An emotionally charged ode to how our year of change is progressing in an annual season of change this fall.

Outside my door bees are busy at the blue asters, robins and grackles are rustling in the Virginia creeper for the purple berries; yesterday geese were calling; the nights are drawing in. 

As a gardener, I’m deeply ambivalent about October. What’s done is done, well or ill alike; it’s time to say this story’s over, say farewell to the season. And yet in the same moment, I’m also looking to the next season, because the last fall task at the Ashbridge Urban Farm is to get ready for spring – clear and mulch the beds so they’ll be prepared for an early start. 

In just a month I’ll be poring through catalogues, trying to shorten wishful lists of heirloom food plants; eight weeks after that is not too early to start the seeds of woody herbs; four weeks takes me to cabbages; another four and it’s time to start tomato seeds; and a few weeks after that we’re off and running hard to keep ahead of the season.

The Roman god Janus, with one face looking to the past and the other to the future, represented transitions, both literal and metaphorical – doorways and gates, war and peace, motion and time. The month of January is named for the transition from one calendar year to the next; if a gardener had decided this, January would be a fall month.

We’re all in a transition now, as the pandemic reality sinks in: this isn’t a 3-month sprint, it’s an 18-month marathon. It’s very not clear how we get through it – individually, or as a city, or an economy, or as a species. But as I think about it, my thoughts keep drifting to peoples and countries that have gone through – are going through – far worse disruptions.

This isn’t a 3-month sprint, it’s an 18-month marathon.

The people of Fukushima and Chernobyl and the Three Gorges Dam. The people of the Gulf of Mexico and Puerto Rico. The peoples of the Arctic and California and Australia and the Amazon and Fiji and the Maldives and the Solomon Islands. The people of Afghanistan and Syria and North Vietnam and the Crimea. The people of Greece and Brazil. The Rohingya people of Myanmar, the Buddhists of Tibet. The people of Minamata and Grassy Narrows and Flint and Love Canal and Bhopal. The child soldiers of the Congo and the children of the Sixties Scoop.

These are just highlights you might recognize; there are terribly many more.

So I think some balance is called for. 

Yes, coping with covid-19 is disruptive. Yes, being so unsure of what to do next or what comes next makes us anxious. Yes, we in Canada have been living in a bubble of stability compared to the rest of the world, and so a big change leaves us unprepared, unnerved, unsure how to adapt. 

But good golly, the essence of being human is our amazing, outstanding ability to adapt! We can do this. Most of our families have, within one or two generations back, surmounted major change; we too can adapt – to this transition period when the virus is loose, and again when it’s been quelled.

Looking forward – adaptation will require spirit, ingenuity, collaboration, lateral thinking – we humans have got those totally covered. And looking back, in a Janus spirit, to January – my first post of the year, before we were even aware of the pandemic, was about adapting to (a different) change by embracing it.

It began,

“The past year had me continually adapting to new circumstances, both bad and good. Jolting change is wearing, but it may be what 2020 has in store for most of us. If that’s right, we will need to keep each other’s energy up, and our own,”

and ended,

“Change is coming… Here’s to seeing a 2020 when our choices are better because we require it – and when we help each other embrace them.”

Just two months after that post, the Building Roots team adapted instantly to the pandemic, embracing the reality of the situation and putting better choices on the table (literally as well as figuratively) for people. We’re not the only organization to do that, to be sure. Every one of us has the ability to use mind, body, and spirit to adapt and to help each other. 

Here’s to having that very human capability strengthen us in this “season” of pandemic – and to having it give us empathy with other people’s troubles. It may be October now, but any farmer will tell you that when trouble hits we band together to get everyone through it – and that April is up ahead.

Kate Hamilton is the Urban Farm Manager and coordinates the Building Roots urban farming initiative at Ashbridge Estate and skills workshop series.

You can find Kate almost weekly at the Ashbridge Estate location or writing inspiring articles such as this piece.

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