It all began with a telephone call on the day of the huge snowstorm in mid-April. With the thermometer hitting 37 Celsius on my patio today, it seems so long ago. I remember several hundred grackles, redwing blackbirds and assorted songbirds had fallen from the sky to congregate on my front lawn, devouring the extra seed I’d put out for them. And Nancy Astin, a teacher at Maple Grove Public School in Barrie, came on the line. She had a project. An amazing project - a Medicine Wheel garden!
Later, I was to learn how the idea grew from a number of factors, including the school’s pioneering partnership with Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority which had students growing native plants from seed for the school’s No-Mow Zone (as well as for streams that run by the school); the Land Acknowledgement that began to play over the school’s announcements and the realization that students had little idea of what it meant; and the need for a calming place to sit over the course of the day.
In one sense, this was right up my alley. I specialize in native plants, and these are the ones that the first peoples of this area would have used as medicines – whether for food, healing or spiritual well-being. But I don’t have that knowledge. My interest in offering the plants that make up the natural communities that would have been found here before the settlers arrived has been to heal our space on the planet, to link with other gardeners in creating networks so the creatures that support our foodweb can flourish.
So in another sense, I was intimidated. I am an immigrant. I don’t have the experience borne from the teaching of parents, grandparents and elders of the traditional uses of native plants, and I have little understanding of the meanings of the four directions teachings upon which the medicine wheel is based. I knew one thing, we could not proceed without getting advice and leadership from local indigenous people. Maple Grove was ahead of me there – they have had a long-standing partnership with the Barrie Native Friendship Centre and a meeting was arranged.Read more