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Month: April 2022

Time to Move On

Time to Move On

Simple. Just keep it simple was what you always used to say. Ursula smiled as she knelt down, clearing away a few more of the weeds. Her husband, Mick was never very showy, either. Never cared what others thought of him, even in the end when he had to use the wheelchair. ‘Do what ya gotta do,’ she could hear him saying. The sedum she’d planted a year ago was well on its way now. She’s glad she’d just decided to plant something, rather than always carting flowers up every week, just to see them blow away.

“Well, I had a nice week. I’ve just been keeping to myself. You know me.” She paused for a moment as some leaves twirled in the wind. “You were always the one who spoke with everyone. Me, no.” She shook her head to add emphasis. “But you’ll be proud of me. I’m thinking about doing something—something I’ve never done before.” Ursula looked up, smiling, her eyes glistening. “I know you always said I needed to get out more. I remember you always telling me ‘What are you gonna do when I’m gone,’ she said, imitating his voice. “Guess you are now. Funny that, eh. Y’know, it feels like it was just yesterday you were here. Think it’s been about two years, now. Since you’re gone. This October, it’ll be.” Ursula wiped away a wisp of hair that had escaped her braid, a tear dropping to the wiry grass.

Her mind travelled back to the day. She remembers the sound of the dirt landing on the coffin like it was yesterday. Sharp and distinct. And the smell of the egg salad sandwiches Mrs. Peabody had made for the meal they’d had after the funeral. She looked around and breathed in the air. It’s been such a beautiful autumn day. The leaves were only beginning to turn colour, leaving the cemetery looking like it was part of those old-style landscape scenes.

A couple walked by who seemed to be just reading the headstones. Her eyes quickly darted up and then back down again, a ghost of a smile crossing her lips. She could hear snippets of their conversation—“This one’s from 1881” and “Look at this one”—until it faded away as they grew more distant. She waited to make sure.

“As I said, I’m thinking of doing what you were always trying to get me to do. I don’t know. I’m not sure about the piano. I know you said that’s the one I know best, but …” she said, leaving her sentence hanging. “No. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to ever go back there again.” She laughed wryly, looking into the distance, the jagged skyline of the city defining the horizon. “Oh, I know you’d say, I’ve got to finally put all that stuff in the past. Find a way to forgive, you always used to say. But I don’t know.

“As I told you, my mother actually passed on, something like a year after you. Finally. I didn’t feel anything, I have to say.” Her chin rose obstinately. She closed her eyes, her mind straggling back to those shadowy days.

Ursula always remembered how she’d pray for 1 0’clock to not come, maybe something would happen and her mother couldn’t make it. But as the bell struck, she had to be at the piano, seated and back straight. Her mom was always strict about that. “Keep your back straight,” she’d harshly tell her, her ruler clattering against the piano. She laughed remembering how it broke the one time.

Sometimes when she’d be playing, she’d make a mistake. Down would come the edge of the ruler on her hands, her mother barking, “No! Do it again. Properly, this time!” She rubbed her knuckles, massaging them as she recalled. Whenever it would happen, she’d always keep her eyes steadfastly ahead of her. The menacing sound of the metronome was sternly re-set and Ursula would have to play the piece again. She had come to despise the piano.

“No, I wasn’t sorry to see her go. She so hated me.” Ursula yanked vehemently at a stubborn weed. “I know you always said she had her own troubles and that’s why she was so horrible. Mother was worse with poor Marigold, bless her soul. She drove her to the grave. I know that. It’s like I used to tell you. She made poor Marigold go up and down, see to this, see to that. I always used to ask Marigold why she’s doing it. I guess I was just glad I’d already left by then because I knew it would’ve been me had I been there. You were always seeing the good side of everyone—I don’t know how you saw anything good in her. She paused and smiled.

“But gee, before I forget, I’ve gotta tell you about what I want to do. Well, I was walking downtown a little while ago, past one of the charity shops. And yes, just so you know, I’m able to walk a little more, even though I’ve got a slight limp. It’ll get better, though.” Ursula absent-mindedly ran her hand along the words of his name on the headstone. She was jarred back to her thoughts by the kaw of a crow. “Anyway, I wasn’t really paying any attention—you know how I am. So, I was just about to walk by when all of a sudden, I saw it. I heard it,” she said, emphasising her words. “Oh, it was beautiful, let me tell you. I mean, what do I know about guitars. Y’know, for some reason, it felt like it was calling out to me. It really did. And you know what?! I went inside and bought it! Isn’t that wonderful?!

“Now, I’m not sure about tuning or anything like that.” She rolled her eyes. “Listen to me. Like I know anything about it! I’ll go to someone to make sure it’s in good working order and all that. But I remember running my hands over the wood and it was glorious! I put it up to my nose and it smelled just like the wood you used to work with. Beautiful. Oh, you’d love it.”

“I even looked on the computer a bit and they said, it apparently doesn’t matter what age you are, you can always learn a new instrument. I was worried about that, I guess. But there ya go. Me at what, seventy-one learning a new instrument. And there were all these things they said would help people like me. It’s almost like a whole new world I’ll enter with its very own language!

“What I read is that adults have spent a lifetime listening to music and so we can get more of a sense of the structure of music. I mean, more than kids. What else did they say?” She thought for a moment. “We really want to learn, so unlike kids, no one is there forcing you to do it. I know that very well, don’t I? Also, it increases our grey matter,” she said, tapping the side of her head. “It also helps to deal with stress, too.” Ursula snapped her fingers. “What else? It eases your breathing. Well, more so if you play something like a trumpet or clarinet.” She pulled her shoulders back and closed her eyes, breathing in deeply. Ursula opened them again and playfully falling forward, she giggled. “You’re probably thinking I’m out of my mind. I don’t think I’ve laughed like this since ….” Her face grew suddenly serious, her eyes glossy and shimmering. She stared off into nothingness.

“That’s how it’s felt, y’know. I haven’t laughed … I haven’t wanted to laugh since you left.” The tears ran down her face. But eventually, she clasped her hands as if in joy and shut her eyes tightly. “Do you think it’s time, my love? My sweet love. I won’t forget you. Never. But that guitar, it sang to me, I tell you no word of a lie,” her voice just barely a whisper. “And it virtually beckoned me to go with it. I feel like there is a bejewelled path it’ll lead me on. Oh, I feel that I’ll be going to the ends of the earth now with it as my guide. But my love, you’ll be with me every step of the way. I promise.” She tenderly touched the headstone. “Time to move on.” I know that’s what you’d say.

To Stress a Peaceful Life

To Stress a Peaceful Life

We’ve all been low. Most of us are no stranger to those times when we simply don’t know how to go on. Exhausted, we ask, how can we even begin to contend with this problem—there doesn’t seem to be a way out? The notion of simply putting one foot in front of the other and moving on seems impossible. These are the unforgiving moments in our lives when our spirits have been brought down, an unbearable pressure laid on us. Is there any relief?

A Stressed Life

It’s all about stress. None of us are surprised when we learn that stress is one of the top reasons why we find ourselves lost and hopeless. We are confronted in every quarter of our lives with pressures that will lead unerringly to it. For some of us, we are experiencing financial difficulties. Life is grave, for only after some painful contortions of our bank accounts are we able to cobble together next month’s rent or mortgage payment. But what about the one after that? In two Canadian studies, 48% said they’ve lost sleep over financial worries. And 44% say it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay was late. Such problems exert tremendous amounts of stress on us and we are often left feeling defeated.

Otherwise, we encounter difficulties in our workplaces. Sometimes it can be the fear of potentially losing our jobs. As far as we’re concerned, it’s our very lives that seem to be at stake. Some experience the tensions brought on by conflicts or disagreements with colleagues. In other respects, especially in the various health professions, people are overworked and struggling to make time for the other elements of their lives—families, friends or simple recreation. All of these challenges bring with them a great degree of stress.

Taking care of a loved one experiencing medical challenges is always a very difficult and sometimes a traumatic task. Those who accept these burdens are willing to care for their loved one, something that varies in its degree. It could mean simply providing support and ‘being there’ to actually conducting medical procedures. But it takes its toll, the worry and the personal sacrifices that have to be selflessly made. These few examples I’ve offered only touch on a fraction of life situations that carry with them a sometimes crushing amount of stress.

Short-Term Stress

And under stress, people’s overall health is affected. We must bear in mind that stress isn’t automatically detrimental. It can be either good or bad—it depends. One thing we know for certain is that our brain and immune systems are in constant contact. During short-term stress, our immune system is activated, thus enhancing our immunoprotective responses including wound healing, vaccination, as well as providing an anti-infectious agent and anti-tumour functions. Hormones also work to produce symptoms known more customarily as a ‘fight or flight’ response. That’s good.

Chronic Stress

Although, the story’s different if it’s more chronic stress. With long-term or chronic stress, our immune system responses are suppressed. In so doing, they induce low-grade chronic inflammation, in addition to suppressing the number, trafficking and function of immunoprotective cells. It also dampens less immediate bodily functions. In contrast to shorter term stress, chronic stress does the opposite by reducing immune responses to infection, limiting wound recovery and impeding immunity provided by vaccinations. Chronic inflammation is particularly negative as, if it is persistent, it can lead to chronic diseases affecting central organs in our bodies like our heart.

Dealing With Stress

Any one of us who have ever been confronted by these trying conditions can readily identify how harmful and destabilising they are to our mental and physical well-being. But there are ways we can potentially dial down our stress. One of the first things to do is just move. Go for a walk, bike ride, or anything that will get your heart pumping a little. If we are near the seaside or in some natural setting, all the better. But even if we’re surrounded on all sides by glass and steel, in the end it doesn’t matter. Just go. And when we do so, our bodies naturally release a few hormones that can make our path a little more smooth.

Endorphins are released when we are vigorously exercising, but even for less intense exercise, it will do so. They’re our natural pain relief and they also promote feelings of pleasure. They’re released simply because our bodies aren’t sure of the nature of our exertion. Is this life or death? It can’t know and so, we receive a dose of endorphins just in case. To top it off, we may also get a portion of other more happy-day hormones such as dopemine. We are left feeling eager to meet goals, desires and needs and it also enhances our pleasure in achieving them. Serotonin is another that accompanies feelings of significance or importance.

Other actions we can take to combat stress include ensuring our diets are healthy. When stressed, we need to curb our tendency to, for one, overeat or to lean on foods carrying very little nutrition. Particularly highly processed food will be the most tasty and easy to access meal, albeit the least nutritious. Another good practice is to simply remember to take time for ourselves. Be kind. Read a good book, prepare a healthy meal. or practise a hobby. We can also use some of our time to be with family or friends.

There is Hope

The idea is to find means by which we can depressurise. Not only are we separating ourselves from the reality or situation causing us stress. We can also take that moment to put things in a better perspective. No, the sky is not falling and there is a way out. When we are calmer, solutions often arise that are least expected and usually from out of the blue. Stress seeks to box us in and trap us inside. We steadily lose hope in the blackness. But in the end, we are always the ones holding the keys to our freedom.


The Spirit of Gardening

The Spirit of Gardening

The signs are everywhere. The temperatures are rising, the first signs of buds are appearing, and in some places, we can even see the points of leaves almost magically pushing through the soil. With a contented sigh, many of us will stray into our gardens, now, assessing what needs to be done in the coming few months. One thing’s for sure, we do so spurred by a deep-seated bond, one reflecting the innate connections with our gardening world.

Meditative State

Gardening can be truly serene. It often provides those peaceful and prolonged times when we can be in touch with ourselves and the meanings that guide us throughout our lives. When I first go out into my garden in the spring, it soon finds me clipping back the old plants—the sedum and foxglove. We snuggle into a comfortable spot and begin snipping the old stalks, our minds not necessarily thinking about anything. In a way, it’s almost like we reach some sort of meditative state. We may not be “thinking” about anything at all, yet the repetitive and rhythmic nature of gardening takes us away, almost leading to another state of consciousness.


The act of gardening is a pastime that does wonders in reducing stress. By reaching a meditative state, we are largely distracted as our minds become consumed by what we are doing. Hours can pass by unnoticed as we ignore all the concerns and worries customarily cluttering our minds. And stress is not something to be disregarded. Our entire system—muscular, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and nervous—is affected in some manner. However, even after just half an hour of gardening, we’ll finish and feel rejuvenated and refreshed. We shouldn’t be surprised.

Be Patient

Like its ability to curtail stress, gardening also urges patience. What we are ultimately saying when we’re feeling impatient is “I don’t have the time for this” and most importantly, “I’m angry about it.” Some say that emotions including anger, irritation, blaming, and shaming are all the opposite of patience. This is why we’re told that when we’re feeling impatient, take a few deep breaths. Let it pass. But gardening instils in us the need to wait and take the time. Time is almost the beauty of it. After all, it not only takes time to plant our gardens. It takes an equal amount of time, if not more, for it to grow. We know there is no point in being impatient. In fact, there is every point in not minding the wait, as our reward will far outweigh any amount of time we had to wait.

Being Creative

As we go out into our gardens, it is impossible not to envision what we’d like to do in the coming year. Gardening is never something that comes to an end. We’re constantly experimenting with new plants and exploring different techniques by which to show them off. In doing so, gardens offer a blank canvas to constantly change, as well as create. The sky is the limit.

Our gardens provide an opportunity to expand and exercise all our sensations. Roaming into our gardens, we are overwhelmed by the perfumed aroma, the visual splendour, and the myriad sounds of the birds and bees interacting with the panoply of plants and flowers. Flowers that have dropped to the ground, we pick up, feeling their velvety contours. There is no end to the sensory experience.

To Be in Awe

It is through our interaction and interplay with these plants that they have come to be. We could never force them to do our bidding and still yield this sensual splendour. Rather, we need to somehow work with them, preparing the soil, watering them regularly, removing any plants that can impede their growth. When we witness the results, we are in awe. And so, we are able to place our lives in perspective, recognising we are in touch with the vastness of the earth and by extension, the universe. Thus we humbly note how we are soothingly a part of something that is indeed greater than ourselves. We are a part of the whole.

At is very simplest and most magical, gardening also offers us a chance to be of service. Certainly we are to the others with whom we may share the fruits of our efforts. There is no greater joy than to receive a fruit or vegetable that has been formed graciously by the love of the giver and of the earth. More so, our efforts also serve the earth, as the remaining leaves and stems of the plant eventually return to the life-giving soil. The minerals and nutrients will then be ready to spur the growth of the following year.

Casting a Spell

Gardening is a pastime that never fails to evoke a calming effect. Peace. Too often, our lives are tightly entangled by any number of situations. Each demands our attention and we find ourselves caught in a thorny thicket of unending thoughts. We seek relief. And when we wander into our garden and kneel down, something wondrous begins to happen. We begin to weed or cut back any of the unwanted over-growth and before we know it, the spell is cast and we are gone, leaving our trouble behind. Such is the spirit of gardening.

Tree of Birth

Tree of Birth

Trees clinging to cliff wall in Placentia, NL (Source of photograph: Lee Everts)

Every morning, I trudge up the trail from the Placentia beach up to Castle Hill, a National Historic Site owned and operated by Parks Canada. It was a fortress, Fort Royale being the main fort, that was built by the French in 1693 when they owned this little bit of real estate. The trail, itself, was used by the beleaguered soldiers to transport the needs of the fort—cannons, cannon balls and so on.

I walk up the rocky path that leads towards a stairway. It traverses a stream that, dependent on the weather, will either be largely dry or positively gushing following a rainfall. Alongside the stairway is a Black spruce tree where I always pause. It’s fairly tall, around 7 m. Covered in rough bark, it bears little sign of any branches, in part because any ones obscuring the stair would’ve been cut.

A Rich Aroma

The primary reason I pause is to take a moment to breathe in deeply the lovely aroma of the sap accumulated on its trunk. It’s intoxicating. In times past, people working in the woods used to chew it as a gum. A friend of mind told me it’s called “frankum,” a Newfoundland term derived from Frankincense. But the resin wasn’t only a part of everyday life. For First Nations people, the resin was also powdered and placed on wounds in order to speed the healing process. For the Pima people living in the southwestern portion of the United States, Black spruce occupied a deep part of their mythology.1 We learn of how the father and mother of the Pima people actually survived the flooding waters by floating on a ball of Black spruce pitch. How’s that for ingenuity? But this is only one of the attributes that make the Black spruce one of the jewels of the forest.

To the scientifically minded, the Black spruce is officially known as Picea Mariana, with the Picea deriving from the Latin word Pix, which means pitch. Pitch is the dark coloured resin that was once used to caulk ships. The Mariana refers to “of Maryland.”2 It’s actually part of the Pinaceae family, the other main members being pines, firs, cedars, hemlocks, larches. Part of the Taiga or Boreal forest which encircles the globe, including the United States, Canada, Greenland, Russia, and everywhere in between, the area over which the Black spruce ranges is large. It extends from Massachusetts to northern Labrador on the Atlantic and west across Canada to west coast of Alaska and south to Wisconsin, southern Minnesota and southern Manitoba.

Climatic Considerations

The Black spruce is a strong and sturdy tree. It can withstand considerably low temperatures. It’s mean annual temperature range extends from 7°C (45°F) in southern regions to -11°C(13°F) in northwestern Canada. But it’s average January temperatures are far lower, from -30°C(-22° F) to -6°C(21°F) at the southeastern edge of its range. The annual precipitation where Black spruce grow diminishes from east to west with a potential high in the Atlantic provinces of 1,520 mm (60 in) to 150 mm (6 in) in western Alaska. The annual precipitation ranges from 380 to 760 mm (30 to 30 in) in most of the black spruce range.

Black spruce trees are among a number of conifers that are capable of growing in what would seem the most inhospitable locations. Tenaciously clinging to cliffs or gallantly growing from the tops of rocks with the barest of moss for support, the Black spruce will be resolute. They prefer to grow in wet organic soils. Although, they can be found in variety of soil types from deep humus through to clays, loams, sands, coarse till, boulder pavements and shallow soil mantles over bedrock. With this said, Black spruce are most productive in dark brown to blackish peats.


Black spruce are also monoecious (i.e. they have unisexual reproductive organs or flowers, with the organs or flowers of both sexes borne on a single plant). Known as gymnosperms meaning “naked seed,” the Black spruce customarily produces erect, cylindrical, and green or purplish, the female flowers (ovulate strobili or cones) that appear in the upper meter of the crown. Meanwhile, ovate shaped male flowers (staminate strobili or cones) range in sizes from 12 to 20 mm (0.5 to 0.8 in) grow on the outer branches of the crown, just below the zone of female flowers.

The cones are capable of remaining on a tree for several years. Black spruce are also considered to be serotinous, meaning that over time, the cones will open slowly, but with a wildfire, will do so quite rapidly. So, out of devastation will rise a new beginning. The seeds that fall from a cone are also viable for many years. The miniscule winged seeds flitter to the ground where they germinate and grow. And they really do grow. Black spruce can grow up to 40 metres and live for a respectable 1,000 years.

In Ancient Times

The reproductive facet of the Black spruce tree was also hailed and hallowed by many in the past. In ancient Egypt, it was considered the tree of nativity while in Greece, the Black spruce was sacred to Artemis, the lunar goddess of birth. The Gauls regarded the Black spruce tree in association with the goddess of the new moon, called Kaineides, which meant “to bring new things.”

Its association with “new things” and birth meant that to the people of northern Asia, it was a cosmic tree. In Europe, the people would erect a Black spruce tree as a maypole, intertwined with wreathes of flowers, all to symbolise the Goddess.

The pagan world also linked the Black spruce with the sun. During winter solstice, it was decorated with all sorts of sweets, fruits, gifts and candles. Later in a Christionised world, this was replicated to eventually become the Christmas tree we all know and love.

The Black spruce is full of surprises. It is even commonly used as an essential oil for the purposes of soothing therapeutic respiratory troubles, for anti-inflammatory difficulties, as well as to ease and to improve overall skin health.

The Black spruce is a multifaceted and in countless ways, reaches into our spirits, strengthening, enlightening and enriching us. It is indeed the Black spruce, along with the balsam firs, we refer to as tuckamores, those trees that exhibit the fortitude, perseverance and determination we all strive to emulate. With true deference, we must recognise the value and merit of this humble tree quietly and solemnly takes up its proud place in our beloved boreal forest.

1Although one is never certain, but this suggests that the origin of this myth came from a time when Black spruce once grew in the region where the Pima people lived. Their primary region was the American southwest desert regions in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico of the United States. This is currently outside of the range for the Black spruce.

2Apparently in the 18th century, botanists thought Maryland covered much more territory than it does today, hence the name.