Earlier this year, in the Time Before, a friend told me I needed more balance in my life, and she gave voice to the word to describe how I was feeling.

It’s been obvious for the last couple of years that I was spending too much time sitting at my desk and exclaiming too often, “I’m so busy!”

With three freelance jobs, I’d lost the balance between inside work and outside work. I still had my walks, still had time in nature, still turned my phone off at eight o’clock every evening, but it was clear I needed to reorganize my priorities because I was missing one of the most important activities of my life in rural Nova Scotia – gardening.

Cue the pandemic and the resulting shutdown; I went from three jobs to one. Then the mass killings happened, followed by the military helicopter crash, then the Black Lives Matter protests.

There was so much to think and worry about, and plenty of time to do it. It was overwhelming and exhausting. Since the weather was (unusually) warm and dry, I started going outside every evening after supper to rake the yard. I needed to be outside, away from my desk, away from social media, away from the news. I needed to quiet the noise in my head. As I raked, I remembered how therapeutic physical labour can be. I rediscovered the satisfaction of seeing immediate results – tidy garden beds and piles of leaves and sticks. I found what I’d been missing – balance.

Once the growing season started, I spent every evening outside working in the gardens, planting and watering and weeding. In just a few weeks, I realized I was busier than ever, but it was the right kind of busy – the balance between words and worms, digging into stories and digging in the dirt, planting ideas and planting seeds.
Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

We can’t sit all the time. We need to keep moving with the flow of our lives, but we also need, more than ever, to keep moving our bodies in order to calm our minds. Turn off the television and put down the phone in order to go for a walk, float in the ocean, water the sunflowers, pick berries. Whatever lets the body move and the mind rest.

How could I forget the ongoing chore of cleaning the chicken coop? No matter the season, this is a guaranteed break from the sitting, staring, and scrolling work. When I need the sense of accomplishment that comes with physical effort, there’s always the chicken coop to clean.

The chickens didn’t know about the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders. The chickens didn’t know about the unimaginable losses and the national mourning. The chickens continued to do what chickens do every day in every season: poop and lay an egg.

They provide their own unique lessons in balance and calm.

We let a broody hen hatch out a chick, and at least once every day during the weeks the hen and her fuzzy baby roamed the yard, I sat and watched them together. I listened to them talk to each other, and I observed the hen’s work of teaching her chick how to be a chicken – this is how to scratch for food, this is how to watch for danger, this is how to bathe in the dirt, and perhaps most importantly, at least for the observing human, this is how to snuggle in under a wing and rest after a long day.

Ah, but there is no rest for the wicked or the working. All that planting and watering and weeding means there’s more work to be done, but after the picking and the chopping and the cooking, those jars of pickles and relish and salsa will be nourishing reminders about the power of balance.

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Sara Jewell
Sara Jewell admits that she related to this story of the quilt blocks in a weird way when she wrote about the topic of her Field Notes column. “If my friends sent me a pile of quilt blocks, I’d have no idea what to do with them!” All joking aside, since she has no skills with needles or textiles, Sara truly appreciates the tradition and the creativity of fibre arts, and was delighted to explore them as works of art.