Finding That Balance

by Dan Popek & the TCF Staff


We seem to be in a strange position we may have never experienced; it is like we are waiting out a hurricane that won’t stop hovering over our house. Many of us are discovering our new routines in this lock-down situation; however, we are also growing more and more antsy to be getting back to ordinary life. It may only be a matter of time before things seem normal again, but I do not think it is worth putting life on hold for when things go back to normal. How we spend this time under quarantine can make all the difference for us. In biking, Jason, our farm manager, finds the balance between observance and pace on his bike rides during this time, and I think it is a great mentality for our current situation.

“Riding on a bike is a really special feeling, maybe even more so now. It combines, to my mind, both the effortless work of walking and the faster pace of a car or motorcycle; it gives you a chance to see a lot, but to see it well. Although you pass them by, sometimes at a blur, it is much easier to notice flowers and plants from the saddle of a bike than from the seat of a car.”

Finding that balance in pace of our daily life during this time may be what gets us to grow, rather than ruminate on our worries. A flowing state of mind focused on growth, activities, and learning will ensure we come out of this better than before we went in. This can mean doing many different things, so I asked around for what the staff at The Conservation Foundation had been doing to cope with this situation.

Jan and her son have been able to get out and work on one of the gardens on the farm and go for bike rides to ward off ruminations.

“As we worked the birds were singing around us and we saw deer in the fields on the farm.  After finishing the work, we went home and then took a bike ride on the path along the river. It felt so good to feel the sun on our backs and the breeze in our face.  It allowed us to escape what is happening in the world even if it was only for a short time.”

Humans have a strong need for purpose, for doing good work, and whether it is complete unemployment or a limbo of postponed work, this situation makes it difficult to contribute to our families and community. Without our usual means of contribution, we can struggle to find purpose. However, much of our staff has found ways around these feelings of inactivity by getting ahead on projects and continuing their missions.

Jamie, who had so much of her work wiped out, has been making the best of it. And sometimes it is in this open schedule that we can return to our local obligations.

“My spring should’ve been a non-stop roller-coaster of presentations and expos, plant sales and work days.  Instead, I find myself working from home as best I can, while helping my son with his e-learning.”

“Being home, staring out my window, watching the birds collect bits of dried grasses, reminded me of my mission to eradicate the honeysuckle and buckthorn from the back part of my yard. Two years ago, I began removing it, and in the areas I’ve worked, new growth is happening, I’m adding back natives and what’s coming back on its own is healthier.  I’ve been seeing a lot more birds back there now.  I think there’s a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers living there, and I love to see the nuthatches and chickadees flitting through the branches.”

Similar to Jamie, Jim is also taking advantage of these times by fixing up his yard, ensuring that something positive will come from this lock-down.

“I have been really enjoying the home time, doing weeding and planning my garden areas this spring. I have cleaned out the gutters, put up the wren house and installed my rain barrels – for the first year ever… I am ahead of the game. I am thinking about this as – making lemonade from this lemon….”

Sure, this is a pretty rotten lemon we’ve been given, but as any farmer or gardener knows, even a spoilt lemon can be composted and create a better future for the garden. This may be a great time to emphasize the skills and tasks that we’ve always wanted to accomplish. Something like foraging is one of those skills that requires years of diligence. Lea is using the lock-down to exercise this diligence and make sure she doesn’t miss any windows for identifying and foraging these transient wild edibles.

“Getting outside is incredibly enlivening and is something I’ve greatly needed since spending too much time at home makes me feel stagnant and moody. I’ve been learning about edible plants for the past year and want to continue building upon my knowledge and practical experience. It takes YEARS to become even a decent forager—the season to harvest most plants is short, so it’s easy to miss a plant’s edible period and lose a year’s experience with that plant on any given year. Interacting with local nature through foraging gives me plenty to look forward to: roasted burdock root (I better get digging soon!), sautéed ostrich fern fiddleheads, fresh elm samaras and black locust flowers, acorn flour pancakes, and more! It’s just up to me to get outside and put the work in.”

The limited window for foraging reminds us of the onward motion of nature; it’s not going to stop for a virus. It can be a nourishing escape to realize that there are parts of the world that remain in normality when everything seems so strange. Dan experiences this clockwork of nature being symbolized in his local river.

“Mary and I have always loved getting outside, especially for exercise. We’re still able to run, bike and walk on the Fox River Trail, and we say hello to the river pretty much every day. One thing is for sure: it doesn’t much matter what is happening in the world of humans. That river will keep flowing! Nature will keep doing what it’s always done. Spring is here, even though it feels like our world has slowed down or stopped.”

We can be grateful that nature doesn’t stop for our troubles, because nothing is going to stop spring from coming! And one thing that spring means is longer days, more time outside, and therefore, more sun! Nancy has been particularly grateful for the changing season coming just in time.

“I particularly like it when I can be out in the sun (which has been scarce the last few months!).  Not only do I like the warmth on my face and the beauty created as the sun shines on my surroundings but also the thoughts that I have of the extra vitamin D my body may be able to make.”

But we are, nonetheless, still waiting for a storm to pass. There is so much we could worry about, but there are always those bedrocks of hope that can bring us back to the stability of the natural world and the changing seasons. Carrie had a moment of realizing this while working in her garden.

“And while I was adding new soil and pulling out old twigs and generally just ‘playing in the dirt’ ruminating on everything that’s going on in the world, I heard my daughter. She was swinging as high as she could on a swing and I don’t think she knew I could hear her: “I love spring!” That all helped to remind me that life goes on, and things will be okay.”

By using this time to take care, our staff at The Conservation Foundation will come out stronger than before. The time may pass swiftly with observance as if on a bicycle ride with Jason. We may be able to find time commit to our missions like Jim, Jan, and Jamie. We may continue our educations and grow competencies like Lea with foraging. Like Dan, we may come to appreciate and find comfort in the unbreakable habit of nature to continue forward. Like Nancy, we may allow ourselves to gather the good health that only nature provides. Or, like Carrie, we may find that hopeful child in us that knows spring will come.

“We face a world crisis which often leaves us standing amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities.”

– Martin Luther King

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