We keep gardens for different purposes: to create beauty, to provide food for ourselves or for other animals, to grow our own medicines, to occupy our hands, to build the soil, to connect with those …
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We keep gardens for different purposes: to create beauty, to provide food for ourselves or for other animals, to grow our own medicines, to occupy our hands, to build the soil, to connect with those who came before us or those to whom we’ll leave the earth.
The end of the gardening season can feel like a relief from weeding or watering or culling insect pests from leaves. There’s no longer the need to get someone to come over and water the garden or to harvest the vegetables or dead head the flowers if you go out of town for a couple of days or work long shifts.
But, the end of the gardening season also comes alongside shorter days and the quieting of the more-than-human world. Unfortunately, most of us are still pulled by a 24/7 society that demands we work the same hours, year-round, that we don’t take breaks, that is fed by artificial lights, by worry about being swallowed by debt, by fear of missing out.
So, instead of taking the advice of our gardens and the soil and allowing ourselves to slow down during these darker months and become replenished, we keep pushing through—even when we know it’s a recipe for burnout, fatigue or catching whatever illness is rattling around.
The world will try to fill whatever empty spaces you leave.
So don’t let it.
This November, I challenge us all to slow down and get to know the world better.
Here’s what we’re going to do:
Find a part of your garden, or a garden you can visit regularly, that interests you. Maybe it provided extra growing challenges this year. Maybe it’s the only spot where a particular kind of plant thrived. Whatever it is, be intentional about why you’re choosing it. (If you don’t have a garden or easy access to one, choose another spot in the more-than-human world that you can easily observe.)
Choose a time of day that you’ll be able to observe your chosen spot, most days, for a minimum of five minutes.
Each day, take five minutes to yourself to observe the spot (or longer, if you have that time available). If possible, do this free from things that will distract you, including partners or children—better yet, ask them to join you by observing their own spot or the same spot at a different time of day.
Note what’s going on in your chosen space: what’s growing there (or not). What animals do you see? When does it get sunlight and how does the sunlight change over the course of the next month? Is there a source of water nearby? What direction does the wind blow from most often? If it snows this month, measure how much snow falls. If plants or animals you’re not familiar with appear, you may want to look these up when you’ve returned to the world of distractions (the internet does offer ready access to many excellent field guides you might not otherwise have on hand, as well as to groups of knowledgeable people). If you’re able to visit your special place in person, try to also notice what you hear.
Whatever you notice is important and I encourage you to write these observations—and any feelings or questions that arise—down, long hand. How does your special spot change over the course of November? What feelings came up for you? Did anything alarming or unusual happen to your special place?
You may want to note how long you spend during each observation session or the official weather at the time you spend making observations. Really, whatever you choose to record is up to you.
The primary goal in this exercise is to slow down and in doing so, become more familiar with a place you think you know, which brings me to a secondary goal. This practice of observation is important to training your naturalist’s eye. You may find yourself asking why a lot, and that’s wonderful (and while you might be able to research those answers as well, resist the temptation to research your “why” questions and see what you can learn through additional observation).
At the end of the month, you can decide if you want to continue this practice or continue this practice at this location. Resist the temptation to switch places in the middle of the month. And honor your time, your five minutes a day that are purely yours. The world might have something to offer.
Liz Clift holds a Permaculture Design Certificate, and works for a restoration ecology firm. In her free time, she is involved in social justice and community-based medicine. She is working to expand her knowledge of native plants.
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