Coping with confinement or restricted social activity in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for many, both young and old.
Over the last few months, we have been having a three-generational family Zoom “cocktail” hour on Sundays at 5 p.m. It began as a check-in process with updates on who has a job, where are they working, how is school/college, and in general the basics of life across three New England states. It was fun but soon the younger members of the troop decided that it should involve more challenging activities such as recreating modern digital versions of some of the portraits by the great artists of the past with hilarious results, or “two truths and a lie” about past escapades of each person.
One of the activities was named Survival 101. Family members described relaxing activities, which in regular times, they might not have enough time to enjoy. Many said reading since we are a family of readers or users of audiobooks. Others mentioned listening to music, binge-watching all of Downton Abbey, running at least eight miles a day, perfecting Challah bread using a cooking app; Zoom yoga, connecting with old friends online, perfecting Corn Hole techniques, biking in solitary places and “loving” the lawnmower and playing Glow in the Dark Bocci, both of which aid social distancing—not sure about that one!
Bob and I both talked about being in the garden. He has taken on most of the veggies this year and general watering. I have done more weeding than I care to think about but I can see where I have been at least for a couple of days at a time. I realize how important it is for me to be outdoors. I am so thankful that I am not cooped up in a small apartment in a city with no way to be able to get outside. I am sure I would go crazy.
Being a biologist at heart is a survival mechanism of its kind. Seeing nature’s somewhat predictable event calendar continue on course is, in itself, reassuring. The greening of spring grass and the opening of leaves on the trees in our yard were all noted and savored more fully since we were not constantly on the move.
Our tiny pond invited a toady chorus to provide sex education for the faint of heart with loud vocal accompaniment night and day. The one solitary female was courted by at least five small, energetic suitors. So small and well camouflaged, that in fact without seeing their vocal pouches filled with air as they sang their “sweet” songs, they were difficult to locate. A week of this love fest left behind strings of toad spawn and eventually thousands of tiny toad tadpoles. Life is abundant.
The bird life in our yard is also interesting. Hummingbirds arrive quite faithfully in May. This year it was miserably cold when they came so we didn’t see them often at first, but with feeders primed and set we were ready for them. We learned our lesson the year they arrived and hovered outside our study window, almost touching the glass, looking for immediate service!
The crows came back to nest in the tall, old white pine in a neighbor’s yard. They comment loudly to each other about life in general and our activities in particular. Who needs a drone when there are crows ready to observe and report everything. They wash their food in the birdbath and make a foul stew of it. This year they only seem to have had one nestling whom they have raised to use the birdbath for food washing and to generally mind our affairs. I know this all sounds a little anthropocentric, but when we invade their space (our yard) in the morning, the word goes out and we hear responses from way down the street in either direction. This year they are observing from the power lines along the back fence, but several years ago it was from the barn roof. Why the change? Only the crows know!
Our tiny pond also provides a bathing spot for robins and cardinals. Cardinals definitely have first dibs and though shy of humans they are high in the pecking order of the garden. I have seen a frowsy female robin, who was desperate for a nice cool bath, wait for five minutes until a male cardinal felt refreshed enough to leave. C’est la vie!
I have found in the attic of my mind that snippets of poetry pop up at certain times in the garden. While weeding the raspberry patch last week, clogged with its annual overgrowth of Gout weed, I found myself quoting irreverently a line from Emma Lazarus, “Huddled masses yearning to breathe free,“ with each handful of weed I removed. Kipling’s poem, “The Glory of the garden” comes to mind when my knees ache from weeding:
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener's work is done upon his knees…
In this case, “her” knees. I suspect that in Rudyard Kipling’s time most women of his acquaintance were not doing the weeding. These snippets, along with William Wordsworth’s “Dancing daffodils,” and Walt Whitman’s “Lilacs first in the door yard bloomed,” Thomas Gray’s “Breezy call of incense breathing morn” and so on until John Keats’ “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” are embedded in my memory waiting to be triggered by our garden as the season change. And as the seasons change, I am so thankful that, despite what we humans do to ourselves and our environment, the power of the natural world reigns subtly but supremely over all.