August Slow-Down Time
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
August was the month of so many vacations in years past. It was the time of back-to-school shopping, planning for a shift in routine, cleaning the garage, enjoying the late brilliant bursts of flowers in the garden. August was the State Fair. It was also the month of wistful feelings as the garden wound down, and the students and teachers in my life ramped up.
This year is, of course, all different. The wistfulness is still there as I watch flowers go to seed, gather ripe tomatoes and peppers, looks for recipes for the basil.
The wistfulness is also in full force as I think about the cancelled State Fair. But anxiety is a bigger presence this year. It's there when I think of the uncertainty of my son and his wife - both of them teachers - and their fourth-grade daughter as the new school year plans are not yet clear. It's there as I think about my partner Mick teaching online, but having to go to campus in person once in a while. It's there big time over the looming election, the politicization of the pandemic, and how all that will smack together in November. There's sadness over the fact that I won't see my kids or my granddaughter in person when school does start if any one of them is doing in-person learning or teaching. Our visits will move back to our computers, like they were when we first locked down. I already have to be more careful around my daughter and her husband; my daughter works at Target. She talked to me last week about her worries that she'll infect us and I realized I was far more worried about her than I was about myself since she has type 1 diabetes.
I'm not even going to think about what all this means for winter holidays yet.
The best thing seems to be to stay in the slow lane. To savor these August days while they're here, forget about missing anything since there's nothing to be done about that. The gradual acceptance of our shifted lives has amplified the gratitude I already had for this home, these gardens, this sanctuary we've made in the years my partner Mick and I have lived here. The one great sadness is the inability to share this space with others right now; when the pandemic has passed, there will be a long list of people we'll invite for dinner. People whom we'll hug again.
On days like these, I can't help but wander around in the garden. I see it as my chapel sometimes. I come to the garden to think, to immerse myself in whatever is there. We spent a lot of time considering the impact of how we garden, what we grow or don't grow. Now, when I meander, I am delighted at how our refusal to use pesticides, our decision to plant native flowers, and our insistence that lawns are an unnecessary cultivation have all come together to create a space where life is bursting. Today, in the midst of a pandemic, the value of this approach has given us a place of such healing power. Such peace. And it's a small space; we don't have acres of land. We have a suburban yard. Think about the implications and possibilities of that. Any space can become a sanctuary, a healing place, a welcoming environment for the very things that keep the planet - and ourselves - healthy. This is our antidote to viruses, to divisiveness, to petulance over that which is not in our control.
Our wildflowers attract huge numbers of bees and butterflies. The different kinds of bees I see every day sometimes surprises me. I've seen black wasps with iridescent blue wings; bumblebees as big as my thumb or as small as the tip of my little finger; sweat bees with green faces; honeybees with golden bodies; bees so tiny I can barely see them; dreaded yellowjackets and aggressive wasps. Hummingbirds visit the red monarda scattered in the front yard and the nasturtiums in a pot on our deck. We have a ton of rabbits, but there are so many things growing that we don't miss what they munch on. Yesterday, I startled a tiny baby bunny with ears like little tufts on a stuffed toy. The bunny was so young it didn't quite know whether to freeze or hop away, so blinked at me instead.
This pandemic has offered time for stronger connections with nature, with the life that goes on all around us while we're busy with other things. Being home all the time has pushed me to look differently at what has been here all along. This is an awareness that goes beyond puttering around with home and yard maintenance; it's a serenity that's moved in as the summer has given up its offerings, a realization that I don't want to go back to having a really busy life.
I know things will shift again as the virus wanes or as a vaccine becomes available. Life will pick up, speed up, come to a different "normal". This slowness, this more thoughtful pace is something I want to bring into whatever the future holds. Last year, in August, I went to Tassajara Mountain Zen Center and learned more about meditation. I went up north near Lake Superior with my family and we hiked together. Both of those events now seem like harbingers of this slowing down that I've embraced, of being thoughtful and quiet and outside, appreciating the people I love, and cultivating a more patient approach to the life I have.
All photos by KCMickelson.