Mindfulness in a Bucket
Commence eye rolling. Or, wait ... maybe not.
There’s something about the word “mindfulness” that makes me roll my eyes. It makes me think of absurdly serene actresses draped in gauzy off-white linens, seated in spare rooms bathed in light, selling me something for just four installments of $49.99. It feels like something the hip people are practicing today, but will forget in five, four, three...
“OK, Fritz.” This is what Hank will probably say when he reads this. My dad, Fritz Heyser, took great delight in critiquing all things trendy. This apple obviously didn’t fall far from the tree.
The only problem is this mindfulness thing is legit, and, in fact, it undergirds pretty much my entire outdoor life, and likely the outdoor lives of legions of people who are way more crusty than I am.
Stripped to its most basic, mindfulness is paying attention to what you are doing or experiencing right now.
One of the reasons hunting (animals and mushrooms) feels so good to me is that I leave behind 99% of the distractions of modern life and focus on where I am and what I’m doing.
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Mindfulness has even seeped into my garden-sitting for Hank.
A few years ago, Hank started using ollas (pronounced oy-yahs) to water much of the garden. They are water-permeable earthen vessels buried underground amongst your plants. You fill them up and cap them, and they keep the soil moist, watering plants from below, where evaporation can’t extract an oversized share. They’re perfect for semi-arid, drought-prone California.
Not long before one of Hank’s recent trips, we had a real gully-washer of a storm, and Hank rushed to put out every bucket and ice chest he could find to capture water coming off our roof in sheets. While he was gone, I used that water to fill the ollas, rather than taking the hose to each one.
I scooped water from ice chests into a bucket that I could carry, and used a 4-cup Pyrex to dish it out from the bucket into the ollas. It took many trips and it was much more work than walking around with a running hose, but it was how ollas were used before running water.
And it was an oddly pleasing experience. I became mindful of how much water the plants actually used, something that’s hard to gauge when using a hose. I became mindful of the fact that for most of human existence, water was something you worked to get, and took care not to waste.
Hauling water makes you realize very quickly that a faucet that produces water without effort invites thoughtless use at best, and excess at worst.
Our modern lives are absolutely saturated with drivers of excess.
Credit cards make it easy to spend more money than you have. Fast food restaurants and ultra-processed foods make it easy to eat unnecessary amounts of high-calorie, low-nutrient food. Liquor stores make it easy to get drunk.
The Slow Food movement, which nobody seems to talk about anymore, was about taking your time cooking your food to make higher-quality meals that you appreciate more. Growing, foraging or hunting your own food is the ultimate Slow Food. A duck breast that was the product of hours of preparation, planning, hunting and processing is deeply meaningful. Same goes for the morels I’ve been hunting, with similar levels of prep, hunting, and processing.
When the water Hank had saved from that drencher was all used up, I decided to keep up my routine, filling a bucket from the hose and watering from it, rather than walking around with a running hose. It slows me down, and makes me spend more time with the plants that will produce corn and beans and tomatoes and cilantro that Hank will cook, we will eat, and you will eventually see in photos on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. It feels good.
I am lucky to have this time. It was only a few months ago that I was able to quit my demanding day job to work full time with Hank. I could do this only because we paid off our house last summer, meaning I could afford a pay cut (though inflation has made that bite a bit more painful). Before, maintaining his garden while he traveled was a huge stressor, something I had to squeeze into my already packed days.
Modern life is engineered to make everything except time readily available to us.
You need a house and a computer and TV and cable or streaming services, so you work and work to pay for these things. If you do it right or get lucky, you then have more money than time, you begin to outsource the most basic tasks: automatic watering systems so you really don’t ever have to get close to the lovely things you planted. Landscapers to mow the lawn and apply herbicides so you don’t have to look at mess or weeds. A housekeeping service to keep the interior filth at bay.
I doubt anyone chooses this path consciously; we fall into these tradeoffs incrementally, until one day we realize we’re totally disconnected from the environments we’ve worked so hard to create. It’s a trap that we have inadvertently designed for ourselves.
I have not escaped the trap entirely. But increasingly, when I have a choice between slow (mindful) and expedient, I’m choosing mindful.
There are tradeoffs. Our house is not remotely fancy, nor is it big enough for what we do. My photo studio is crammed into an increasingly cluttered corner of the blazingly hot garage, because there's no place to do photography in the house. Our workout equipment takes up half the floor space in a den that is supposed to be a contemplative space (it is where I’m writing this post), or a place to entertain guests.
But expanding the house or upgrading to a larger one would require sacrifices I’m no longer willing to make. I’d rather settle for “good enough” and enjoy its gift of time.
And the eye-rolling? I’m not sure I can separate from my genetic predisposition to mock anything that seems like bait for the skeptically impaired. But I can remind myself that pre-judging closes a lot of doors I might otherwise want to walk through.
What keeps you from slowing down and enjoying your daily activities? Join the discussion!