The good in gardening—and a goodbye

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I would like to thank Ann Bussey for sharing with Hometown Focus her email messages to older Mesabi Family YMCA members. Jenna Ballinger, community health specialist at Essentia Health, connected Ann and me for HTF’s October Health Edition, which focused on healthy aging. Ann continued to send some of her emails that talked about how older adults can stay healthy and well, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic is slowly winding down, the YMCA is shifting its outreach to a new, ongoing wellness strategy. However, I told Ann her contributions are always welcome in Hometown Focus. —Tucker Nelson, HTF Editor

It was a year ago this week that pandemic closures rolled across our country. Looking back, we realize now that we had no real understanding of what the coming year would look like. The words that come to mind are social isolation, loneliness, safety precautions, fear, boredom, loss.

Gardening is one of the few activities that the pandemic did not take away from us. Spring is now peeking in our windows, pulling us outdoors, and nudging us to move forward with our lives again. Gardening offers us lessons in beauty and survival, and most importantly, that life endures.

We are safe in our gardens, outside without a mask, escaping health fears, and engaged in a productive activity that gives us accomplishment and joy. It takes our minds and bodies to a good place while the world finds its new normal.

Our gardens can be in our back yards, in pots on our decks and balconies, or on our kitchen windowsills.

For me, it is time to find my garden journal, started on a whim a couple of years ago. My first entry is May 2017 when I planted apple trees, a Mother’s Day gift from my children. Every year, I review the garden plot drawings from years past. How many rows of beans? Where did I plant my tomatoes? What should I do differently this year? When did I plant my vegetable starters last year? What is the overall plan for this year?

Last fall I transplanted herbs from my garden, and some from the gardens of my summer neighbors (with permission of course) to an indoor herb pot. It has lasted all winter—chives, basil, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, fennel. A bit of fresh greens to spice up my ho-hum winter cooking, telling me that herbs are a must again this year, plus the usual vegetables and something new. Perhaps a pot of nasturtiums started from seeds for my deck?

Remembering that seeds were in short supply last year prompted me to purchase my seeds early this year.

The forecast for the weekend (of March 20) is sunny with temps in the 50s. Time to walk through the gardens, checking for early perennials peeking through the last of the snow and pulling out my seed starter flats and potting soil from the garage. Maybe a good weekend to pull out some yard chairs too.

Best of all, I am creating my own new normal—planning my gardens, pressing tiny seeds into dirt flats, blessing it with food and water, and watching it grow.

A hopeful farewell

We are emerging from our pandemic winter. COVID vaccines are fresh in our arms. We are ready to find our new normal.

Our hearts and minds compel us to move forward into the next seasons of spring and summer, feeling safe with our children and grandchildren, and ready to venture out into the new normal cautiously.

It is now time to bring the daily messaging to a close. Friday’s [March 26] healthy aging announcements will be our last email.

The Mesabi Family YMCA started the daily healthy aging email a year ago as a way to connect us—intended to minimize our social isolation while inspiring hope, health, and wellbeing during the pandemic.

We have learned so much about ourselves, especially our resilience and tenacity to continually find purpose, stay safe, as well as socially connect and be active.

It has been a heartfelt and moving experience sharing this journey with you, continually searching for stories and words that reflect our needs and wants, as well as our joys and sorrows. We are coming out of this pandemic together with perhaps a new appreciation of what matters most to us.

Please know that you have become my people. I hope to see you out and about as we find our way in the new normal. The YMCA is considering a wellness strategy for older adults moving forward that may include weekly messaging, so there may be a new volunteer role for me with our aging journey.

It has been my pleasure and privilege learning with you through a difficult time in our lives.

Be safe. Be well. Be kind.

Ann Bussey lives in Side Lake. This article was adapted from daily healthy aging emails Ann wrote for the Mesabi Family YMCA senior members intended to sustain hope, health, and wellbeing during the pandemic.

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