How I got my Zen on

by Michelle St-Germaine

As I had a milestone birthday last year (I turned 50), I treated myself to a week in Paris alone and spent many hours in beautiful parks, contemplating life. In addition to this trip, I took a retirement course (yes, they exist!) and was pleased that I am on the right track financially.

However, I found out that successful retirement planning also includes planning how I want to spend my time. What do I want to DO when I grow up? The life coach at the seminar had an interesting approach. “Ask yourself: What did I enjoy most when I was a child?”

  • I spent all my time in nature, most of the time alone.
  • I dreamed about being a zoo keeper.
  • I spent a lot of time building tree forts, which was a segué to my career.
  • I later developed a love of gardening and bird watching and continue to be fascinated by all animals.

I am blessed in many ways: health, family, and a stimulating career (sometimes TOO stimulating as with many careers) and, as I plan to retire in 4 years, I have started my search for my new calling (or at least a hobby I enjoy), which led me to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

Prior to my first guided walk with Sandy, I had only visited the garden once. Offering my help, I was first assigned to removing Burdock, but quickly got addicted to removing Dog Strangling Vine (DSV)! Ha!

As I am not available weekdays for now and enjoy spending time by myself, I particularly liked the idea of “owning” a node of my own: an area I could take care of on my own schedule.

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Although this is not Michelle’s area, it is very similar in that DSV had taken over and was twining up into sumac trees – so a good “before” picture of what she was facing.

After “cleaning up” an area of sumac that DSV had choked out and killed, I had only intended on controlling the spread of its seeds this year by pulling down the vines before they flowered. However, I was fortunate to recruit some helpers: two regular volunteers plus one time help from four others. This summer, we managed to remove all the DSV by the roots in a large area and fill in the bare areas with 2 Serviceberries, 5 Shagbark Hickories, 1 Red Osier Dogwood, 1 Hackberry, 1 pine, 1 White Spruce, 1 birch, 1 Weeping Willow, 3 Wild Raisins, 1 rose bush, 16 Ostrich Ferns, 7 White Snakeroots, 3 native white clematis, and 15 Zigzag Goldenrods.

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After pulling out DSV, Michelle discovered many “good” plants and shrubs that will now be able to thrive.

I’m looking forward to watching this area grow and taking on another project next year.

With this new hobby, I have discovered a highly effective stress reliever, a kind of meditation, in which I lose track of time. And depending on my mood, I can either aggressively hoe at the roots of DSV or delicately clear the path for a new oak sapling while watching the Eastern Cottontails, groundhogs, American Red Squirrels, Eastern Gray Squirrels, American Toads, Eastern Gartersnakes, and numerous bird species enjoy my patch as I do. I also practise my audio bird identification and discover new frog calls while I work away.

This may be my new calling. If not, I will enjoy the journey.

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In late summer, Michelle was able to plant some new wildflowers, White Snakeroot and Zigzag Goldenrod, in an area where she and her colleagues had spent time digging DSV out – roots and all.

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