A Time Outside of Time

Dear Friends,

It has been nearly six months since this experiment of Treewise began. It’s one of those things that sounds like it should be longer, but that also feels like we just started. We began with one thing in mind, and then life happened – as it often does – and we’ve picked a new path as we’ve gone along. Yesterday Katie commented, “It’s been an adventure”, and I would add to that saying sometimes you look up from the adventure and wonder where the heck you are!

We’re going to step back for now, and figure out how (and if) we’re going forward. If you have any opinions or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you.

Expect us when you see us.

Mike

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Without Her

A little over three years ago I suffered a loss that took my breath away. It literally swept my feet from under me and changed the way I saw the world. Grief is like no other feeling on earth.  It is vast and deep and terrifying. Until you have lost someone who is so much a part of you, and so much a part of your world that the rooms in your soul echo after they leave, you cannot begin to imagine the coiling monster that is grief.

My sister passed away unexpectedly at the age of twenty four. The cause was not known at the time, and an autopsy took months, but still came back largely inconclusive. In the months between her death and the autopsy results, my family lived in limbo. There was no closure, no real explanation – just time passing, without her.

Losing my sister shook me to the core. It raised questions that I had never considered. It brought my own mortality into view. Whoever you are and however you view the world – at some point something is bound to turn your focus to the big questions. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What happens after death? What is our purpose?

The big questions never baffled me when I was younger. I held easy and confident answers for all of them. Knowledge and experience are very different animals. All the philosophy in the world won’t bail you out when you are sinking.

For months I lived in a world of questions, platitudes and terrible advice. The things that people say in these circumstances are senseless and horrible. I was told to be glad I had her for that short while at least. They say that time heals all wounds. You need to put it behind you and go on living, people advised. It was her time to die.

Three years (and a bit) later, I can say with absolute certainty that time does not heal all wounds. The body is so much easier to heal than the spirit. When it is a matter of tissue and blood and bone, healing is a natural progression. The spirit does not simply clot and form a scar tissue by itself. You actually have to do the work.

It took me a long time to find the bottom of what I had thought was bottomless grief. Layer after layer I searched for answers, and only unearthed more questions.  When I finally made it through the sadness, hopelessness, bartering, guilt, rage and fury of the many stages of grief, I discovered the journey was directly into the center of my existence, and the road back was a process of examination of everything I knew. It was a road composed of the big questions.

Strangely enough, my answers to the big questions are the same now as I would have given a decade ago. They have not changed, just grown in perspective and conviction. Time has not healed my wounds. There are wounds that never heal. The nature of our existence is experience. What we believe in theory often holds true when we must live it. It is the living that matters.

I believe that when we die our bodies return to the earth. I believe that the essence of our being lives on. Energy does not cease to exist. She is in every sunrise, every blade of grass, every bird call and every star in the sky.

We live on, but never without her.

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kpKatie P is writer, reader, drummer and certifiable nature nut. She lives rural New Brunswick, where she spends far too much time frolicking in the bulrushes. She also blogs at Wyldwomyn.ca

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A touch of yoga near you…

As you step onto the wood flooring, you can feel the warmth and comfort of where you are. There is a peacefullness that bellies the hustle and buslt outside. A gentle breeze from the fans above cool the room from the heated performance it had just experienced. The smell of pepermint permeates the air and mixes with the sound of music. Calming, soothing, relaxing.

This is how I feel when I walk into the studio of Nirvana Yoga downtown Fredericton, New Brunswick. There are several yoga studios in and around the Fredericton area. There is Moksha Yoga, Dynamic Fitness, Satori Centre, The Iris Centre (Dr Cook does mindfullness training as well and is amazing), Lokamotion, Lifesong Yoga, Jane McKeown Yoga, and Yogasana Studio (technically in Charters Settlement about 15 minutes outside of Fredericton). Some of these (many) offer Hot Yoga which has gained a great deal of popularity in recent years. For me though, my personal favourite is Nirvana yoga haven and resto juice bar.

When you first enter Nirvana, you will see the resto bar side. It is an open concept, with an assortment of seating choices and a wonderful organic vegetarian menu that changes daily. Turning to the left will take you to the restrooms, changerooms, and the yoga studio. It is not a large studio, but that is a part of what makes it feel so wonderful when you enter. An all natural cleaner made with what I believe is peppermint is used to wipe down the mats that are available for all to use. They also provide blocks and bolsters for those who require them. There is no need to register for classes, they are by drop-in.

For more then a decade I have wanted to try yoga. Something always got in the way. Even when I was attending rituals, the guided meditation was my favourite part. Yoga is a bit like that, but instead of just the mind working, your whole body gets involved. Every Friday evening there is a Healing Yoga class at Nirvana lead by Paleki. His slow pace, descriptions, and general peace lead to a really wonderful class. Even a beginner, like me, feels comfortable participating. It is at your pace. Paleki gives you alternatives to more difficult poses and is always helpful with anything you may need. There is one exercise in particular that makes me feel particularly happy inside – it involves opening your hands like a book before your heart and envision something happy and wonderful and then ‘gifting’ it to yourself, to your heart. The feeling I have after this exercise is contentment and joy.

For anyone interested, here is the link to Nirvana Yoga http://yoganirvana.ca/. Namaste

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Crowwitch is a spectacular balance of chaos and order. This energetic hockey, soccer, ringette, karate, mom works hard to keep up with her two brilliantly funny children, and enjoy some quiet time with her devoted partner in the evenings. She also maintains a personal website called Crowwitch.

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Enchanted Landscape

The forest is quiet. The soothing, earthy scent of decaying wood and leaves drifts up from the well-beaten path. We tread softly here, like strangers unsure of ourselves. These woods are familiar to us, practically in our backyard, and yet we feel almost like trespassers. The sunlight dapples through the trees, creating dizzying patterns on the forest floor. I hear a bird chirp in a nearby tree, and suddenly the air is filled with sounds: the cheerful rustle of leaves, the creaking of branches, the chirping of birds and the scurry of squirrels, and underneath it all, as I strain to hear, a deep and almost imperceptible hum.

As we venture further into the wood, the path becomes narrower, rocky and uneven. I grow less sure of my footing and look nervously about me. Just a few steps to either side of us the ground falls away steeply, dense trees on one side and a murky green pond on the other. It is like we are crossing a bridge to another world, and with any misstep we are in peril. I feel a reassuring hand take mine, and Doug guides me further along the trail. We crest a small hill, follow a bend in the path, and suddenly a great tree looms above us. It looks dead, and yet something powerful and unsettling emanates from it. I stare up in reverence and awe. We don’t get closer to the tree – we aren’t welcome. We touch our hands to our hearts, instinctively, to show our respect before moving on. Then we turn, and go down a steep hill into a softly lit grove.

In the middle of the grove stands a large gypsum rock, which I’ve come to call the Fairy Castle. It glitters oddly in the sparse light. Something flickers as I approach it, so quickly I almost don’t take notice. Suddenly I know I am somewhere important, somewhere special. I am in a sacred place and I can feel there is a presence of something greater than myself at the edge of my perception. We begin to unpack our offerings…

Our local landscape is as enchanted as any haunted wood in a fairy tale. Our land is full not only of its own history, but also of its own spirit and sacredness. As pagans, especially those seeking the wisdom of our ancestors, we often dream of sacred sites far away, of ancient myths and gods of other lands. Few of us work directly with the land on a day-to-day basis, and when we do it rarely extends beyond our own backyard gardens. I believe this has rendered many of us – myself included – at times unable or unwilling to engage the spirits and gods in our own landscape. There are many local natural places I find personally and spiritually significant. As the good weather returns, and as the world grows green again, I am excited to visit and re-visit them with my family. Perhaps I can do so again with fellow pagans – other people who may appreciate the spirits of the place, and understand the importance of offerings.

What are some local places you consider special or sacred? Have you ever encountered or experienced the presence of gods or spirits in your natural landscape?

page-breakNatasha DNatasha is a busy new mom, nurse and down-to-earth Pagan living in Dieppe, NB with her family. She also blogs at Planting Seeds.

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Muscle Memory

I have been calling myself a pagan for a little over 20 years. For around a third of that I was very enthusiastically Wiccan. I then practiced Druidry for a couple of years while studying the Bardic grade with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. For the past five or six years I have been a Heathen (Germanic paganism, where my initial interest had lain), but at times it has been a challenge. I would like to share something that is helping me see it in a different light.

I recently visited an exceptional massage therapist, hoping for relief from shoulder pain I’ve had for years. My massage therapist explained – in terms I could understand – that I have layers of scar tissue over my muscles. This is usually the result of an untreated injury or over working yourself. It means my muscles can’t expand and contract properly. The scar tissue also prevents blood from adequately reaching my muscles, so they can’t heal properly. Without treatment first, exercise often builds more scar tissue rather than fixing anything. I have the same problem with my neck, back, chest, arms, and legs. She even believes my hands were broken at some point, which was news to me.

Even after just a couple of sessions with her, the change has been dramatic. While moving an unused door to the shed, I realized in mid-stride that I was feeling no pain or tightness in my neck or shoulders. I immediately had flashes of a time when physical activity came so easily. Through the years, I have been slowing down. Exercise feels different and the results aren’t the same. I thought it was age or I wasn’t trying hard enough, and I practically gave up… but what if the massage therapist is right? What if untreated injuries building up over time is partially to blame? The happy ending to this story is that with her help, I am at the start of a road to health.

This physical realization brought with it a spiritual epiphany. I had flashes of a time when my budding pagan spirituality seemed to flow so easily. A few years ago I was involved in some serious spiritual drama, and everything has been more challenging since. I even considered returning to those paths where things had felt smoother – Wicca and Druidry – but I found they were no longer so easy. I think it’s because it isn’t that path that’s the challenge. It’s the spiritual scarring, making everything more difficult and preventing proper healing. I have been hobbled on this stretch of my spiritual journey.

The best news is that this story can also have a happy ending. Now that I have identified the problem, I can find solutions. Just like with the massage therapist, part of it will include asking for help from people I trust. Another part will be getting back into the routine of strengthening myself, and without the barriers it’s a pleasant responsibility. If the comparison holds true, confronting some of these things will be painful… but in the end, worth it all.

page-breakMike CMike C. is a geeky Pagan, living a quieter life with his loving wife in Riverview, NB

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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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kpKatie P is writer, reader, drummer and certifiable nature nut. She lives rural New Brunswick, where she spends far too much time frolicking in the bulrushes. She also blogs at Wyldwomyn.ca

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Walking the Park

The path is uneven and often tread. The light, flickering between the leaves, offers a touch of warmth. The sound of laughter tickles your ears as you walk further into the wood. Up a winding path to the top of a small hill you find the bear cave. It’s small; truly more a nest of large stones then a cave, but the giggling of little ones and the roar from an adult makes it all the more interesting. As you continue on over tiny brooks, and meandering streams you become swept up in the sounds of rustling leaves, bird song, and the murmuring of voices.

Sound like a far away land? Not so. This is my experience when walking through O’Dell Park in Fredericton, NB. It’s fairly close to my home and an often visited oasis in the midst of the city. Only a short few blocks from downtown, it offers and an escape from the hustle and bustle. For one looking for seclusion to meditate or just commune with the natural it is a true gem.

Having lived in this area for most of my life, I find it easy to overlook what is right before us. It is easy to take mindful walks through O’Dell Park. It’s never been over crowded (that I remember). As you walk up the hill on certain paths it takes you to the Fredericton Botanical Garden. The Gardens are fragrant, but not over done. For the most part, the park itself is wooded until you reach the Gardens. The Gardens are partly wooded, partly open field with a pond and some benches. It’s peaceful and relaxing.

I often find that when I am walking alone it feels more like a meditative practice than simple exercise. Often the sounds around me, the human sounds, seem to dissipate and the natural sounds – the leaves, wind, and birds – take on a soothing feel. The trails are well maintained, at O’Dell Park, and the forest about them shields you from the sounds of traffic and population. There’s a little park my children love to play in, geese and ducks to feed in the pond nearby.

A few years back, some local Pagans gathered in the park for Winter Solstice. Star shaped ice candle holders were made, boughs brought about, apple cider shared over a small fire. It was beautiful, calm, and welcoming. I look forward to walking those paths, and sharing the tranquility.

Do you have a local ‘haunt’ that you enjoy walking mindfully through? Anyplace that holds a special place in your heart?

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Crowwitch is a spectacular balance of chaos and order. This energetic hockey, soccer, ringette, karate, mom works hard to keep up with her two brilliantly funny children, and enjoy some quiet time with her devoted partner in the evenings. She also maintains a personal website called Crowwitch.

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Hopes and Impressions

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I don’t know what it is (maybe the fact that I’ve been too busy to think about writing recently), but I had an incredibly hard time getting a piece finished for this week! After scrapping several drafts, and finding myself unhappy with everything I was writing, Doug kindly encouraged me to restart and write about something simple. He said, “Why don’t you write about OBOD?”

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) is a Neo-Druid order founded in the UK about 50 years ago by Ross Nichols (and revived in the 1980’s by the current chief Philip Carr-Gomm). The OBOD offers a correspondence course divided into three grades: Bard, Ovate and Druid. Each of these encourages students to fulfill their creative potential, commune with the powers of nature, and seek out spiritual wisdom.

As a modern nature spirituality, Druidry has always been attractive to me. Lack of time, money or both had prevented me from taking the course until recently. I haven’t yet progressed beyond the first few lessons, but I already feel more at peace and spiritually grounded. One complaint some people make about the course is that it isn’t focused on an academic understanding of Druidry or Celtic paganism, and some think its ritual and symbolism is too close to Wicca. I admit that I was concerned about this as well – but I find OBOD’s approach is refreshing and appropriate. Rather than being overly concerned with historical authenticity, OBOD balances inspiration from the past with relevance for the present and innovation for the future. Having been so put off by rigid reconstructionism in Heathenry of late, this is a very welcome change for me.

My hope for the Bardic course is that it will help me discover myself, be more creative and connected with the world around me, and deepen my connection with my ancestral past and with Nature.  My goal for myself and my family is to bring Druidry’s focus on peace, healing, creativity, wisdom, and connection with the great web of life into our daily lives.

Last week, Mike wrote about prayer, and I wish to leave you with another:

The Druid’s Prayer

Grant, O Holy Ones, Thy Protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences
the love of Earth our mother and all goodness.

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Natasha DNatasha is a busy new mom, nurse and down-to-earth Pagan living in Dieppe, NB with her family. She also blogs at Planting Seeds.

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To Pray is A-Okay!

When the ideas that would form into Treewise were first floating between us, we talked about wanting to share a variety of things in our posts – including prayers.

With the Sun gone out of sight

I welcome the Goddess with the night

Watch over me Lady while I rest

That in the morning I may be blessed

I don’t think the exact wording of this bed time prayer needs to be strict. The rhymes make it easy to remember (I hope), but is the Sun gone OUT OF sight, or FROM sight? Does the Lady watch over me WHILE I rest, or AS I rest? I think the important thing is trying to inspire a bit the magical mystery of the night, and asking it to watch over you (or your child) while you sleep. You could easily tack on a list of other people you would like Her to watch over. Quick note: I think at first glance this poem is Goddess-religion centric, but it isn’t necessarily. Balancing the Goddess with the Sun (ie Sun goes, Goddess arrives) suggests more of a duo-theistic view with a God and Goddess. Really, even Heathen (Teutonic/Northern European) pagans trying to reconstruct their beliefs based on historic accuracy could use this. In many Northern myths, the night is a Goddess that gives birth to her Son (Day) every morning.

Wyrd Sisters watch over me

Help me Accept the Past, Respect the Present, and Shape the Future

In Northern myth, the Wyrd Sisters are three women (Norns) who’s identity has mingled with the three Fates from Classical myth. Today they are commonly seen as weavers of Fate (the Web of Wyrd). I see this second prayer as more of a morning one, preparing to deal with what may come that day. The message is quite straight forward. Accept what has happened, pay attention to what is going on around you now, and take responsibility to bring about the future you desire.

I hope you enjoy these!

page-breakMike CMike C. is a geeky Pagan, living a quieter life with his loving wife in Riverview, NB

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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.

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Katie P is writer, reader, drummer and certifiable nature nut. She lives rural New Brunswick, where she spends far too much time frolicking in the bulrushes. She also blogs at Wyldwomyn.ca

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