Tuesday, 21 July 2020

View from the Crow’s Nest: The garden teaches me

A few weeks ago, we camped on the mainland, close to our children (in their driveway for three days! and along the Fraser River for four days.) It was a lovely break, but then we came home again to the garden.

Lesson Number One: Nature does what it is created to do whether you are around or not. That’s the good news.

A lot of plants thrived without our tending. First, the berries: oh my! We have more than 20 pounds of blueberries and 5 pounds of raspberries in our freezer so far, with more to come.

We dug up a volunteer potato plant, one that had popped up in the middle of the onions from a potato we left behind last fall. It didn’t need our help at all to produce almost 3 pounds of new potatoes.

The perennials looked great. Ditto for the fig, peach and apple trees and the grape vine.

They do what they need to do without our help. I like that! It’s like bonus days at the local shops where they do periodic giveaways to loyal customers. We get freebies just for maintaining a space where things can grow.

Lesson Number Two: Nature does what it is created to do whether you are around or not. That’s the not-so-good news.

Gardens and children have something in common: they need regular tending to control the weeds that could choke out the life of your plants, or the bad habits that could take over the lives of your children. If you let down your guard and take a break from vigilant parenting or gardening, you will have twice as much work to do when you pick up the slack again.

And so it is with the garden. Where there was only nice dark soil when we left, now weeds and grasses were sprouting and even running rampant. Vines that should have been climbing, weren’t. Flowers that had finished blooming drooped.  So we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. It wasn’t hard work, but it’s work that needs doing. And it sure is nice to have a grandson in town to help with it (for a price, of course!)

Lesson Number Three: Nature does what it is created to do. Sometimes in doing battle with nature, you lose. Get used to it.

Many of our plants did well. But some did not. We planted beans three times. The first time we had bad seeds. None of them sprouted. The second time they sprouted, began growing, and then slowly disappeared. I’m thinking slugs are the culprit, but it could also be earwigs, bunnies, or some other wild critters.

 Still, as the saying goes, “hope springs eternal” so before we left for holidays, we planted one more package of bean seeds, some in a nice row, and some here, there, and everywhere, just to see if we could fool the critters. Nice try, but no cigar. If we are lucky, we will have about three bean plants that are going to give us a meal. Sad.

Lesson Number 4: Nature does what it is created to do. Prepared to be surprised.

For 12 years, we have had a pond in the back yard, stocked with a dozen goldfish. Sometimes a few fish don’t survive the winter, so we add a few more, but these fish have lived a charmed life. The herons and raccoons who live in the area have not discovered them.

But we didn’t reckon with the mink. Yes, you read that right: a mink living in a suburban neighbourhood. One afternoon, after the garden work was done, we were sitting on the patio enjoying the results when we noticed unusual  turbulence in the pond. Within seconds, a little brown head popped up, then down again, and then, to our shocked amazement, a mink climbed out of the pond and scooted up the waterfall with our biggest fish in its mouth. After stashing it under a bush, it was brazen enough to slither back down the falls and into the water, looking for more. This was enough to bring out the “Farmer MacGregor” instinct in the resident sweetie; armed with a rake he began stirring the water.

Suddenly the water was quiet. No mink ... until I spotted it running alongside the fence into the neighbour’s yard. It had used some overhanging plants as a hidden escape route. A few minutes later, the neighbour on our other side let out a screech – the mink had circled behind our fence, entered her yard, and popped under the fence back into our yard. Long story short: the mink outfoxed us. It retrieved the fish and was gone. It came back one more time, and this time, Al managed to poke it so it knew it was not welcome. We have three fish left.

We returned to the patio licking our wounds, when, to add insult to injury, the neighbourhood feral rabbit hopped leisurely through our yard, reminding us that no matter what we do, Nature will do what it was created to do.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I walk in the woods

Committing to take a walk every day in June was a good way of marking off the days. 30 days in June = 30 walks completed, a lot more than I probably would have taken without that commitment.

In July, I decided that I would mark off the days by working on at least one UFO (unfinished objects) every day, either art or writing, or cleaning out clutter. But since we’ve just had a week of camping, there will be interruptions. Here’s a UFO I’m working on –

I started this 12 block crazy quilt in May 2011. I was documenting every month, and also adding significant dates like birthdays, plus birth stone and flower of the month. I have 7 blocks done. This is November. It's good for working on when watching TV.
Today I found another UFO, a blog about June's walking, so that’s what I am working on today:

About all that walking:  I didn’t lose weight. I didn’t get much stronger or develop a lot of stamina. I didn’t add up how many steps I took, so I didn’t set any personal records. If you are an exercise junkie, that’s disappointing news. If you are a run-of-the-mill ordinary person on the lumpy, rather than svelte, side of the scale (like I am), this is reassuring because I won’t lay a guilt trip on you with gushing superlatives.

Instead, I entered the woods, and found a measure of peace in the middle of this pandemic. The first post I wrote about walking, on June 2, was pretty deep. I was depressed about the state of the world, and also depressed about my own anger and even hatred that was burbling up inside. The walk I took that morning, however, helped me see things from a different perspective. The following day, I found a painted stone on the same trail, with a message that affirmed my insights:

 I wrote that I thought maybe walking would be good for the soul. And it has been. Several times, I have entered the woods brooding on one tangled situation, and exited with some new insights that helped me see things from the other side. I’m not sure how that happens, but it does. Perhaps “left foot, right foot, breathe, repeat!” sets other gears in motion, as well.

Then again, perhaps it’s something in the air. “Forest bathing—basically just being in the presence of trees—became part of a national public health program in Japan in 1982 when the forestry ministry coined the phrase shinrin-yoku,” says an article on the website Quartz. Scientific studies on the health of people who practice forest-bathing regularly showed amazing results: lower heart rate and blood pressure, less stress- hormone production, a boosted immune system, and overall feelings of well-being, The magic of this simple practice was found to be the presence of various essential oils, generally called phytoncide, found in wood, plants, and some fruit and vegetables, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects. Breathing in these phytoncides seems to actually improve immune system function.

It sounds too good and too easy to be true. This is a routine that has no expectations of physical exertion.Your only imperative is to immerse yourself in the environment with an open heart, open eyes, and open ears. “Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world,” says Qing Li, a scientist who has studied this practice. You might also say that it's only a short step from there to bridging the gap between us and the Creator of it all. When you emerge from the forest, you have shed a lot of your anxieties. You feel better, stronger, more peaceful. You can read more about this at these sites:

I wasn’t totally aware of all of these benefits until the month was over and I looked back and found it to be true. Now, in July, without the daily commitment, I still walk, but not as often. And I miss it.

There were other benefits to walking, as well. More than half of my walks took place in the woods across the street, walking the same paths over and over. I became aware of the subtle changes that happen there over time. I watched as plants budded, then flowered; as mushrooms sprung up and disappeared; as the river’s voice was sometimes loud, sometimes soft. I watched as the light changed in the dappled shade: sharp and bright earlier in the month, when leaves were smaller and brilliantly green, gradually changing when the light is more diffused because the leaves are bigger and darker.

 I saw an owl, not once, but three times, and learned that if robins see an owl close to their nest, they get frantic.

And then, there are the people you meet – the moms and kids getting exercise, the dog-walkers, the joggers who breathlessly wave, the snorkellers in wet-suits entering the river to check out what’s visible underwater (salmon, crayfish, – and lots of beer cans.) One day, a man caught up with me as I was leaving the woods and started chatting as we walked up the street together. After we’d agreed that this was a beautiful place to live, he started telling me about some of his favourite spots to hike. Then suddenly, he changed gears and said, “My brother committed suicide last night.” I didn’t have to say much for the rest of our walk, just let him talk, trying to figure things out, trying to answer some unanswerable questions. As we parted ways, he said, “I’ve been talking people’s ears off all day. They must be sick of this story, but thanks for listening anyway.”

A walk in the woods: I recommend it. It’s good for the soul, yours, mine and the people you meet.