Gardening In The Time Of Disaster

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Friendship is golden

Pressure Drop

How are you managing your days right now? As the weeks and months roll by, there have been so many shifts in my own attitude, from stunned shock to obsessive researching to bone deep grief to overloaded numbness. It’s not quite apathy, but more just a feeling that my circuits are full. This state of being has a silver lining or two; as a reluctant driver, I dread off-island trips, usually freaking out as my tiny car gets buffeted by wind on the high bridge to the Kitsap Peninsula. This week, I found myself halfway to Indianola before I remembered to panic, and by then, it was too late; I just couldn’t find the energy to get upset. I’ve been dropping off plant starts and fresh bread for my family, but keeping my distance, just to be safe, and it usually leaves me sobbing all the way home because I miss being with my grandkids so much. This time, I realized that I wasn’t anxious or fretting at all, the whole time.

On the way home, I figured out that my anxiety pocket are simply full up, topped off by all the fresh disasters that face us every single day now. I drove home without a twinge, wondering if this is how normal people feel all the time when they drive all over the place, as I haven’t been able to do before. In some weird way, the mounting pressure is tapering off and I’m sleeping better and feeling more peaceable. Wow, right? Is homeostasis really so strong that we can get used to pretty much anything? I’m fascinated by the idea that we can be too worried to feel worried, though it does bring back echoes of times when I was caring for dying family and friends-you just keep on keeping on because that’s what there is to do. This time, though, the deep sorrow seems submerged, far below the surface. I feel like a waterbug, skimming over deep, deep water, safe as long as the surface tension doesn’t break. This morning, I recalled that back in February, my doctor described what she and many colleagues were calling a national epidemic of climate and/or political depression. I had forgotten all that, but it’s worth remembering that the pandemic found us already in a state of profound, powerful grief. We went into this crisis fully loaded with sorrows and we humans are only built to bear so much.

Remembering The Mountain

Today is the 40th anniversary of the explosion of Mount St. Helens, a sight I’ll never forget. Along with a few hundred others, I climbed up the old stone water tower in Seattle’s Volunteer Park, peering on tiptoe over the trees of Capitol Hill to watch the roiling, boiling mushroom cloud climb higher and higher into the clear blue sky. Though expected, it was still shocking and terrifying to see such an exhibition of raw power. Even though we were too far away to feel the results directly, just watching the towering explosion expand was an overwhelming experience. I can’t help but think of the pandemic in a similar way, a gigantic, almost unimaginable event that we can only watch in powerless amazement.

Today I’m feeling that our nation and much of the world is like that mountain, with intolerable pressure building up to the bursting point. An explosion is inevitable; how and when it will occur is unknown but occur it will. In my lifetime, there have already been a number of significant blow ups, from the civil rights campaign to a wide range of human rights and ecological movements that have left the old norms teetering. Right now, the current regime is trying desperately to revoke and erase all the progress made in the past century but it’s not going to work. The bad old days were horrible for far too many people, and as the middle class is being systematically destroyed, an even larger majority of people are hurting, frightened, worried and increasingly angry. Something’s gotta give; the result won’t be pretty, but it will be powerful. I pray it will eventually be healing, but it’s obvious that more hurting is on the immediate horizon.

Peace Be With You

Every single day now, I feel exceptionally fortunate to be able to work in my garden. It is preserving my sanity, my balance, my health, in no uncertain terms. When appalling events come too fast and too furious, I can spend a few hours weeding or planting out baby beets and kale starts and feel my building blood pressure drop down. I can work quietly amid the purposeful bees, soothed by their gentle buzzing as they nuzzle each bloom to see if there’s any nectar on offer. Few things are more calming than potting up tomatoes and turnips, interlacing them with Clarkia and Limnanthes, California poppies and Achillea for the native bees, sweet alyssum, cosmos, petunias and marigolds for the honeybees. I’m tucking hardy herbs into cracks and crannies, especially all sorts of oreganos and thymes, which I use in the kitchen all year round. Tiny as it is, the garden is visited by a surprising number of little birds, from juncos and goldfinches to towhees and chickadees, sparrows and mourning doves.

Though this place is a teeny fraction of the size of my former gardens, it provides as much peace and comfort as the acres wide under my care have ever done. From this replenishment, I find renewal, returning strength I thought was all used up. Like a lot of people, I’ve been exploring careful ways to connect with friends who are equally careful, usually sitting together outside, facing the wind, feeling a precious little bit of normalcy. After an outdoor, distanced knitting session yesterday, I told my friend that I felt as satisfied as if we had shared a lovely meal together. Some deep hunger for plain old companionship was now replete and content. When I said, “Friendship is pure gold,” she replied, “Amen.” We need each other, and I believe that we will find a better way forward together.


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6 Responses to Gardening In The Time Of Disaster

  1. Gail barnard says:

    Thank you Ann. I always look forward to your humanistic perspective on life, people, the world and of course…on gardening!

  2. ALH says:

    Your weekly emails bring so much joy to me, and I am sure many others, during such a hard time. I’ve always looked forward to them each week, however now find them even more meaningful. Thank you for your unfailing compassion, but also your courage for saying what needs to be said. Hopefully we will see positive changes, even if they do not come easily.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Thanks, Amanda! We are in such a difficult time and I’m so deeply grateful to be a gardener, as keeping my hands dirty and my plants happy helps me stay grounded and (hopefully) sane.

  3. Diane Hooper says:

    Sent this out to folks this afternoon, don’t have your email or would have made sure you received it too…
    Dear Friends and Family,
    I want to put a plug in for our bees!! Tomorrow is Global Bee Day!
    Our bees are at risk!! Our bee population is falling annually. I am very concerned about this situation.
    As not to get up on my soapbox…which I am inclined to do…I want to encourage you all to be aware of plants that attract bees that’s why I’m sending the attached photo.
    I noticed that one such flower is the Elder Flower also known for the blossoms being used to produce a wonderful liqueur called…ST~GERMAIN!
    I want to encourage you to…1) to avoid products that contain neonicotinoids pesticides (a type of nicotine-like insecticide) and 2) plant one of these plants in your garden that provide good food and a safe haven for bees. I’ve noticed they love my plethora of columbines!!
    TIME’s May 18th issue has a wonderful article about the plight of the honeybee, If you can, I strongly encourage you to read it, very informative and eye-opening.
    Thank you all for caring,
    Diane XOX

  4. Thank goodness for gardens and good friends!

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