Monthly Archives: April 2013

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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