Tag Archives: trees

The Joy of a Comfy Hammock

Just a few years ago, I experienced an important first in my life: the first time I enjoyed a moment of serenity, relaxing in a comfortable hammock.

This happened pre-Covid-19 closures, of course, while visiting a friend’s cottage.

The minute I laid eyes on it, I felt a little rush of adrenaline accompanied by a sense of wonder deep inside. I had never been in a hammock before and in fact, “relaxing in a hammock” was on my bucket list.

I confess, my bucket list isn’t filled with thrill-seeking sports or activities to draw out extreme emotions. After a busy career that drew out my extrovert energy on a daily basis, my dream activities are much more subtle and quietly introspective in nature. Peace and calm, as I experience now in my home in the country, is very much in line with these dreams.

Whenever I noticed a hammock making a cameo appearance on a TV show or in a movie, it always seemed to be in an ideal setting, on a perfect day, when the character was enjoying a quiet, easy-going moment. Deep down, I longed for more times like that.

I asked the hostess if I could give her beautiful hammock a try, to which she graciously confirmed that I could.

It was one of those rope-style ones that looked like a fishing net. I knew I had to be ever so cautious in getting into it as I knew my coordination (or lack thereof) sometimes translated into an accident waiting to happen. If I didn’t do this carefully, I could easily end up going through, around or under the netting, to the great amusement of the other guests.

Fortunately, with slow and gentle movement, I managed to wiggle myself into a comfortable position and found a new happy place to add to my permanent collection.

While on the one hand I felt a little antisocial, stepping away from the party for a moment of solitude on a hammock, overlooking the river on a beautiful summer day, it was a moment of sheer bliss. I would even go so far as to say that this was a life-changing moment, thinking to myself that if I had the opportunity to get one, and the right trees around to support one, I would definitely do it. (#retirementgoals)

Fast forward a few years, my partner and I decided that it was time to take the plunge and to look for a place together. At the time, there was not a lot of inventory on the market, but my partner found a home that ticked most of the boxes for us. I checked out the listing on line, and it did indeed offer many of the features we were looking for. He contacted our real estate agent and made the arrangements to go see the property.

The morning we pulled into the driveway, I could not believe my eyes: a rope-style hammock was gently swaying in the breeze, in an inconspicuous spot, under a canopy of gorgeous, mature trees.

The universe works in mysterious ways sometimes. Was this a sign?

The rest is pretty much history. The house was indeed what we were looking for. We put in an offer, we completed the inspections and bought the house. Unfortunately, the day we got the keys to the house, the hammock wasn’t there anymore, but that just opened the door to a new shopping opportunity to find the exact hammock I wanted.

With my retirement fast approaching, my partner knew that I had been thinking about it (actually, I never stopped talking about our friend’s hammock). He generously gave me the green light to pick one out and to buy it.

Given the Covid-19 lockdowns, in-person shopping wasn’t really in the cards, so I turned to the Wayfair website. With the multitude of options, I was able to comparison shop and narrow it down to a model that appealed to us the most.

When it arrived a few days later, I was filled with delight as I opened the box with the same flourish as a kid on Christmas morning, to the point of nearly smacking myself in the face with the wooden frame. Who could blame me? The arrival of the hammock made me feel that much closer to retirement.

After this narrow brush with a potential hospital visit, I took a deep breath, got into the moment and slowed down.

I carefully unrolled the fabric hammock and proceeded to clip it into the hooks in our trees. I could already envision leisurely afternoons sprawled out on the hammock with my sun hat and a good book. My plans were set.

There was only one hitch though, we were incredibly busy with the house. Regular readers know that right after retirement, I was busy with yard work and cleaning up after a very generous apple tree. And this was on top of a few home improvement projects that were delayed due to Covid-19 closures or the temporary unavailability of supplies.

The hammock had to wait, at least in the short term, given the accumulation of time-sensitive tasks.

But as time went on, the universe did offer its fleeting moments when the stars lined up perfectly: picture perfect weather, ideal temperatures, no pesky flying insects, no farm machinery operating in the fields nearby, and no appointments or errands on a given day. Those were the magical days I was able to give myself permission to take a break, to take out the hammock and to fully enjoy being in the moment.

When that happened, I would look up at the sky through the branches overhead, appreciating the sunshine, the blue sky, the perfect summer days, and the peacefulness of rural life. In those moments, I felt a profound sense of relaxation and gratitude.

To me, the hammock became the ultimate symbol of earned time off from a busy and sometimes hectic work life.

The hammock became the reminder to myself that it was OK to “be” rather than “do”, as I seemingly had been programmed for productivity throughout my whole life. I just needed to practice being in the hammock more and not feeling guilty about it.

With fall well underway now, in some ways, I regret that the hammock didn’t get out more than it did this past season.

I accept that the property kept me very busy this year, as I was basically in a steep learning curve and often in catch-up mode. Next year, if I can start the seasonal yard work as soon as the snow melts, and keep up with it in small, steady installments, I should be able to start the season in proactive mode than reactive mode. That measure alone should free up more time for the hammock next year, to fully appreciate the stillness I seek (and have found) in retirement.

To me, hammock time is not only my reward for a busy career, but it is also the focal point of self-care, healing and replenishment of my energy, for the next chapter of life.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under 50+, Health and Wellness, home

City Boy Discovers Chainsaw

A few years ago, if someone had told me, “Someday you will own a chainsaw”, I would have politely recommended that they seek help from a medical professional, as there was no way that this city boy would ever own a chainsaw.

Never say never.

Here we are… living in the country and I now own a chainsaw… not out of frivolity, but out of necessity.

I have to admit it, I really enjoy using the chainsaw (but just to clarify, not in a horror movie kind of way).

We are most fortunate to be living on a beautiful tree-lined lot, surrounded by many mature trees. However, it doesn’t take a violent storm to generate an assortment of fallen twigs and branches across our lawn. A gentle breeze is all it takes, which is pretty much a daily event.

Last year, I wrote about how living in the country had become a nonstop game of “Pick-up sticks”. Every day, I was outside picking up branches and sticks. It wasn’t a complaint, as I was enjoying the fresh air and sunshine while doing it, it was just an observation. However, it was something that I had never experienced while living in my condo in the city. The most cleanup I ever had to do there was picking up garbage produced by my fellow humans or unscooped doggie waste, but never branches.

Here, in the country, the big question is what to do with the branches, when you don’t own a wood stove or fireplace. Letting them accumulate is not an option, as these make great shelters for rodents who may opt later to move up the property ladder and sneak into the house. Disposing of the branches is the only option, but the sanitation department will not take them as-is. The branches need to be broken down.

With the number of branches we have to process on a regular basis, pruning shears and hand saws just won’t cut it, please forgive the pun. Continue reading

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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Garden Weeds

In declaring my independence from the city and moving to the country, I felt a sense of renewed freedom that was truly hard to describe.

Regular readers and my inner circle of friends will recall that in the city, I have had more than my fair share of lousy neighbours. Over the years, I have endured blaring music till all hours of the night, my backyard being used as a dog’s toilet and my driveway being used as a visitor’s parking spot, among other not-so-neighbourly infractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had exceptionally lovely neighbours as well and I miss them dearly, but the nuisance ones occupied significantly more of my head space than the delightful ones.

The move to a rural property meant less need to compromise and to accommodate the impingements of self-entitled neighbours in the name of “staying on good terms”. With so few neighbours, I had the distance I needed to breathe and to heal.

But in the country, there is a different impingement that has become an almost daily preoccupation: garden weeds.

When we arranged a first visit to see this property, it was mid-February and the 1.4 acre parcel of land was covered by snow. We knew that the place had a garden, as the listing referred to the patio as an “oasis”, but that was the extent of what we knew about the state of the landscaping. Continue reading

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Country Living and Non-Stop Pick-Up Sticks

When I first read the real estate listing for our home-to-be, one of the details that stole my heart was the mention of a tree-lined lot and the picture of mature trees surrounding the little house.

Even though I am not what I would consider a winter person, when combined with a fresh February snowfall, the house presented all of the elements of a charming country retreat. A couple of friends mentioned how it looked like the kind of house you’d see in a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Having grown up in suburbia, I wasn’t a stranger to trees. We had a weeping willow, a crab-apple tree, cedar hedges and a few shrubs. There was even an apple tree on the property line with one of our neighbours. But as a kid, I never really thought about them. I just remember climbing them or making them into a big prop in whatever game my playmates’ imagination came up with.

Then came a decade of rental apartments, where trees were there for shade, shelter and beauty, but I never really gave them much thought. Even in the townhome where I lived for 20 years, the condominium corporation took care of the trees. The most I ever did was rake a few leaves.

Now, in a home with a tree-lined lot, I see trees differently, both literally and metaphorically. They are a source of pride and joy and we are so fortunate that our property has such a variety of beautiful trees. But the reality check is setting in: ongoing maintenance.

Sadly, there are a couple that aren’t doing well that will need to be removed, but that’s just nature and the circle of life at work. At the same time, we have a few majestic ones that we were told by our tree expert were probably standing since our great-grandparents’ days and will probably outlive us.

In having so many trees around, in various stages of life, I understand that getting acquainted with each variety individually and understanding their respective needs will be a project in itself.
But the one thing that doesn’t take a tree expert to realize is that when you have mature trees around, falling twigs, sticks and branches are a fact of life. Continue reading

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The Pitfalls of Nature Photography

Now that I have been out and about, enjoying the spring weather, indulging in a little quiet time, communing with nature and taking photos, I could not help but notice that my hobby does have its share of pitfalls.

In trying to capture the perfect shot, I often feel like a secret agent, trying to move in on a subject in stealth mode, intensely looking at the world through a viewfinder.

But in doing so, and in being so focused, I have occasionally lost track of the intricacies of the physical world around me, including time and space. From a health and safety perspective, it concerns me a little, given my tendency to occasionally be a bit of a klutz.

Yet even when faced with these challenges, I don’t seem deterred. The rewards of capturing a great nature shot are worth every bump and bruise.

Also, Mother Nature has a way of keeping photographers on their toes by changing the perfect conditions with little advance notice. It can get a little frustrating but I’d like to think that this is part of the thrill of the hunt when perseverance leads you to that shot that made it all worth it.

Here they are, my top 10 pitfalls of nature photography:

10. Losing track of time
It has happened that in the process of evaluating the composition and the lighting, taking a test shot, evaluating the result, making adjustments, taking another test shot and repeating until I think I have captured the best photo possible, before I know it, an hour has passed. It’s delightful to lose myself in the creative process when I have unlimited time on my hands, but it is quite another matter, when I am on my lunch hour and due back for a meeting at 1:00 sharp.

9. Wearing the wrong shoes
A subset of #10, sometimes I get so enthralled in my photo shoot, not only do I lose track of time, but I lose track of space and distance and find myself farther away than I originally planned. It is on the long walk back and dealing with a blister that I realize that I was not wearing the right shoes for such an undertaking. Continue reading

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Filed under Humour, Inspiring, Lists, photography

Did Nature Photography Get Me to Enjoy Winter?

In last December’s post, “How Nature Photography Might Get Me to Appreciate Winter”, I wondered if my rediscovery of photography might be able to nudge me out of my usual winter cocoon and spend more time outside.

For those who have never been to Ottawa, let me offer a little bit of context. Yes, we do have an abundance of beautiful winter days that are like a shot out of a Disney movie. However, the Norman Rockwell painting of a perfect suburban Ottawa winter starts fading around the 18th consecutive day of snow, threat of freezing rain, or temperatures so low, even the cat won’t sit by the window and conduct her usual backyard surveillance despite her abundant fur coat. Winters here can be very harsh for long stretches.

When the weather outside is frightful and the sidewalks are covered with snow and ice, it’s not most conducive to a cheerful walk outside at lunch time. When you also factor in a long and slow commute home wondering where the heck the city’s snowplows went and repeatedly mumbling to myself “Why the heck do I pay taxes?” it should come as no surprise if I have to dig deeply to want to spend more time outdoors and risk falling and breaking a hip… the joys of becoming a grumpy old man! (and yes, I know some close friends are now thinking, “what do you mean ‘becoming’?”)

But this winter, I did spend more time outside, thanks to the camera!

While I wouldn’t say it made me a winter lover in one season, nature photography certainly made it more enjoyable by helping me lose track of time while doing something I truly enjoy. I would even go so far as to say this winter didn’t seem to drag on as much as it did in previous years. Continue reading

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The Christmas Trees of August

So let me see if I understand this correctly… You cannot buy a bathing suit in August, the stores need to make room for long underwear. You cannot buy long underwear in February, stores need to make room for bathing suits. The back-to-school supplies are out before the kids are out of school. And on the hottest, most humid days of the year, the retail sector seems to think that I am dreaming of a white Christmas and supporting that dream by putting up Christmas trees and ornaments in August. Is that right?

Dear Retail Sector… Stop that right now!

Back in my day (“I’d like ‘things I swore I’d never say because it makes me sound like my dad’ for $1000, Alex), when I worked at your friendly neighbourhood pharmacy, in late October, as the Halloween section’s costumes, decorations and treats started to dwindle, we would gradually move together the remaining items to make the shelves look fuller. Then magically, the Christmas elves took over the store a little bit each night as the Christmas decorations and wrapping paper gradually took over the seasonal section as Halloween came and went. That, my friends, was Christmas magic back in the 1980’s! Continue reading

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Filed under Christmas, Misc blogs