In the early spring of 2020, it became obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic had vastly impacted the lives of most people, including mine. And since it showed no signs of stopping, I settled into a “new normal.”
I bought groceries and other necessary items (and some not-so-necessary ones) online. I no longer socialized with friends or family outside of my immediate, very small “pod.” When I spoke to neighbors, it was outside and we stayed six feet apart.
By late spring, I had already grown a little restless. There were activities that I missed — and activities I missed the possibility of doing — like catching an impromptu movie in a theater or planning a small gathering with friends. As the weather grew warmer and the flowers and trees began to bloom, I turned my attention to “natural” alternatives for entertainment and nourishment.
Each day in the late afternoon, I began taking walks in my neighborhood, always following the same route. It didn’t begin as an intentional ritual, but it quickly became one. I thought the fresh air and exercise would be helpful for both my physical and mental wellness.
As a freelancer, I’m used to a certain amount of uncertainty in my professional life, as my tasks vary depending on the day and what work I have coming in. So, discovering a way to anchor my day was comforting. I didn’t realize how much more energized and refreshed I would feel after my excursions.
Spending time outdoors forced me to slow my thoughts and invited me to pay closer attention to how much beauty is all around. I noticed for the first time the vibrant reds and yellows of the tulips and the fluffy pink blossoms that decorated a cherry tree and then fell to the ground creating a carpet of petals. I began to think of my walks as visual scavenger hunts where I would look for anything new or captivating that happened to catch my eye — I wanted to notice what was changing.
I found it calming and soothing — like an antidote to the increasingly stressful news reports I read and watched on a daily basis. Mother Teresa, whose gentle but strong approach to life I’ve always admired, once said that “peace begins at home.” I couldn’t control a pandemic sweeping the world, but I could do my best to keep myself strong and healthy and emotionally resilient. Nature aided me on all counts by helping me to shift my focus and prompting me to breathe more slowly and deeply into the moment while in its stillness.
In addition to appreciating nature on walks, I made an attempt to grow herbs and a few vegetables in pots. I say “attempt” because my gardening dreams (lush, full plants that grow from seeds simply because I water them) and my reality (plant versions of Charlie Brown Christmas trees) are rarely one and the same.
Since then, I’ve researched soil types. I’ve experimented with seeds from different companies. I’ve read up about when to plant different seeds in order to optimize the chances that things will grow. I’ve learned about climate zones . And, I’ve even tried talking to my plants to encourage them to grow — scientific evidence has shown that some plants respond to sound, so I figured it couldn’t hurt.
There is something satisfying about growing your own food, even if the amount you grow is only enough for one or two meals. The tomatoes I’ve grown have tasted juicier, the fragrance of the basil has smelled more aromatic, and the texture of the chard has seemed crisper.
Eating these foods nourishes me on a spiritual level, too. It reminds me that my sustenance is reliant on so many factors — mostly the time and the labor of strangers I’ll never know, but whose efforts I now appreciate so much more. It also has made me aware of all of the networks of support — from the people who grow my food to the delivery drivers who bring it to me now — that make my existence not only possible, but easier. It makes me aware of the responsibility I feel to ease the burdens of others — like by sharing extra vegetables I’ve grown with an older neighbor who’s a widower.
Though the pandemic continues to bring uncertainty, I find peace in observing and appreciating what is certain — the change of season, the daily cycles of light and dark, the growth that happens almost effortlessly when the right conditions are present. And, I remind myself that I too am a part of nature. In a season of unpredictability, what I’ve learned is certain is that in time, that will change and our time to shine will come again.