The New Normal—Reflections and Stories from the EAT Family—Observe and Interact by Carolyn Bateman

As the world shifts and changes below our feet right now, EAT thought it might be a good time to check in with our family of contributors, supporters, and friends to see how they are dealing with daily life in this new reality. This is a temporary stage in the world timeline, we realize, but one few of us will forget. Read on for the fifth story in our series.

Observe and Interact

The first rule of living sustainably.

by Carolyn Bateman

Today marks four weeks since the BC government declared a public health emergency, and I’ve spent a goodly part of it in the garden. I don’t do a fall cleanup, preferring to leave the detritus to the wildlife. So spring is a busy time.      This year is different, of course. Suddenly, this busy freelance editor of almost 30 years is down to one client. The extra time would be welcomed if it didn’t bring the attendant worries about the future. Everywhere, we are being encouraged to use our time wisely. I spent the first two weeks in shock, I think, and these past two feeling quite exhausted. Someday I’ll do some research and find out what particular kind of trauma all this is incubating.

But for now, I go into the garden and weed. I’m planning more veggies, spurred on by concerns about food security. I’m freeing up some beds for zucchinis and carrots, lettuce, bok choy, turnips, and parsnips to add to the kale, broccoli, raspberries, peas, rhubarb, onions, garlic, potatoes, perennial greens, and medicinal herbs I already grow each year.

So, yes, I’ve been using my time wisely. The kale, lettuce, peas, potatoes, and broccoli are planted. The weeds are still winning, but there’s bare earth to be seen for my endeavours. Still, there’s an awful lot of sitting quietly, doing nothing as Basho’s famous Zen haiku says. Or staring off into space might be more accurate.

From the wooded lot behind our house in Sooke comes the cry of a bird I’ve never heard before, even after almost 20 years of living here. It is high-pitched, urgent, as if in distress. I stop to listen, but it doesn’t repeat itself. Beside my stilled trowel an earthworm, plump and pink, oozes out of the moist soil in a spiral dance. I register a swoosh of wing-wind as a robin flies like an arrow from a bow into the trees behind me, missing me by inches. I munch absently on a dandelion caper, savouring the bittersweet flavour, the tightly packed texture of the bud. The warmth of the sun on my back is comforting.

Leaning back on my heels, I look around me. I tell myself I’m planning where I’m going to put the new vegetables, but I’m not. I’m just looking around, my mind quite blank. Planning feels like too much work. A hummingbird buzzes overhead. A towhee kicks up dried leaves looking for worms. I notice a Portuguese laurel seedling growing nearby—a tiny, straight stick with two shiny leaves. Is that how our 30-foot behemoth started 40 years ago? Yes.

The first rule of permaculture is “observe and interact.” Is this what I’m doing? Usually I have limited time in the garden and a list of “jobs” to do. Now I can linger, listen, learn about what’s going on around me. I think I am going to need more of this when all this is over. Yes.

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash


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