Mental Health Break: Photography and Reading

The past two weeks have been pretty bad in terms of mental health. I’ve decided to cut down my Twitter and Facebook time even more. This has been nice because I’ve been able to do more reading and personal writing. I need these calming activities more than I need the frenzy of social media right now.

I had a post all planned out about paying to be part of prestigious professional societies. But I think I’ll save that for next week, when I’m feeling a little more on top of things.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying my garden as it transitions from spring into summer. Lots of things to take photos of – and taking photos is something I haven’t done in a while.

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One of our dogs broke a tiny bone in the pinkie toe of her rear paw, so has had to be on leash for 3 weeks now (only 3 to go – argh!). As part of her rehab – and my knee rehab as well – I’ve been walking her around the property twice a day, from the back 40 next to the marsh, up to the front gate and back into the house.

A Canada goose family puttered around the back of the property for a few weeks and produced 3 little fuzzy chicks that we could see from the house with binoculars. Then they disappeared, likely into the marsh. That meant it was finally safe for us to go down there without being attacked by a protective mother.

It’s nice to take stock daily of what’s going on in our yard. I’ve watched the gardens come to life, we’ve watched deer down in the back 40, and red-winged blackbirds in the marsh, where rafts of water lilies push up against willow and alder shrubs. We still have the nighttime frog chorus, and I hear the barred owls calling, as though they’re talking to each other. The other day turkey vultures were soaring overhead, making us wonder whether there was something dead in the area for them to eat. We’ve been warned that there’s a bear wandering in the bush between our neighbourhood and the prestigious Shawnigan Lake school, but we haven’t seen it on our property. Yet.

The bedrock outcrop in our front yard is home to a number of tiny roses. Each bush is only about 6-10″ tall, and grows improbably from a rock crevice that holds a tablespoon of soil. Each shrub is blooming, with tiny flowers the size of a thimble tip.

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Taking the time to really look at the garden and take photos makes me realize just how great things look and how far we’ve come with this property. It used to be pretty much a wasteland. Now we have lots of trees (planted 21 of them!), and both veggie and perennial gardens. We’re in the process of building a patio and putting in a few more gardens. It’s a green oasis, even when the summer drought kicks in.

This spring I spent a lot of time weeding, and have more weeding still to do (that garden in the last picture above is so full of weeds, but you can’t see when you step back far enough lol). Weeding is a meditative activity, that helps calm the brain and helps me think about things I want to write, and how I would integrate things I’ve read.

I’ve read quite a few books in the last couple of weeks, a few that really stayed with me. I read Ben Goldfarb’s Eager, about beavers, which was really good and which I’m reviewing for Science magazine. It made me think about how, when settlers came to North America, they took away the two biggest landscape shapers: wildfire (used by First Nations) and beavers. What would North America have looked like if we still had them?

I read Andrea Barnet’s Visionary Women, about Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters. It was fabulous – I felt so inspired by these women, and they also felt like kindred spirits because of their emphasis on systems thinking and connections between disparate ideas, which is kind of how my brain works.

I read two memoirs: one by Terese Marie Mailhot (Heart Berries) and the other by Tracy K. Smith (Ordinary Light). Mailhot’s was a completely different structure than I’m used to in narrative nonfiction, and the stories she told hit hard. Smith’s was more traditional – not only in structure but in content, as she came from quite a religious family. I enjoyed both of them, and felt like I learned something about writing from each of them as well.

I also read a fabulous post-apocalyptic novel by Eric Barnes, called The City Where We Once Lived. It showed me a different way of moving through the world, through the eyes of the narrator called “the writer.” He writes articles for the newspaper his community has in the North end of an abandoned city, where everyone has moved to the South. He creates his own stories to write about while wandering the North end, which made me think about all the stories I could write about my own region.

For some lighter fare, I read a PI novel by Kristen Lepionka, called What You Want To See. This is the second book in the series, but it arrived at the library before the first one so I was kind of committed to reading it.

The PI book was entertaining, which was what I needed because I’ve been finishing a review of Kelly J. Baker’s Sexism Ed for the LA Review of Books, and it’s been somewhat depressing to reacquaint myself with the literature on women in academia. While finishing revisions on my review, I ended up reading Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me (referenced in Baker’s book). Then I moved on to Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, which I’m currently reading. Another book I read because of Baker’s book are Miya Tokumitsu’s Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness. It’s short but razor sharp – a definite must-read about labour in today’s society and how it’s been turned into a “vocation” or a “calling” which ultimately means trying to get people to work for less – or even for free.

Well this was meant to be a short piece, but it’s a bit longer than I expected. I guess once I get talking about nature and books I have a lot to say. What I will say is that it’s important to take time for yourself to slow down and absorb what’s going on around you in minute detail. So much better than the urgency and outrage of social media (though I was feeling some serious outrage myself today at the announcement that our government is wasting billions of dollars to buy a not-so-viable oil pipeline).

Government aside, I’m going to minimize social media for now and focus on self care. See you outside. 🙂

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9 thoughts on “Mental Health Break: Photography and Reading

  1. Gardening (or being in the garden) and riding a bike are my therapy. Thanks for the post. My letter has been written to PM Trudeau re: pipeline decision, although it will make no difference, except to me.

    • Riding my bike is also therapy – I’m anxiously awaiting the point in my knee recovery when I can ride again. I’ll be sending Trudeau an email about his waste of taxpayer’s money, not sure how much good it will do but – in “Hope In The Darkness” – Rebecca Solnit does say we never know exactly how our actions will translate into results in the future.

      • Thanks for the reminder (re: Solnit, another now added to my reading list – just put the ‘women with vision’ book on hold at the library ); we don’t know what impact we may have and saying nothing, says something – so it’s important to actively express our intentions and use our words actively. Hope your knee continues to improve so you can ride again. PS – your garden photos are beautiful!

  2. Sarah, I dropped FB about 6 months ago when I realized that I did not need to view the world through FB. It’s so much better and I am lighter for do that.
    I love landscaping and I am still able to do it for a living at 64. I think after this year I will cut back on that job. It’s really a lot of work. I am looking forward to renting out my house and travelling. I do want to spend some time on the west coast, I love it there and maybe I can help with stopping that pipeline! lol

    • I would drop FB but I’m part of some really good writing groups there that I rely on for tips etc. Good luck with your retirement and travelling – you’ll need to get here soon if you want to help stop the pipeline!

  3. I’m sure there is a post somewhere in me on social media use, frequency and type as a monitor for mental wellbeing, workflow, relationship stuff, etc. I’m noticing more about it now and linking it to my activities, thoughts and level of despair.
    Stay kind to yourself and enjoy your garden. My summer project, apart from parenting around a teen, is getting my rhubarb to grow bountifully in acidic reclaimed forest soil… #aimingforsuccess

    • Yup I think you’re right about social media vs. mental well-being. Just yesterday I had to tell myself *not* to read an article about ICE & US immigrants from Twitter, because it would just make me feel terrible. Not that these aren’t issues we should be aware of. Just that they can be seriously mentally/emotionally taxing. Good luck with your rhubarb – apparently they like really rich, nutrient heavy soil. I’ve bolstered mine with sea soil, we’ll see if that works…

  4. Pingback: Transformations | Watershed Moments: Thoughts from the Hydrosphere

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