Back to the Garden

“I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.” Dr. Oliver Sacks

My attention is grabbed by everything to do with gardens right now as Ottawa leans or should I say limps towards the sun. It doesn’t really matter to me; I am simply delighted that winter is done and all the gardeners are buying soil,  spades and seeds.  I am also interested in Dr. Oliver Sacks so when I spied this excerpt on gardens and healing, from his new book, I was ready. The moment I read this piece, a few days ago, I knew it had a home here, although I hadn’t planned to use it this week.

However, as my world travels have taken me in the past two weeks to the westcoast, back to Ottawa, and now an early morning flight to Calgary,  this seemed like perfect timing. A little gift to me and now to you.

This is an excerpt from “Everything in Its Place,” a posthumous collection of writings by Dr. Sacks.

Note 1:) Oliver Sacks was a neurologist and well known author of many books. He died in 2015.

Note 2:) When you read this piece, you will note there are two additional articles at the end of the excerpt, by Dr. Sacks. You may enjoy those too.

Note 3:) I will be back here next week and I am looking forward to seeing former colleagues and the wonderful members at Wellspring Calgary. Many thanks to all of you dear readers who show up here week after week and even tell others. I appreciate you all. Warm regards, Trudy



cherry blossoms tGabriola

Never Take a Break From Learning

As many of you know, last week my Mother celebrated her 99th Birthday on April 13th. She is one of the lucky ones who has stayed healthy in body, mind and spirit. As I observe her many years of living fully I see that the attributes of ageing well, are similar to living well with illness. There is nothing we can do to guarantee a vital long life nor is there anything we can do to prevent illness. This need not be discouraging, however, it is a simple fact that we cannot control these outcomes.

What is way more important is that we can do so many things to increase our chances to improve the quality of our everyday life, and reduce the risk of many major illnesses. I don’t need to list the obvious and we all know the exceptions to the rule. So bearing that in mind I want to briefly mention one thing that my Mother and others swear by. Life long learning.

This morning my Grandson Rowan was talking about his Great Grandmother’s age. He finds it impressive because she is 90 years older then he is.  He comments on how she will be his age squared at the big 100th next year.

“Imagine, Great Grandma, at HER AGE, can text me, he proclaims. Not every Great Grandma can do that,” he says.

“She’s a life long learner,” I say.

Never take a break from learning,” he states. ” You can take a break from work and from school, but never learning.”

Coincidentally, I had been reading a journal of my Mother’s this morning, while I waited for Rowan to take a math test. This is where she writes down tips on ageing that she agrees with, along with her own experience. Life long learning was hi-lighted throughout the journal and her conscious practice from the time she turned 65 was to learn something new every year. Because of that practice she can use her ipad for reading, searching, photography, texting and all the myriad of things that I use mine for. I believe she was about 92 when she learned how to use an Ipad. (16 week course at her local library)

Another outcome of this continual learning is that she is up to date on the world around her and can relate to what her great grandchildren are doing. And it is fun. Consequently, she is never bored. I have never once heard her state that she is too old to try new things. Yet, she has clarity that there are certain things to give up – like driving.  “Don’t dwell on things you can no longer do; just be grateful that there are other ways to get around, other than with your own car,” she writes.

Learning new things is important when we are living with illness. What can we do about our own situation and how can we play an active role in our treatment? Take on the role of discovering the non-medical things that are helpful and available, in our communities: creative arts; writing; music; discussion groups; courses; nutrition; exercise; walking groups… so many opportunities.

As I read Mom’s journal and saw the time she has spent writing and recording important information that can help us live well I also see that it is no accident that she has ended up  still flourishing at 99. Why? Because everything she wrote down, she actually applies. Truth is, I want to be more like her.

Final Thoughts:

As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” Seneca


Note:1) The cake was made by an inherited and beloved family member, James Hawkins. What I know is that it was delicious and everything you see was edible including the basket. The roses took him 7.5 hours to lovingly make. The other special surprise was 99 folded cranes made by his better half, Sheila. She didn’t specify the hours but I know it was many. They were suspended from the ceiling in the centre of the room, and a golden crane will be added next year for the 100th. This is a shout out for celebrations!! Do it while you can. Yes, it is worth all of the effort and labours of love leave us all with unforgettable moments.

Note 2:) I am compiling a list of Mom’s tips that I will include in one of these posts. Maybe my 52nd, which happens in three weeks. They are equally helpful and inspirational for living well with illness and living well as we age.

Note 3:) Thanks once again, for showing up and reading this post. With appreciation and best wishes, Trudy


cherry blossoms Gabriola

Nature’s Healing Gifts are Waiting For You

I am in a place of blossoms and dozens of shades of green this week. After six months of winter in Ottawa, well, I think if there is a heaven, this is it. Nature’s spring palette on the westcoast is something to behold. It provides an injection of spontaneous well-being.

You can’t arrive here in April from the colder climes and not want to fall down into the magnolia and camellia blossoms covering the sidewalk. These petal carpets are magnified by the Japanese cherry and plum trees providing canopies on the streets as far as the eye can see.

As you stroll, you pass one front yard after another, where lawns have been transformed to  flowers, herbs and leafy things to eat, gardens.

Strolling around Vancouver and Victoria seems to me like “flower bathing,” the urban version of Japanese “forest bathing.”

Over a decade ago, when I was ill, I received a surprise gift of a book by Marjorie Harris:  The Healing Garden: Nature’s Restorative Powers. At the time I sat down and read it cover to cover.  It hasn’t been on my mind in years, until this trip.

Here is an excerpt:

spring cherry blossomsMy garden is not a hobby. It is a fascination, an amazement. It is, occasionally, an obsession. What else do I really want to think about? When I make the transition into the garden – stepping across the deck, dodging the mess that seems perpetually to lie about-I’m conscious of a feeling of expectation. Something will happen here. When my stomach roils, work becomes impossible and the world has gone mad, I know I must go into the garden to destroy a few bugs, stir up the compost, break fallen branches into pieces.

I fling myself find I am absorbed by this Other that I rely on implicitly. I may have started out to pull a weed, absorb a scent or sit, briefly, and feel the sun on my body. But whether I’m conscious of it or not, I’m here to be rescued. It is this same sense of need that affects people who are ill-this ability nature has of distracting us from ourselves, making us forget who and what we are by drawing us away from whatever troubles the world presents…

What is it about the garden that makes it such a place of healing? Perhaps we project hope into it each time we set foot into this place. ‘How wonderful this new plant will be next season when it comes into its own.’ we think. How truly amazing that anything will survive because it is too cold or too hot, or there is too much or too little rain. And yet survive it does…

Whenever I come into the garden I am determined not to spend all my time here. I should do the laundry. Nothing, however, seems quite as important as spreading mulch, even though the day is windy and cold. It takes a painfully long time, but the sense of exhilaration with this kind of hard labour is indescribable. All the cobwebs are swept away. My logy body is refreshed…

By approaching plants as part of the health of our own bodies and spirits, not as a mere hobby or way to fill in time, we can continue on refreshed in our own journey through life, connected to our own past and our present. Plants heal, gardens heal, nature heals. It’s absolutely necessary to value them highly for what they can do for us, and to treat them with the respect they deserve. To learn how to respect and love ourselves, we have no further to go than the garden.”

daffodilsI no longer have my own garden to design and tend, yet I flourish still from all the gardens that surround me. Most importantly, the Central Experimental Farm garden near where I live, is a favourite. In this garden, I walk, admire, smell, photograph, sit, muse and enjoy the beauty. Consequently,  when the time comes to leave, I am thoroughly refreshed.

Nature’s beauty, in all of its guises,  is a restorative. Let’s celebrate that.


Of course, a garden may not be your favourite place.  Rather it may be the mountains, the fields, the seashore or any of the myriad wonders of nature.


Pay attention to the world around you. In fact, make it a priority like eating and sleeping. Spend time outdoors in spots you love. Take advantage of the healing properties of breathing fresh air and watching the sun come up or go down. Take solace in the ebb and flow of the tides. Become a moon viewer, a rainbow noticer, a bird watcher. And if you can, take a stroll everyday, wherever you are, and see how many different shades of green you can spot. See how our hearts lighten and strengthen, with the gifts of nature.


Note1:) I am on Gabriola Island now, for the occasion of my Mother’s 99th Birthday this Saturday.  My entire extended family consider ourselves lucky to still have this gentle, inspirational, wholehearted and vital woman in our lives.

Note 2:) Every city has amazing gardens. Furthurmore, a  few are hidden and virtually unknown, yet, what a thrill to find them. Consider a secret garden hunt this April, in addition to your Easter egg hunt. You may find a treasure.

Note 3:) Thank you for coming by and reading these musings. I appreciate your care and interest. See you next week. Warm greetings to all, Trudy

Legacy, Community and the Golden Thread

Hampton community, came out on a rainy day, to greet Nelson Mandela’s grandson.

It was a small thing, really. My cousin Sonya lives in small town Hampton New Brunswick – poulation 4289. She texted me to say “Nelson Mandela’s Grandson is coming to Hampton tomorrow. He will have coffee at Station 33, and visit the Credo Monument.” There may be at best three  reader’s of this blog who know what the Credo Monument is let alone Hampton. I was curious. As it turns out:

It is a memorial to John Peters Humphrey

Humphrey is one of Hampton’s own, and the monument  includes four engraved articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He was invited to serve as the first Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights in 1946 and created the preliminary draft of the Declaration of Human Rights. Furthur more, when the General assembly  adopted the final declaration, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt called it the “Magna Carta of all humankind.”

So, Siyabulela Mandela, didn’t come to Hampton for coffee. He came to honour John Peters Humprey;  a humble man, from ordinary circumstances. “Like my  grandfather,” he said, “two men who rose up to make a change in the world.”

John Humprey lost both parents to cancer –

When John was a young boy, he lost both his parents to cancer. He also lost his left arm in a fire, and unfortunately, he was brutally bullied as a kid. Labeled a mischief maker, (like young Nelson Mandela) either boy could have gone on to create havoc in the world; instead, their joint legacy is one of working for dignity and freedom for all, regardless of colour, race or homeland.

Siyablelea, a scholar in his own right, generously spoke about the foundation that John Humprey and his grandfather established and about his hope that all of us will continue to work on behalf of others. I loved seeing the photos Sonya sent, where he is equally at ease with little children and the story she told me about how he gave his umbrella to an older woman, who was standing in the rain. He inspired everyone.


Coincidentally, as crazy as it sounds,  this isn’t the end. I have a second story about Hampton, which is also about legacy.

His name is Randy O’Dell.

Randy, another young boy from this tiny town, was forced to go to work at 12 years old, after his Father died.  His Mother had five young children to support and she needed his help. Of course, there was no way to know that the consequences of that job would lead to asbestosis in his lungs and an early death at 65.

But here’s the thing. In between the 12 year old and the 65 year old Randy, a golden thread unfurled. No stranger to hard work the young Randy moved to Calgary as a journeyman electrician and eventually formed his own company. He was admired for his brilliant business mind, attention to detail and skill with people. Yet, Randy was not selfish and he wanted to leave behind something meaningful for Calgarians, the city that provided him with many opportunities.

And this is what he did. He made it possible for Wellspring Calgary to build a second vitally needed location for those affected by cancer. Named the Randy O’Dell House it will open this September. Randy didn’t live to see the house but his legacy will live on.  Not just the $4,000,000 dollars that he donated before his death, but the thousands of people diagnosed with cancer,  and their families, who will never even know Randy, but who will not have to face cancer alone. In fact, at the Randy O’ Dell House they will be exposed to the life altering programs and services that meet the emotional, social, practical and restorative needs of people living with cancer and those who care for them. All free of charge. This is quite the legacy.

In thinking about this, it doesn’t stop there. Randy’s legacy began with the first kid he gave a job to. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people  came through O’Dell Electric over the past four decades.  Their lives changed because they worked in his company  and were the recipients of his leadership. I find it mind boggling. Even before the bequest to Wellspring he had left a lasting legacy.

Ok. You must think I am now finished.

But I’m not. As Randy reflected on what else he could do to say thanks to Calgary, he thought about the hundreds of young electricians who came to his company from SAIT – the school in Calgary that trained those young electricians. This reflection led to a $2,000,000 contribution to create the Randy O’Dell Centre for Electrical Trades at SAIT.  This Centre will benefit thousands of students in apprenticeship programs and more. Randy was determined to give back and these two permanent legacies do just that. Both will open in 2019.

Ten days ago on March 23rd an enthusiastic team of O’Dell Electric staff and their families volunteered all day to complete the rough in at the Randy O’Dell House. Talent, compassion, smiles, laughter, tears and nourishment for body and soul were on hand that day. My cousin Alan was one of them. A house powered not just with electricity but with love.

There are many legacy stories. These are just two. And it isn’t about the money. John Humphreys used the power of words, which impacted people while he was alive and continues after his death.  Randy transformed a difficult life into a better life, but not just for himself. He contributed to improving the lives of so many others, while he was alive, by giving them opportunities. John and Randy’s legacies live on. A deep bow to them both, these boys from Hampton, population 4289.

And a deep bow to Nelson Mandela and his grandson Siyabulela Mandela working to carry on his grandfather’s legacy.


Dr. Jinroh Itami, often said “it is more important to do what we can do with our life and to leave something useful for society rather than merely setting our mind at rest.”



Note 1) We all create our legacy everyday. Not everyone can do what John and Randy and Nelson Mandela did. But we all do something. Everyone of our words and actions leave ripple effects in the world. Sometimes, we hope the sands of time will obscure what we wish we had done differently. But the past is written in stone. The great thing is that as long as we are still breathing, we have the chance to do things differently now. “Start where you are,” as Pema Chodron says. There is no such thing as perfection; we fall down and we get up each time. That too is a legacy.

Note 2) Community is vital to our lives. We need community and we can contribute to making our communities better. There are multi-coloured threads, all with a hint of gold weaving their way in and out of our circles of influence. The tapestry becomes rich, meaningful and beautiful. The communities of Hampton, Wellspring, SAIT and Randy O’ Dell Electrical are on my mind tonight. They are representatives of millions of communities worldwide, and made up of billions of people doing such fine and good work in the world. How lucky to be part of the human community.

Note 3)  “I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” Helen Keller

Note 4) Thanks to Sonya, and her friend Debbie for the photos of Mandela and to Patti Morris’s facebook for the O’Dell volunteer day. And thanks to you dear reader who tunes in every Wednesday. Next week I will be short and sweet on this page. Enjoy the April showers and flowers. Warm greetings to all, Trudy