Category Archives: Season

A Tragic Tale and a Noble Sacrifice

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So many times we read of distant heroes and beautiful places that are brimming with history and tragedy and fascinating events. It is easily forgotten that the land we live on is also full of stories.

Middle Island is located on the southern bank of the Miramichi River just outside of Chatham, NB. It stretches roughly 350 meters long and 100 meters wide. On the South Eastern side there are sandy beaches and calm shallow water. The opposite side faces out into the middle of the Miramichi River. The shoreline is rocky, with much deeper water and docks.

Perhaps just as interesting as the island itself is the fact that a mile or so inland, there is a lake that is roughly the same size and shape as Middle Island. This has lead to local stories about the two being related. Some people credit leprechauns magic with the creation of Middle Island, and thereby the large hole which was left to fill with water and become the Lake.

Middle Island has a fascinating and tragic history. From roughly 1827 to 1850 the island was used sometimes as a quarantine station. Often ships full of immigrants would arrive in the New World containing passengers who were ill or who had died during the voyage. Diseases such as cholera, typhus, small pox and dysentery were common. One infected passenger could carry a disease aboard that would spread throughout the ship affecting passengers and crew alike. Weeks spent in cramped and unsanitary conditions made illness almost unavoidable once it was present.

In 1847 at the height of the Irish potato famine, immigrants were pouring in from Ireland, in search of food for hungry bellies and a way, ANY way to provide for their families. Cargo ships often sailed with a hold full of people rather than goods during this time. One such ship was the Looshtauk, which carried 462 passengers. Of these, it is estimated that 117 and possibly as many as 146 died at sea. Conditions were so bad that the captain was forced to head for the nearest port, which was Miramichi.

Port authorities in Miramichi did not know what to do with the Looshtauk. It was decided that Middle Island would be put to use once again as a quarantine station. Some temporary wooden buildings were erected, and three days after their arrival, the passengers and crew were finally allowed to land on the island.

Within a week two other ships also arrived and were directed there. Between the three ships over a hundred more people died on the island.

It is difficult in this day and age to imagine the conditions that these immigrants faced in 1847. Middle island had a couple of wooden buildings, and as people arrived and grew ill, makeshift shelters and canvas open air tents were set up to accommodate the sick. These very rough shelters were not comfortable, and they were definitely not sanitary. They would offer slight protection from the elements but no shelter at all from the mosquitoes and temperatures.

Supplies were dropped off on the mainland opposite the island and those who were healthy were able to row across and pick them up. A doctor was badly needed, to treat the suffering and dying immigrants. Some sources state that port medical officers had refused to travel to the island.

A young doctor named John Vondy volunteered to help. He was 28 years old. He agreed, knowing that once there, he must remain until the illness had passed. He was aware that this could take weeks or months.

When Vondy arrived at the island he found himself faced with over 300 patients. It is said that he worked tirelessly to relieve the suffering he found there, until finally falling ill himself. In the ultimate sacrifice, John Vondy died on Middle Island.

Today, the island is a recognized historical park. A stone cairn marks the place as an Irish burial ground, and a fifteen foot Celtic cross monument bears the words “bron bron mo bron.” (Sorrow sorrow my sorrow.) There is a walking path that circles the island and an interpretive center where visitors can learn more about the history of the place.

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Republished with permission. Originally appeared on Treewise

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The Season of Faith

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” ~ Hal Borland

This has been a long winter. Though the snow did not really arrive until mid December, I have found the cold months colder than I have in many years. Snow still covers everything as far as the eye can see, and I am restless from too much time spent inside. A good friend of mine from Arkansas has been teasing me with photographs of spring gardens. Where he lives, the leaves are still falling from some trees while others are just beginning to bud, and what little snow they got this year, lasted only a few weeks. While we are shoveling, he is raking. While we are purchasing seed for our gardens, he is watching bulbs sprout beautiful flowers. It seems unfair.

This is a magical and meaningful time of year in many faith communities. There are calendars, such as the Baha’i and Iranian which begin on the spring equinox each year. Jewish Passover and the Christian holy day Easter, are also celebrated at this time. In Japan they celebrate a national holiday, Vernal Equinox Day. This day and season have been recognized by many cultures for thousands of years, with feasts, stories, local traditions and spiritual celebrations.

The vernal equinox takes place in March of each year, opposite the autumnal equinox which occurs in September. It is the date when day and night are believed to be equal in length, midway between Yule and the summer solstice. In fact, whether day and night are of equal length really depends on where you are. If you are in the far North, the vernal equinox is the beginning of approximately six months of light, but in the far South it is the beginning of an equal time of darkness. For us, here in New Brunswick, this is the time when the days, which have been lengthening since Yule, reach the midway point and begin to grow longer than the night. At this time the sun is directly over the equator. The Earth is not tilting toward or away from the sun.

This year in the Northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox fell on the 20th of March. Ironically, the sun rose on this day to reveal more than a foot of fresh fallen snow, in spite of nearly two weeks of warm temperatures. It appears, for all intents and purposes as though Mother Nature has decided to extend the deep freeze a little longer.

March can be a terrible month for snowstorms at a time when we are all craving spring and fresh air and green blooming things. After two weeks of feeling hot sun on our skin, smelling the thawing earth and hearing melting water, this seems especially harsh.

Pagans celebrate the vernal equinox with the sabbat of Ostara, dedicated to the turning of the wheel and the welcoming of spring. The themes at this time are those of fertility, rebirth, spring and resurrection. There are stories and myths from many cultures that involve the resurrection of prominent figures such as Jesus Christ, the Roman god Mithras and the Egyptian god Osiris. These individuals rise from the dead, at a time when the season is changing and plants and flowers are also rising. Soon the world will awaken, and the snow will melt. Our rivers will rise and spring flowers will begin to poke their heads upward from the frozen ground in search of sunlight.

This year, my family celebrated the equinox with a snow day. There was much shoveling to be done, supper to prepare, and no sign of the sun through heavy grey clouds. We are all gardeners and outdoor lovers. We are spring fanatics in this house, and we could not have felt further from spring. Since our families are a mix of Pagan and Christian backgrounds, we tend to double up on holidays. We celebrate our own days and also celebrate other holidays with family members. This means a lot of chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs.

Eggs are a common part of celebrations at this time, from egg rolling contests to Easter egg hunts. There is an old urban legend which states that at the exact moment of the equinox, an egg can be balanced on its end and will remain upright. This is mostly fiction however, as the right egg can be balanced, ANY day of the year. It has nothing to do with gravitational effects in relation to the equinox.

Some people dye eggs in beautiful colors, or tell tales of the Easter bunny, who in some versions of the tale lays eggs. The nocturnal hare was considered by some cultures to be connected with the moon, as its gestational cycle consists of 28 days, the same as a lunar cycle. In the wild these hares create nests. Sometimes when they abandon the nest Plovers move in and use it to lay eggs. The myth about the Easter bunny laying eggs may actually come from some confusion that arose when eggs were found in what was clearly a rabbit’s nest.

Our Ostara celebration is generally a simple observation. We have supper together and, well, this year, shovel snow. We save the chocolate and candy for Easter Sunday. On the equinox we are more concerned with frost charts, which varieties of beans to plant, and how to head off problems that arose in last year’s gardens. We are talking about things like drumming by the river and swimming in the lake.

It is hard to believe that such change is so close at hand, while the world is still blanketed in white, but this is the season of faith.

Republished with permission. Originally appeared on Treewise

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A New Beginning

I have never been one for resolutions.

I usually choose a theme word to sum up my coming year. Some years the word has been health, adventure, creativity or independence. The word is generally accompanied by a vague idea of how I will accomplish this intent. Perhaps I will eat more vegetables, take more trips, or decorate my space with more colours and textures. The path is never clear, but I choose my theme each year and put my best foot forward.

Today a brand new year calendar year is beginning.

By some accounts it is the year that was not meant to happen. By others, it is the dawning of a new age for humankind. The only thing that experts seem to agree on is that this year will bring a shift in consciousness. The great minds of our time predict all kinds of things for this next phase in our existence – and all roads lead to massive change and renewal.

We see this theme constantly in earth based spirituality, and it’s only right. A belief system that is based on cycles that revolve around constant renewal should naturally pattern itself similarly. There is a plethora of new beginnings in paganism. We see this in the turning of the wheel, the phases of the moon, the seasons and the path of the sun and moon across the sky.

If our spirituality has taught us anything, it has told us to be patient. We have witnessed periods of change, great and small. We know that these things take time. We celebrate these changes and have learned to treat each ending as a new beginning.

With the recent publicity surrounding the end of the Mayan calendar there has been a lot of hype, mass hysteria even. For months we have been told that something is coming. Predictions ranged from natural disasters to global mass destruction in the form of an apocalypse.

I remember the year 2000 – yet another date associated, at least in some minds, with disaster and monumental change. It was preceded by weeks of media coverage and dire predictions about global catastrophe. The computers will all crash, they told us, there will be chaos and the world will be plunged into darkness.

Now here we stand, on the very edge of 2013.

There was no great explosion. We are all still here, and life has continued. This seems to be the most constant part of our faith. Life does go on, no matter what happens. The sun will rise, whether we are here to appreciate it or not, and it will make its way across the sky.

I propose that this year, our theme is a new beginning.

Republished with permission. Originally appeared on Treewise

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Here Comes The Sun

I love midwinter. I love the themes of new beginnings, renewal and rebirth. As the snow begins to fall, I resign myself to arm chair adventures and internet gardening until spring returns and the earth is once again fertile.

The winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. After the solstice, which typically falls on or around the 21st of December each year, the cycle reverses and the day once again grows long. It is the point when the year is reborn and daylight hours begin to increase. We may have several cold months before spring arrives, but already the light is drawing nearer.

Photo credit Mr. Objective | Creative Commons Attribution License

Photo credit Mr. Objective | Creative Commons Attribution License

The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southern decline. This is when the North Pole is tilted furthest from the sun. The earth’s axis to the sun changes throughout the seasons. This is why the sun appears in different places on the horizon through the year. It also affects the intensity and duration of the sunlight we receive.

Monuments like Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland were aligned so that the primary axes pointed to the winter solstice sunrise (in the case of Newgrange) and the solstice sunset (in the case of Stonehenge).

The earliest sunset actually happens before the solstice. True solar noon happens as much as ten minutes before noon on our clocks. Due to the tilt earth’s axis and our planets “egg shaped” orbit of the sun, solar noon and clock noon don’t always match. By the time the solstice arrives, solar noon is much closer to the noon on our clocks. By this time, solar noon is happening almost ten minutes later than it did earlier in the month, making sunrise and sunset happen ten minutes later as well.

In the mid-northern regions of the globe, the earliest sunset occurs sometime around the middle of December, the solstice itself around the 20th-23rd of December and the latest sunrise happens in early January.

The solstice occurs tomorrow, and Christmas will be just after it. It is a beautiful time to go for a drive and look at decorations and lights. In spite of the increasing darkness, everything is covered with a brilliant layer of snow. No night is really dark in winter.

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