Coronavirus: What keeps me inspired during my time at home.

(Courtesy of Marnie Johnson)

(Courtesy of Marnie Johnson)

I’ve always enjoyed looking out my kitchen window.

As each season approaches, I anticipate what nature brings: abundant grass in the summer, but much to cut. Beautiful leaves in the fall, but much to rake. Cute chirping birds in the spring, but, well, you get the point. Growth takes many forms. This spring stretches the yardstick even more.

Like many, my family is experiencing economic setbacks and huge uncertainties during the coronavirus outbreak, which has caused most businesses and institutions to shut down.

My husband is laid-off from his full-time job. My part-time hours at a university have been reduced. And our unemployment benefits have yet to begin.

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We have two children at home and we’re all trying to adjust to social distancing, online learning and rationing resources. Each day brings more uncertainties. But each day also lowers the learning curve, and with that, I’ve had a bit more time to gaze out the kitchen window.

From my vantage point, each day I see the beauty of spring, a season of growth and blossoming. And much growth does abound: haciendas and day lilies starting to burst, onion grass starting to grow, and trees starting to bud.

I scan my backyard and appreciate that my family has a safe space for recreation. We kick the soccer ball around, throw some baskets in the hoop, and talk to our neighbors over the fence. It’s hard to see them with all the swooping branches and surrounding brush and bramble, but we talk loudly and listen intently.

Everyone’s healthy and safe and we are grateful for that. My family is motivated to stay in the yard, so we’re doing some housekeeping. For starters, we’re rearranging our stone path and removing an old bamboo fence, which my husband and I have talked about doing for three years.

We’ve even cleaned out the garage, which has been the subject of a decade-long debate. The 1940’s bedroom furniture in there remains, but the 1990’s mattresses were thrown out. Small wins. After a few days of this, along with my reduced work hours, I begin to imagine even more.

One day, I again ventured outside to assess the yard. This time, I happily took time to clear out the brush and bramble. My husband helped, too. We agreed to remove a large bush that had been entangled with vines and encased with broken branches. It’s no small task, but one definitely made easier with modern machinery.

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My husband operated the chain saw. With a few swings, the space opened up and I began to imagine the possibilities: an enduring evergreen or a sunburst forsythia. A striking purple smoke bush? Or maybe my dream: a crape myrtle!

There’s a certain sense of accomplishment as the job nears completion. There’s joy in the air. There’s also a little envy as I see how agilely my husband maneuvers the machinery. He has the access. He has the skill. I begin to imagine further.

That next day, I noticed more. I see various tree branches entangling other branches, which is serving as roadways for the squirrels. It’s kind of fun watching the tightrope travels.

(Courtesy of Marnie Johnson)

In fact, one savvy fluffy-tailed gymnasts seamlessly traveled the entire width of the backyard, tree to tree. It’s cathartic watching them utilize this system, but it also reminds me how much this network of branches envelops the yard.

As the children played, I took a small set of shears and began trimming the branches. It was quick and easy but the shears are only suitable for small cuts and some of those branches were huge!  I managed to get the low-hanging ones pruned. The view is widening, but I needed some help.

I considered my husband’s ease with the chainsaw. Nonetheless, I continued with my shears. The children were practicing their soccer drills. I keep at my pruning. They then moved on to paddle-ball. The time passes quickly.

The new vista allows for an easier neighborly chat. Practicing social distance protocols, we check in and catch up. It is from this perspective that I now spot a few burgeoning weed trees. I make a mental note.

A few rainy days kept us inside. My learning curve is decreasing, the kids’ online learning is progressing, and my mind is jumping. My mental note occupies me. The days are passing and still I keep thinking about the weed trees. I’d like to remove them and I have the time. But what about the tools?

Considering my options, I think about all I have learned in the past few weeks. I think about how life has changed and how uncertainty looms large. My job, my family’s health, their education, and our safety, in a matter of days, have become unpredictable.

I realize in this moment that we only have today. And today is the day to act and embrace change.

“Teach me how to use the chain saw,” I said to my husband.

He taught me. I had a few clumsy starts and stops, but I got it. I am a natural.

(Courtesy of Marnie Johnson)

My ancestors from Poland worked in the fields in the old country. Then, in the 1800s, they worked in the factories around Philadelphia. I can feel it in my bones that I was meant to operate machinery on the land.

My husband spots me as I begin my first foray into cutting branches and then the weed trees.

My view is widened. The possibilities are looming. Growth will continue in my backyard and for that I am glad.


Marnie Johnson is a Testing Center Coordinator and ESL Adjunct Instructor, amateur podcaster, longtime imaginer, lover of poetry, and lifetime Christian with a husband and five kids living in Collingswood, NJ.


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