I was given a new camera for my birthday this month and it has brought me such joy, as well as providing a key tool in managing my interactions with the great outdoors.  All too often I go out into the garden and, despite my best advice to myself, all I can see is the tide of jobs waiting to be done.  Sometimes it is overwhelmingly depressing and drags me towards the abyss of hopelessness.  I was so close to full recovery last spring.  I had built up from staggering up the stairs while holding onto the walls to long walks along our country lanes. Then acute illness struck me back down and a Covid-triaging NHS put me firmly on the shelf labelled, ‘she can wait.’ Will I ever be fully well again?

Over the winter the limitations imposed by becoming breathless and tight-chested just by making my bed were manageable.  I enjoyed wrapping up warm and just sitting in my secret garden on a sunny day, looking up through the bare branches at the clouds scudding by. But now that spring is here, reining in my enthusiasm and finding the right balance between activity and rest is a much greater challenge.  I wake to birdsong, blue skies and the scent of spring, and in my mind I see myself leaping out of bed, taking long walks, sowing seeds, turning the compost heap – and then I sit up …

Miraculously, my April birthday coincided with the beginning of a period of sunshine, if not warmth, and so I have developed a new self-care routine.  After a morning of sitting reading, writing and generally trying to convince myself that I still have a purpose in this world, I head out to the garden with my camera, an armful of blankets and cushions, and the hammock. I still my mind from the buzzing thoughts of the morning by swinging gently and checking in with my body, yoga nidra style.  Yes, I can still feel my toes, ankles, calves, knees; I can feel the tickle of my overgrown lockdown hair against my face and the coolness of the air in my nostrils…

I am careful when I settle in to make sure that my camera is switched on and at the ready because, in my stillness, the garden settles in rapidly around me. Before long I am the calm eye in a spring storm of activity.  Through my camera lens I can zoom in to the top of an ivy-covered tree and spot a female blackbird peeping out from her nest. I can see the interior of her mate’s golden beak as he feasts on last year’s ivy berries.  I can see every feather on the noisy sparrows that congregate on the fence, queueing for the bird feeder, admire the sun glowing through their translucent feet.  The sun burnishes the plumage of goldfinches and starlings on the feeder to a tropical splendour undreamed of through my old lens.  

High above me the buzzards and kites wheel well beyond my focal range on the thermals that they share with the local gliding club.  In the lower strata of airspace fuzzy mason bees are exploring our insect house. I discover that during each visit to one of the hollow canes they zip forwards and backwards several times, unable to turn in the narrow spaces.  What am I seeing? Is this the motion of these small masons squirting in food supplies for their new-laid eggs, or plastering up the entrance to keep them safe?

There is a lull in the activity, maybe all those hungry beaks are full for now. I am released from my immersion in the avian world for a brief foray into the rest of the garden.  I have set up my new compost sieve, a Christmas present as yet unused, and spend a few minutes turning the handle to transform our lumpy home-made compost into a fine medium for growing tomatoes in.  My husband has kindly carried a load within reach so there is no heavy lifting and I sit comfortably in a garden chair, weight forward propelling the handle.

When I begin to tire I get up and walk slowly round the lawn with my camera, shifting my attention from the birds above to the ground-level intricacies of daisies and dandelions, budding apple blossom and blue anemones that peep out from a lush growth of crocus leaves.  There are strange furry yellow flies on the new compost to be watched and snapped for later identification, and a most beautiful, if unwelcome, scarlet lily beetle.

I sit for a while on my secret garden bench in the sunshine and the cat flakes out by my side.  We rest awhile, listening to the swearing of another blackbird nesting in the honeysuckle above us, before embarking on the long walk back to the hammock.  

Rest and repeat, rest and repeat …

Over the course of a fortnight I find that I have enough sieved compost and topsoil mix to fill my four big tomato tubs. In the course of many cycles of explore, work, rest and repeat I have emptied out the old compost, used it to mulch the beds and set up the greenhouse ready for the new spring plants.  How did all that happen when I was so tired and so slow?  It is an object lesson in the fluid nature of time and space.  My camera is a time machine that has helped me to slow myself right down and in doing so I seem to have extended the time available. I am getting much more done with a lot less effort and stress.  Even better, I can look back over the past few days and recognise that in slowly swinging between camera-based mindfulness and gentle pottering, I have made noticeable progress in my exercise tolerance and, with the flowers at my feet and the fledglings in my honeysuckle, hope is growing.

How do you slow yourself down? Do you notice time shifting and stretching as you slow?