I locked down solo back in April. At the time I felt I had to dampen down my feelings about The World as a way of safely negotiating the global order. The world is still a mess. Even if Aotearoa is less of a mess than most. I thank The Winds for Jacinda and her communications degree words of kindness and clarity during crisis.
New Zealand is now over a month back at Level 1 of our Covid alert system after the blip up in Auckland. We are doing well in a weird world. Life feels like it is pretty much back to the new normal once again.
I go to work in the mornings at my university library job. No longer do I have to rhyme my way through contact tracing duties ‘Please swipe and take a wipe.’ This rhyme amused me initially, but it got old fast.
Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger photos of terminator hands (think clawed metallic fists) remain pasted to the bathroom walls beside the sinks. These film-still photos serve as a reminder to wash our hands thoroughly every single time. I know it is meant to be funny. And it is. But it is also really not, because of the fearful intention in which it has been displayed.
The worst of Covid-19 increasingly feels like it was A Very Long Time Ago here in Aotearoa. Time has acted weirdly in this sense. The weeks of Lockdown flashed me by like a movie on fast forward. I pick out a few discernible points. Pages and pages of typewritten text to represent the many hours spent writing. Most of it for money. These pages represent creative output but also the financial security of still having work to do and the safety of a fortnightly wage.
I also appreciated the security of seasonal changes. The gentle pull back of the light as the days shortened towards Winter. I also loved the slightly magical way of soft toys appearing overnight in windows and how their stitched smiles lifted the spirit of my inner child. She, who made blanket forts and had rhymes for safety at bedtime.
During lock-down i choose the comfort of things that could fly. I went about postering my bed sit with pictures of birds and butterflies. Some, I made myself. Others, I collected from op shop calendars and picture books. I decided I liked living in a paper aviary. I consider myself very lucky that the soft calls of real-life Ruru from the Sanctuary across the fence continue to sing-song-sing me to sleep every night.
Plants have also played their part in helping me through the pandemic. Not only in getting through it but also supporting how I feel at home not just in a physical place, but also in my (slightly muddied) skin.
I spent the first day of lockdown digging up my lawn with my landlord’s permission. He even lent me the spade. My first plantings failed to grow – novice gardener here – I hadn’t turned the soil enough and the heavy clay dirt held water in its thick clammy grasp.
With some advice from my landscape architect mother, I removed the first set of failing plants and spent two hours digging the dirt deeper and turning and turning the soil. I added leaves and coffee grounds as I went to improve the soil structure. Then I dug the soil some more.
As I turned soil I thought about relationships. Some faded during lockdown. The distance affecting our connections and the technology somehow not quite being able to bridge the gap. Others had been newly developed online or were reaffirmed through video call apps and a more conscious awareness of making an effort towards connection.
I talked Tiny Houses and container gardens and donut economics and helicopter payments from the government as some sort of attempt at universal income. What had been a more theoretical interest in environmental issues, local food and sustainability, has, with the pandemic, become a much more practical desire to be able to live more on my own terms.
I was going to write independently, and yes, there is a certainly a large element of self-sufficiency, but it is also about community connection. Learning from others about the things I don’t know. Like soil science, soap making and crochet to name an immediate few.
It is also about not so much solitary actions as it is about collective intention. We might all have been in our homes making our bread and planting our gardens but there was also, I think, (and really hope), a wider energy of change towards a different way of being in the world.
Once turned anew I planted my lawn-turned-garden-bed with bok choi, cavolo nero and rainbow silver beet. I added a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and nutrients. I then watered and fed the plants diluted bokashi fertiliser brew on a weekly basis. I regularly checked for signs of disease. And with my steady care, I was pleased to see my plants grow green and strong as they reached up towards the sun.
I now harvest garden-grown-greens most nights for my salad dinners. They taste better than anything bought. I take great joy in heading to the garden with a basket to harvest my dinner. Not only is it as fresh as it can possibly be, I also know it is grown not just chemically free, but also with a loving intention of caring for both soil and for soul.
Gardening has been a new hobby for me since Covid, as it has been for many people concerned with food security in an unstable world. I’ve dabbled before in growing herbs, but gardening is now becoming an activity I increasingly want to do more of. Not only because it makes me feel great on my good days. It is also how, on my Bad Days, when writing doesn’t even help me feel better, going into the garden soothes my spiky spirit.
The New Normal for me, post-Covid, is about up-skilling and learning how to be more sufficient in providing for my own material needs. It is also about connecting with other people who want to do the same thing. As companions we all face the New Normal together. New does not have to be bad though. It can even, if considered carefully, be an opportunity to make the world better.