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Month: September 2021

Natural Connections

Natural Connections

Ssshhh … listen closely. When I shut my eyes, I can hear the roaring water breaking on the shore below, all to the magnetic kawing chatter of the crows. And just off in the distance, if I listen closely, I can catch the wick-a, wick-a call of the Northern Flicker. Then, when I open my eyes again, the trees are all around—balsam fir nestled together with the spruce and further along an alder is reaching to the sky. The aroma is indescribably heady and alive. I smile as flies buzz and whirl around me, alighting on a branch and then off again. At these moments, I feel a part of nature. It’s such a warm and lovely sentiment. But what does it actually mean, really.

Part of it is all about connection. There’s a poetic beauty to how one element of nature is inherently bound to another. Each autumn we’re all the welcome audience for a parade of changes that take place in the boreal forest. As early as Autumn, all of a sudden I can see plants known as Indian Pipes poking their heads up through the ground. For me, whenever I spot them I know it’s a sign that September with its cooler temperatures and long shadows is nearing. The Indian Pipe is itself a reflection of connection.

By O18 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0,

It’s known as a mycoheterotroph which refers to a relationship between fungi and a plant. The Monotropa uniflora, better known as the Indian Pipe isn’t like other plants. It’s ghostly appearance is due to the fact its source of energy doesn’t come from the sun and photosynthesis, which would yield the green we all know so well. Rather it obtains its energy from fungi, who in turn, are mycorrizal in relation to the trees, something that is more than often the case. What it means is the Indian Pipe is somehow connected to the trees in its nearby vicinity, all through the fungi it’s parasitising. My connection to this wonderful arrangement of links amongst the plants is an indirect one. Yet, as a fellow creature on this planet, each of us is inherently connected to one another. Thus, I bear witness to and respect this natural witchery as a part of the union these elements demonstrate.

Picture of Red Squirrel

Elsewhere, the autumn is celebrated by the delightful light thumps I annually hear in the woods. When I squint my eyes and look closely at the tops of the firs and spruces, there I spy the slight rustling of the branches, evidence of a red squirrel hard at work. It’s an annual ritual, as the squirrel nibbles away to ensure the green cones fall gracefully through the branches to the ground. The industrious little squirrel then sets about collecting all the cones and depositing them in a midden of sorts. It’ll be the squirrel’s salvation when the winter arrives and allows them to be active throughout the often unforgiving winter. Here the trees energy generates the cones which are then connected to the little red squirrels and their efforts to survive. Yet again, I play no direct role, beyond a more spiritual bond. Still, I know I, too, benefit by virtue of the fact I walk amongst these trees, deriving sustenance from the energy I also derive from the them. At the same time, I delight in the presence of the squirrels endlessly fussing about, frenetic as they leap from tree to tree.

Introducing the beautiful Red Fox

You see, that’s it, too. We all play our roles in the cycle that seems to magically guide many elements of nature. In my little corner, the fox holds a special place in the predator-prey, just-trying-get-along hierarchy of nature. I remember years ago I had found a crow who had died on the road in Placentia. After the mourning of the other crows had come to an end, I solemnly took it up to Castle Hill National Historic Site, a place near where I live in Placentia, NL. I just wanted to lay it to rest in a peaceful location. When I returned weeks later, I expected to find the remains of the crow. But it was gone. I realised that most likely the fox had later come to claim its rightful dues. They apparently have an excellent sense of smell, enough to even locate food underground. So, to locate a deceased crow would’ve been a simple task. I remember at the time I was buoyed by the little cycle of nature of which I had played a small part. It was beautiful. And at that moment, I realised how it never ends. One may even say the spirit of the crow strengthened the fox whose energy, in its turn will go on to strengthen another.

I guess that’s what it’s all about. To be a part of nature is to recognise how, whatever role we play—whether an indirect one like I played with the Indian Pipe plant or a more direct one, as I did with the crow and red fox—we are all one in this great symphony of nature. We are closely connected and so, in some way, I am tied both literally, as well as spiritually to what happens to, for example, a red squirrel, a fox, Indian Plant or any of the innumerable species who grace our planet. So, I am a part of nature and I choose to recognise such a connection, and behave accordingly.

In other words, I could have ignored the death of the crow and not bothered to take it to lay to rest on Castle Hill. Similarly, it was possible to completely disregard the presence of the Indian Plant as well as the red squirrel. But I think I would’ve been somehow diminished had I done so.

Being Kind to the Planet

Being Kind to the Planet

Happy Autumn Equinox … And now that it’s Autumn, how about taking a moment to pick up some discarded beverage bottles, cans or other garbage that’s lying on the ground. Throw it in the recycling bin! In so doing, you’re being kind to yourself, friends, family and neighbours, as well as to the planet!

Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC)

Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC)

Steeped in history and graced with a panoramic view of Placentia Bay, Castle Hill stands alone. Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC) was designated in 1968 for its role in the defence and strategic interests of France and England from 1692 to 1811. But it’s role in the lives of the people of the Placentia area ensure it will be remembered as much, much more.

Occupying about 24 hectares of land, Castle Hill NHSC consists of several forts and fortifications. These defences occupy a strategic position on a hill that overlooks Placentia (the original French capital of Newfoundland from 1662-1713 known as Plaisance) and the “Placentia Road” or the marine approach from Placentia Bay leading to the narrow entrance to the harbour.

Although the origin of the name “Castle Hill” is uncertain, many older forts were referred to as castles. Over time, the name Castle Hill has become etched into the memories and stories that animate the area.

While the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) raged, Castle Hill did feature in a prominent role. Newfoundland did not play a direct role in this war, it was the location to which Governor Thomas Graves sought refuge in 1762 when St. John’s was attacked. What was Fort Royal was then re-named Castle Graves (later, the hill came to be known as Castle Hill).

While the garrison at Castle Hill was officially moved in 1811 by the British, it remained a part of the history of the region. As early as 1910, J.A. O’Reilly wrote in “A King Edward Peace Memorial Park” (see Memorial Digital Archives Initiative Newfoundland Quarterly, Volume 10, No. 3, pages 26 and 28) that Castle Hill should be used as the site for a peace memorial. Such a call is that much more poignant given the date—four years before the world was catapulted into World War I.

Photographs from the latter part of the 19th century (see Newfoundland Illustrated, 1894 – page 87), before it had been re-built by Parks Canada, are also indicative of its place in the stories and memories of those who have travelled and walked alongside Castle Hill. People whose families have lived in this area for many years, fondly recall how they scrambled and hiked along the trails around Castle Hill. These were the same trails created by and trudged centuries ago by soldiers lugging hundreds of pounds of cannon up to Fort Royale.

Today, the trails that surround Castle Hill are used daily by the people of the region. Whether they are seeking the rigours of exercise or perhaps a poignant moment in the embrace of nature, people eagerly walk or run on the trails of Castle Hill. As such, the significance and value of Castle Hill has easily spanned the breadth of time.

Castle Hill NHSC is a place where visitors can experience and touch the history that has enlivened Placentia. Breathtaking many would utter, gasping in awe when they first see the unrivalled and beautiful view of the surrounding communities, forests, hills and Placentia Bay itself. Unquestionably, Castle Hill is a fixture in the sense of place that is intertwined in the deep history distinguishing the Placentia area.