Like many people, I entered the reawakening following the COVID shutdown with a long list of people I wanted to see, hug, and enjoy in person.  I’m still not caught up, but during the last couple of post-vaccination months, instead of writing letters, posting blogs, or preparing the latest LLW Zine, spending real time with friends and family was my priority, along with a large project here at our home:  reworking our tired perennial and herb gardens.    

The entertaining part was fun, easy, like getting back on a much-loved bicycle. The garden project was a whole lot more work. I’d neglected my perennial and herb gardens the past several summers and, coupled with this year’s unreliable Leelanau spring weather, updating them proved to be quite a challenge.  

I began planning the modifications during the winter months. Sitting beside our fireplace, gardening books and magazines on my lap, I studied soil types, growing zones, composting, and, of course, plants. But I soon became overwhelmed by the amount of information and recognized I needed the help of someone who had expertise in the world of horticulture. I searched online and eventually hired a garden designer to suggest an overall layout (because we wanted to add a gravel patio and path) and offer a list of plants he thought would work.

The actual preparation of the beds didn’t require a lot of expertise, just a willingness to get the job done. I was determined to handle this work myself. I spent days ripping out matted Cedar chips and pulling what seemed like miles of roots that had taken hold beneath the wood. Some days as I toiled, I needed a wool stocking cap and heavy denim jacket to protect me from the fierce winds.  Other days, salty sweat stung my eyes as I worked in the blistering sun.  My husband hauled rocks from our fields to define the edges of these beds and I worked with a second landscaper to select a revised list of plants hardy enough to withstand the conditions on our ridge.  

It became my mission to resurrect these gardens.  Always, after I finished my day’s garden work, I came inside the house dirty and tired.  Often the muscles in my hands ached so much that holding a pen would have been a challenge.  But as I began to see progress, the refreshed landscape reflected my own spirits. I found myself growing increasingly excited as the landscaper laid out the paths and patio and began moving and adding new plants to the surrounding dirt.  And after many weeks of planning and many long days of hard work, the garden I envisioned is now complete.

The air is close this morning, humid, and I’m settling into a calm space in my head, a reverie, admiring the gardens: the purples and yellows and pinks and whites, the spiky Russian Sages, the Lavender shrubs, the bushes of Baptisia, and the Catmint whose purple fronds explode like the final fireworks display at a Fourth of July celebration.  The fragrances of these plants are subtle, grace notes that float past if I’m not paying attention.  

Sitting in my rattan chair on our screen porch with a mug of tea ( 2/3 English Breakfast and 1/3 Earl Grey) on the glass table beside me, listening to the chirps of birds and the buzzing of insects from the nearby meadows and woods, along with the occasional hum of a motor as a car passes on M-22, I’m also holding my fountain pen. A pad of paper is on my lap, and I’m ready to resume my blogging, to work on the next LLW Zine, and mostly, to get back to handwriting letters. It’s time.

“Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste”

‘Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste’ was the theme of my priest’s sermon during yesterday’s Zoom church service. The saying is attributed to Winston Churchill and before that, Mark Twain, but I’d been thinking, even before I heard her sermon, about when we will begin to emerge from the pandemic and more important, what I will bring with me and what I will leave behind when I do.

I’ve had my shots, thanks to the Benzie-Leelanau Health Department, and many of my close friends and family members have as well. Although we don’t know yet what is the safest course of action for ourselves and for others going forward, we continue to learn and consider as we come squinting out of the darkness into what feels like bright sunlight.

I realize there will be no return to life as we knew it. Too many of us have lost loved ones or know those who have, we’ve lost countless opportunities to spend time with family and friends, we’ve cancelled much-anticipated travel plans, and postponed funerals, weddings, and other gatherings. Even during our own medical difficulties, we’ve sometimes found ourselves more worried about being exposed to COVID than getting the treatment we needed.

When we experience a difficult time, it changes us.

The question I’m asking myself these days is whether and what I’ve learned from this crisis. Whether the slower pace of life I was able to experience was a positive by-product of the pandemic or whether, when I’m able, I’m going to jump back on the horse and gallop ahead at full speed like I used to do, missing the scenery and the insights that come with a more relaxed way of living. Whether the class I took on Zoom or the books I read (all the novels of Jane Austen, among others) because I was stuck inside the house enriched my life enough to make me want more of those experiences.

Sure, those of us who admit to being introverts had an easier time during this long shutdown than the extroverts who need to be around other people to recharge their batteries. But no matter which slot you fit into on the Meyer-Briggs Personality Inventory Test, I invite you to make the time just now, while you’re pondering what happens next in your life, to examine what you’ll take from the crisis we’ve all experienced and what you’ll happily leave behind in the darkness when you emerge.

I already know that on my list of what I’ll carry forward is letter writing. I don’t want to lose the benefits offered and received when I make the effort to slow down and share my thoughts on paper. Writing and sending letters to friends, family, and those of you who also found value in the art of slow correspondence has become a treasured part of my life and I’ll definitely be taking this habit with me.

But what about you? What will you bring with you into the light? What will you leave behind?