Another Lesson From The Garden

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IMG_1630Monday morning. Feeling rushed, overtired, and foggy headed, I look out the window at the garden. Brilliant leaves of red, gold and orange cover the patio pavers. Those still hanging on silently drift down on a gentle breeze. Maria and her gang put the garden to sleep for the winter this past week, leaving only a few red roses and one lone, beautifully pink echinacea to remind me that life is still there, even when it goes underground for the winter. Brown, crusty leaves of Lenten Roses, are dying back and new green leaf shoots are beginning to show. Their flowers will fill the dark days of February lasting into March, April, and maybe even May, before they give way to summer blooming plants.

It’s cold this morning and heavy rain is promised later in the day. I remove my shoes and socks, wander barefoot through the leaves, listening to their crunch, examining their outrageous colors, and letting my feet taste the cold that the coming months will bring.

I ask myself, Why must I rush about? My eyes had a hard time opening this morning. The warmth of my quilt, along with Sam and Max’s warm bodies snuggled up against my legs kept me from wanting to throw the covers back and jump into morning. Can’t I stay here just a few more minutes?

But unending lists and necessity pried away my comfort. Closing the window that keeps my bedroom very cool, I rushed into the bathroom. The litany of when and where I have to be played over and over again in my head. An old record stuck in the mud of have-to’s.

As I walked the dogs and had my breakfast of hot tea, yogurt, walnuts and berries, I reviewed the things I would be unable to do because I had too many other things to do. I wouldn’t have time to take a nice long walk, sans dogs. There would be no time to finish reading that book I’ve had a hard time closing at night, and taking a nap would be out of the question. Forget the idea of doing some visual art.

IMG_1624It’s got to stop, I thought. Would I be living this way if I knew I only had a month to live? Isn’t it time to pay attention to the time I fill with more and more things, making it sometimes impossible to do what I have at the top of my priority list? Like taking time to stretch my body and let it rest when it’s tired?

It’s a chronic problem of mine. I’m just too damned interested in way too many things. I love learning and want to know why the world is the way it is.  In the stillness under the quest to know more I think, Maybe if I can figure out why I’m so tired all the time, I can do even more?

In early September I made the mistake of signing up for two OLLI classes offered at the University. I chose, Elephant Sense and Sensibility, and How to Be an Olympic Swimmer in the Aging Tsunami. I love elephants, have seen them up close in the wild, and wanted to learn more about them from a man who probably knows it all and has a book or two to prove it. As to the second class, I thought it would be useful to learn more about where I am on the aging curve and what to expect as I move on down the road.

IMG_1626Both classes started last week, one on Monday, the other on Wednesday. I had other things to do those days. I rushed here and there, feeling unsatisfied and angry. The weekend passed by too quickly, filled with too many more things to do and not enough time to catch up on what I neglected to do last week.

Now, as I traipse through the leaves, freezing my toes off, I know it’s time to be honest with myself. I can read those books about elephants anytime. And I’ll figure out where I am on the aging curve as I go.

I throw out the idea of going to class, allow time for a long, leisurely walk around the neighborhood (with shoes), an hour to finish that book I am reading, and another hour or two for sitting and writing this blog post which I tried unsuccessfully to put together yesterday.

The glue is gone from my eyes. I no longer feel exhausted and my day is spread out before me. The mud where I was stuck has dried up. I’m no longer angry.

Being in the moment, knowing how I’m feeling, and what I need to do to take care of myself is what I need to do more of. Like the garden, I’m settling in as the days shorten and the wind blows colder.  Spring really is just around the corner and after resting for a few months I’ll be ready to spring into action once again.

Does the arrival of fall and winter make you want to settle down and rest?


  1. “I’m just too damned interested in way too many things.” I hear you, Joan! Between my editing work and all the other things I try to squeeze into a day, I feel like I’m always racing around. This morning I’m sitting in my living room by the fire and admiring the golden leaves on the tree outside my window. That feels more life-sustaining than anything else I could be doing right now. The trick is to figure out a way to do more of that—a common struggle for us all, I know. Thank you for articulating it so beautifully.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks Candace, for helping me know I’m not alone in this craziness. I need to use the word NO more liberally and not be seduced by those beautifully written descriptions that pull me in.

  2. I loved reading this piece on being aware and mindful and finding your middle ground Joan.
    Such helpful insights for all of us who forget to find time to regain balance in our lives. Thank you!

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks, Val. There is a 5 year old part of me who is a spoiled brat and thinks she can have it all. I keep telling her we’ll both be much more satisfied if she lets me run the show!

  3. Your reflection is so lyrical, Joan. I especially liked the line “letting my feet taste the cold that the coming months will bring,” a great way to mingle the senses.

    Years ago on my commute to and from the campus, I would pop in a cassette by Anne Wilson Shoaf “Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much.” I enjoyed the calming voice on the tape and her poetic ways to expressing ideas I already knew but didn’t know how to articulate so well back then. My theory is that the habits we learn/practice during our most active years carry into the next phase, not necessarily a bad thing. But when we get out of balance, we suffer.

    As to your question – here in Florida the climate doesn’t allow for much hibernation, but I definitely want to progress farther on my memoir. You are waxing very poetic here – and beyond that, wisdom we can use.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks, Marian. I like the sound of that tape. I agree with you that our early habits carry into our later years. It is only the suffering that will bring about the need to change and that change is not easy.

      I don’t know how you folks in Florida can live without going into hibernation mode even for a little while. I suppose it’s because you have many hours of sunshine and warmer days than we do. It was even worse when I lived up north in Vermont.

  4. Joan, I love the candor and richness in this post and the image of balance I sense from your words. I was with you all the way. I love the changing of the seasons which in the northeast is quite obvious. Fall is my favorite, fleeting as it is. It is brilliant. Winter is “nesting time” which I look forward to and relish, especially when I don’t have to rush off to work.

  5. Joan Rough says:

    Thanks so much, Kathy. I also love fall the best. When I lived up north in Vermont, I did not like the long, cold, snowy winters. Down here in Virginia, summer is my least favorite. I too love the changes though and each season brings with it a different kind of energy. Yes, winter is nesting time here also, even though we don’t have the winters that you do.

  6. Good for you for deciding not to go to classes and to take your love of learning, and your need for space in your days, into your own hands. When we don’t feel enough control over our daily lives, we grow weary. Taking back our right to decide produces energy.

    My own reaction to the change of seasons? I’m a little confused. Having just returned from Cuba, I have summer in my veins. About to go to Whidbey Island, I need to stock up on umbrella and rain gear. Then to the Midwest. Then to Florida. Oh my.

    I’m going to try to eliminate all tasks that don’t help me appreciate whatever season I’m in at the time.

  7. Joan Rough says:

    Weary is an understatement, Shirley. But now that I’ve let myself off the hook I’m feeling oh so much better.

    I imagine going from one climate to the next can be confusing. A few years ago we did a civil rights tour of the south. While nothing was blooming here, everyone south of here was enjoying beautiful washes of spring color. When we got back home, we got to relive it all over again as trees and shrubs here began their fantastic show of color.

  8. Joan — My hat is off to you for sticking your stake in the ground and claiming time as your own.

    I have a list (I call it my ta-dah list) of things that must be done. The most important thing is at the top. I hold my “feet to the fire” to cross one thing off the list each day. If I get more ta-dah’s done, good for me. If not, no sweat — I know with certainty it’s not going to grow legs and go anywhere.

  9. Joan Rough says:

    Laurie, I love your list idea. Too often I put too many things on mine and end up kicking myself in the butt for not doing more than one. I’m reforming! Thanks!!