her staunch comrade, signalling that he turn around.
The Leader (Northwest Territories)
The northern air was cold.
She closed her eyes, letting the crisp wind caress her face as the midnight sun kissed her forehead. With the ephemeral view that came from an immersion into a world inspired by her own thoughts and memories, her closed eyelids gifted her the tranquility to let her other senses fly.
She could sense vibrations, her ears picking up a haunting song carried not by the air currents but by a heartbeat. As her breath steadied, she could hear a symphony — sounds weaving in a harmony unique unto themselves, yet spread out across time and space. She tasted the tanginess of a teardrop, felt a rush of adrenaline, inhaled tranquility, heard happiness; she struggled in placing each sensory input that passed her way, unsure of where it all came from.
She opened her eyes again, confused but confident. They were coming. She did not know who yet, but she knew they were coming. She could feel their hearts oriented in her direction, she felt at the epicentre of a symphony and the music was just beginning. Orchestra.
The Wanderer (Nunavut)
Position: Turning ideas into a reality
Power: Shape shifter — loup-garou
Iqaluit, Nunavut, is hailed as the northern capital of Canada and one of the most northern cities in the world. Although the population is small, the city holds most conveniences that one can expect from the capital of a Canadian territory, with one important exception: trees. Iqaluit is the only Canadian capital city above the treeline and with its harsh winters and lazy summers, only the most resilient of plants can thrive.
Denis Thirou has always been a wanderer, traversing the entirety of southern Canada multiple times in his youth as he searched for who he was. With a French Canadian family whose history is rooted in that of multiple provinces, Denis found a home everywhere, yet nowhere. Each new home was truly a home, yet never strong enough to keep him. One day he decided to venture out of his territory to a land where he knew no one and had no ties. As he stepped into the cold wintery home of the Nunavummiut, his pulse began to quicken. There was something about this land, something about the air, the wind, the people…. he wanted to be a part of this place.
As with all of his homes, Denis explored not just the pleasures provided by the city, but by the wilderness as well. He ran, kayaked, snowboarded, hiked, climbed, danced, and roamed. He sniffed the shrubbery, he integrated with the people and slowly but surely, he felt himself acquiring roots.
Amongst the many tales and legends shared between parent and child in French Canadian culture, one of the most prominent is that of the loup-garou; the lycanthrope. This mythical beast takes the form of a large wolf, much bigger than any true dog or canine, with a unique white spot right in the centre of its forehead. The many stories vary greatly, but the one commonality is that they are never seen in the daylight, often believed to take human form. Are they beasts who take the shape of humans, or humans who turn into beasts? Science does not have an answer. As many would prefer to believe, these creatures do not exist in anything but whispers from the past.
What is quite interesting, though, is after Denis’ move to Iqaluit, many locals started seeing a magnificent grey wolf, exhibiting a majestic body and a courtly presence, wandering across the barren plains. Although none had dared get close to it, those who were brave enough to hide in an effort to observe it swear of seeing a discoloration of fur; a circle that was a vibrantly bright white in the dead centre of its forehead.
The Urbanite (Nova Scotia)
Role: The government liaison
Pascale Vanwilde came from a family of immigrants who shared their love of Canada with their daughter. A fierce urbanite, she was drawn to city centres and cityscapes where the comfort of modern amenities beckoned and eased her soul. She felt moved by the ocean and called Halifax, Nova Scotia her home.
The almost-island contained many green areas that often served to calm Pascale after a long day, or week, in the office. She would enter the park, beeline towards a bench, sit down and allow the view to overtake her senses. That beautiful mashup of greenery and trees with a human backdrop — a merging of the man-made with nature — gave her an inexplicable feeling of belonging.
On this particular day, work had actually brought Pascale to a park. She sat in a circle outdoors with her coworkers, ready to have a discussion on the programmes they could implement to enable people to experience nature through these parks spread out across the nation. She took a look around the circle, acknowledging the people she saw regularly in the office, and noticed that she was the only one who had chosen not to wear khaki shorts.
“We need to more camping programs!” a blond-haired green-eyed man emphasised. The discussion had been going on for about five minutes before the word camping was mentioned. Pascale held her breath, waiting for someone to say “hiking” and another to talk about “pure wilderness”. It was the same every time. Her colleagues were cut from the same cloth; they enjoyed heading into the woods with no amenities and just a backpack of supplies. They conversed about “roughing it” and the “right way to enjoy nature” as if there was only one way.
As the conversation continued, Pascale could feel herself heating up. Surely someone had to say something different, something unexpected? Her eyes flashed as the temperature began to rise.
“You guys cannot be serious? What about those people who do not like roughing it? Offer camping grounds with electrical outlets, feature new Canadians in our advertisements…” Pascale started listing a series of ideas that anyone who even glanced outside of the box should have found obvious as solutions.
“Is it me, or does it feel hotter?” one of the darker-haired females mentioned, her brow started beading with sweat. “Is that sand?” another asked, looking at textured multigrain surface she suddenly felt against her bare feet. Pascale’s eyes were a stunning shade of scarlet at this point.
The Educator (Ontario)
Role: The educator
Power: Peace and Tranquility
Bill Paxton felt pretty comfortable. He was supposed to deliver a speech to an association of teachers as to why and how they should be taking their elementary students outside. He knew off hand a dozen papers that he could reference. He was passionate about the subject and had no doubt as to the truth of what he was about to say.
As per usual, he did not have any props, physical or electronic, with him. There was no powerpoint presentation, no slide show, no posters — he was going to captivate them with his presence, with his voice, with his essence. He could hear the group of people milling about as they took their seats. His was the last presentation of the day, which made it all the more important that he capture their attention as most of them were probably on professional auto-pilot at this point.
“And next we have Bill Paxton on the importance of outdoor education!” The announcer called his name and Bill stood up, heading to the stage with an ease of existence about him. It was almost as if he had just woken, fresh for the day and ready to take on the world’s challenges.
As he stepped up to the podium, the buzz in the room continued as if he were not there. Bill closed his eyes for a second and as he reopened them, a wave of hush rolled over the audience, almost like the spirit of calm had possessed them. He smiled that charming smile that endeared people to him, and began.
“Good evening, everyone.”
The Contemplative (British Columbia)
Role: The Advocate
Power: Presence erasure
Robin Freeze paused for a breath. She had been hiking for weeks in the wilderness of northern British Columbia, embracing the joy of being away from everything. She took in a deep breath, truly admiring the air, the scent of nature in her nostrils, the taste of it on her lips.
The gastric acids in her stomach began to churn, signalling the need for a rest and thus she decided to set up camp and start foraging for food. She followed her instinct, sticking close to where she had left her few belongings, but keeping an eye out for any natural water sources, assessing the edibility of the plant-life around her. Although engrossed in her hunt, her ears were functioning in the same manner often attributed to rabbits, and her nose was carefully detailing every scent that passed her way — making reference to her experience to assess what it could be.
She heard some sort of movement from a large creature. The wind was moving in the wrong direction for her nose to be of any use. She instantly crouched down and stopped moving. Her pupils dilated as her heartbeat slowed down and her body temperature reduced to mimic that of the surrounding environment. It could be another human, or it could be a bear. Taking no risks, Robin minimised her existence, allowing herself to become barely noticeable.
A black snout became visible from the corner of her eye — this was all the confirmation she needed. She stopped breathing, using the oxygen taken in her last breath to continue the respiration process at a much slower rate. When in this state, she could hold her breath for hours at a time, the slower she uses the oxygen the less she appears present on the earth. She felt that tiny twinge reminding her why she was in that undergrowth in the first place.
Man am I hungry …
The Student (British Columbia)
Role: The planner
Power: 望子成龙 (wàng zǐ chéng lóng); the manifestation of the Golden Chinese Dragon
The ride was so smooth. The wind was in his hair and the sun warmed his back as he pedaled forward on the stunning bike path around the green spaces of the extended downtown area. Kevin Cheng was taking a break from his studies and profiting from the exceptionally good weather that the day was bringing.
Hailing from one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country, Vancouver, British Columbia and attending university in the largest Canadian city, Toronto, Ontario, Kevin was a man of tall buildings, urban environments and city life. An avid biker, he noticed from a young age that his movements were quite restricted in his home as most urban areas either lacked in bike lanes or, if they were present, were poorly designed such that the safety of the cyclist remained an area of concern. With this in mind, Kevin took up arms, ready to demonstrate the benefits of citizen-defined urban planning.
He eventually stopped by the waterfront, smiling as he looked around at all the people, his people, enjoying the day as well. As he turned to head home, he felt the activities of the day catching up with him and decided he would rather take the bus. As he climbed the slope towards the bus stop, he spotted a series of events that would lead to a collision with extreme consequences.
There was a man riding what looked like a mountain bike in the middle of the street, as there were no bike lanes bordering this road. He saw a bus driver speeding as if he were late or behind his set schedule. He saw a car trying to sneak into the bus lane to squeeze around both the bus and the cyclist. Almost as if the world started to move in slow motion, Kevin’s eyes changed from the puppy brown that melted most hearts to a fiery orange, mirroring two rubies set on fire.
Clouds quickly took form in the sky, darkening the entire city; eclipsing the sun. The clouds swirled round and round almost as if preparing a tornado. Flames started spreading from this whirlwind of continuous movement, the colour setting the sky ablaze. From this magnificent scene emerged a long coiled body caked in golden scales. The Golden Chinese Dragon.
Kevin pointed at what was to be, and the dragon roared.
The Elder (Northwest Territories)
Role: The elder
Power: Medicine woman
As she entered the forest she called out to it, alerting every tree, every rock, every animal, to her presence. The wind suddenly picked up and died down; the stream emitted a gurgle; the trees collectively creaked, moving their branches in unison with the air current. Howls, roars, chirps, and other auditory signals indicating animal life echoed throughout the woods. The forest was welcoming her with open arms and she thanked her host graciously.
With every step, she could feel the earth, the wind, the air, the trees. She could feel every soul that had come before her, that was currently there, and some that were to come — such is the life of a woman who is one with the land on which she walks. She bent down and touched the stream, the water gleefully jumping into her hands to be drank — and as she tasted it, she knew where it had been, and where it was going.
Be’sha was an elder. Having accumulated the knowledge passed down from all the mentors she has had throughout her life, she was constantly both learning and sharing. She taught the young members of her tribe, and anyone else who came to her with an open mind and heart. She could speak with the animals, converse with the trees, and discuss with the elements. She knew dances that could change the weather and plants that could heal the body. She had the collective wisdom from her ancestors, her teachers, her students, her friends.
She was, simply put, an elder.
La Professeure (Québec)
Power: Imagination-based astral projection and hypnosis
“I am a firm believer in free, unstructured play,” Guylaine Abot had began her lecture. Although research into outdoor schools and the benefits children get from being in nature was the reason she pursued a doctoral degree and entered into academia, she also found great joy in sharing her love of the outdoor world.
As she spoke, she shared photos of forest schools that she had observed and been a part of. Each of the pictures brought back a memory, an emotion, a feeling. There was a certain nostalgia in seeing what already existed, but it motivated the desire to continue pushing forward, learning more and improving. With each passing slide, as Guylaine spoke, her words starting ringing. It was almost as if she were harmonising with herself. One voice continuing as normal and the other hitting a pitch outside the spectrum that most human voices can reach. The vibrations triggered a sense of temporary hypnosis in the students who started to feel as if they were right there in each school being described.
They could hear voices, feel the wind, smell the grass… the experience became incredibly realistic; their physical bodies assured them that what they were seeing was no dream, but in fact a convoluted reality based off of Guylaine’s words.
“Can you feel the warmth from the sun?”
The Lorax (Ontario)
Role: The idea guy
Tim Keen stared out at Georgian Bay from the porch of his cabin. He had decided to take some time off work and take advantage of the summer weather. The sun was low on the horizon, allowing for a cool breeze to weave in and around the trees, carrying their scents directly to his nostrils.
The creative in him started churning. Tim loved to design, strategize, and conceive tangible concepts, each having the potential to outlive him. The incredible smell he just took in triggered his desire to share it — but how was he going to bottle that smell, and combine it with that feeling of being in that very moment, at that specific time of day, in these exact conditions. How does one bottle a feeling?
Somehow, he knew. His body got to work, sniffing out the ingredients he would need, all right there in his backyard. He was climbing trees, searching undergrowths, tasting shrubbery and touching everything. He allowed his subconscious to take over, using an almost divine instinct present in him since birth. He soon gathered all his ingredients and headed home.
Using ancient and secret production techniques, he crafted a potion, conscious of the taste and overall experience the drinker would receive. He added a little touch of magic to seal the effect, conserving the ecstasy of the present for the benefit of the future.
The Optimist (Yukon)
Role: The optimist and administrator
Power: The White Lady of Kraków
Dan Palz opened his curtains and smiled as the sun’s rays bathed him in light. He lived in one of the wildest cities in the country: Whitehorse, Yukon. The cityscape was rife with trees, with the wilderness constantly just around the corner. As he left the house filled with the energy and optimism to start the day, he caught sight of a headless young girl crossing the street.
Dan sighed, he had seen the omen that would describe his day. Something was going to go wrong or was already wrong. He hopped in his car and drove quickly, following this young girl clad in white carrying around what he assumed was her head. She darted in and out of traffic, other drivers completely oblivious to the scene that he was witnessing. Eventually the road became impassable and Dan had to exit his vehicle and continue on foot.
An outdoorsy man himself, he was no stranger to hiking and moving at a brisk pace. He moved quickly and efficiently, but he did not have the same benefit of being able to phase through solid objects that the headless girl seemed to have. They were entering into the thick of the wilderness where paths were not fully carved out and cell phone signal had become nonexistent. Dan took mental stock of what was in the emergency pack on his back, thanking his good sense to always leave a readied bag at his disposal in the car.
She suddenly halted and pointed. Dan turned in the direction to which she had pointed and saw a young man cowering in fear as a large brown bear inched in towards him. Although the bear’s movements were careful, they were determined. It was moving towards this human.
Dan ran towards the scene, making noise, breaking branches, really making his presence known. As he got closer to the unfolding action, a masked man clad in red manifested by his side, holding an axe dripping with blood. Dan glanced backwards, noting that the headless girl was no longer there. He looked forward where the red masked man that had been at his side was now standing over an incapacitated bear holding the axe over its neck in a guillotine-esque fashion, looking to Dan for confirmation of the kill.
Dan smiled, shaking his head. The bear was cornered and he was free to help the hapless tourist who had somehow wandered, without any form of protection, into the savage wilderness of the Yukon.
“Are you alright?”
The Communicator (Ontario)
Role: Communications advisor
Water. Kyle Spring was at a board meeting wondering what the best course of action would be on the dilemma facing them. Water. With a team of incredibly talented people around him, Kyle knew a solution was imminent and called for a break to allow everyone to rest and gather their thoughts. Water.
He stepped out of the room holding a glass. Water. He did not make any effort to ingest the liquid nor bring it closer to his face. Water. Instead he held the glass tightly, looking at the clear fluid, his eyes dilating as he remembered the feeling of the ocean touching his skin. Water.
“Hey, why are we even doing this?” Kyle was snapped out of his reverie by one of his colleagues from the boardroom. John looked exhausted; it had been three days since their debate had begun and although they were on the brink of determining their next step forward, people were exhausted.
Kyle nodded empathetically. The water in his glass was behaving out of the ordinary. Normally one does not expect water to move without being physically transferred from one containment to another. In this case, the water extended tendrils from the glass, reaching out to touch Kyle’s hand.
“Let’s get back in there,” Kyle responded. As the water touched his skin, Kyle’s eyes lit up and set his words aflame. John, too, could feel a rejuvenation, a resurgence in his strength as if he had just been born unto the earth. He bounded into the room, jovial and excited to continue, whereas moments ago he was on the brink of a mental breakdown.
Kyle smiled. Water.