How getting sick restored the value of rest in my life

In June, I was sick, very sick. At times the burning pain in my stomach was so intense that I could do little more than curl up on the couch and nibble on saltine crackers. Vomiting helped. “You’ve got H. Pylori,” my doctor said, after reviewing the results from my stool sample. “Two thirds of us harbor the H. Pylori bacteria in our guts. Normally it’s not a problem, but if it ‘blooms’ it can cause ulcers, even stomach cancer.” The good news? A 2-week series of antibiotics would kill it.

Hiking, rest, recreation, autumn, outdoors

But sharing my gut with H. Pylori wasn’t the only problem. I was tired. To my bones. Without going into details right now, I’d spent too many years not taking enough time for Marion. Not resting. H. Pylori was my body telling me to stop. While healing, a friend sent me a book called, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, by Wayne Muller.

In “Sabbath” Muller shares a story about a South American tribe that was on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden they would stop walking and then make camp for a couple days before going any further. They explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them.

Isn’t that a beautiful thought?

In Alaska, autumn provides that time of rest, for our summers of long days encourages us to overfill our waking hours with too much activity, often to the point of warping natural rhythms.

We do not gauge the value of the seasons by how quickly they progress from one to the next. Every season brings forth its bounty in its own time and our life is richer when we can take time to savor the fruit of each.” ~ Wayne Muller

Sabbath, Muller, restIn fall, we smoke salmon, split wood, harvest potatoes, rake leaves, prepare our home for the winter, and hopefully give thanks. In winter, we, like plants, are dormant. It’s a time for reflection, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, birdwatching, inner endurance and looking for light in the midst of celestial darkness.

In spring, we shift activities: We prepare the soil for planting and start seedlings. We prune what has died or withered and take delight in the first crocus bulbs that bloom through a blanket of snow. In summer, we match the longer days by amping up our busy-ness once again: Tending the garden, thinning weeds, hiking, fishing, delighting in flowers, tidepooling, stand with faces to the sun, and welcome visiting family and friends.

When it comes to gardening, photography, and getting back to reading a good book, autumn is my favorite time of year, though the autumnal equinox yanks me back to reality. It’s not summer anymore. Still, I welcome the change, and as I search for exquisite light in autumn’s sunrises and colorful landscapes, it gives my camera purpose. It reminds me of something that the late Galen Rowell, one of my favorite photographers, used to say:

“The edges of nature are where you’ll find dynamic light and landscapes.”

I’m also a garden writer, producing a column every week, so I often relate many of life’s experiences to plants, soil, hands, and weather. In a recent column, I connect my need for rest with lessons from the garden, specifically a plant’s ability to survive freezing temperatures, and lesson from Mother Nature. See what you think…

How do plants survive a freeze?

When frost is in the air there’s no need to panic really, because freezing temperatures don’t always spell disaster in the garden. For example, when the temperatures dip a little below freezing, the air is moist enough for water vapor to condense (in the form of ice crystals) on the ground as well as on the plants. Then, when the water condenses, it gives off just enough heat to warm the air around plants. This warm envelope acts like a protective micro-climate.

On the other hand, when temperature falls more than a few degrees below freezing, frost can damage leaves, shoots and flowers no matter how humid the conditions are because water, whether in lakes, ice cube trays or cells, expands when it freezes. So as water within plant cells freezes, it ruptures the cell walls like a water balloon bursting under pressure. (Wouldn’t that be amazing to see in slow motion?)

forest, tree, spruce, Kodiak, Alaska, rainforest, hike,

Not all plants are created equal though, and different plants and parts of plants have different freezing points. Pansy and nasturtium flowers for example, might wilt like wet paper bags at 31 degrees, but their leaves remain firm and undamaged. Then there’s kale, with cold-tolerant leaves that can survive unharmed under a blanket of snow… or Sitka spruce trees that, armed with a natural antifreeze in their sap, stay green all year.

We can learn a lot from Nature. Leaves falling around tree bases provide a protective—and nourishing—layer. In the garden we can protect plants by emulating nature. A 3 to 6-inch layer of leaves, compost, seaweed (or a combination of all) around the base of shrubs, trees, and perennials insulates like a down quilt. (Distribute the mulch toward the trunk, but not up against it. For perennials, mulch is usually applied directly on top of the plants later in the fall, after the main plant dies back).

Let’s go for a walk…

As for resting, it also helps to follow Nature’s cue. Remember the South American tribe that camped for a couple days so that their souls could catch up with them? Consider applying this kind of rest the next time you go for a walk. It’s a technique I learned from Muller’s book, now a classic, that was recently reviewed in the Huffington Post.

For 30 minutes, walk slowly and silently. Make it an amble or a stroll. Simply walk without any purpose. Simply let your soul catch up with you, as Wayne Muller would say. Let your senses guide your walk. If you are drawn to a leaf, a stone, a color or the fragrance of the tall grass, simply stop and linger. Thoroughly experience the moment with all your senses. Then, when it feels right, when it’s time, simply move on. When you are called to stop, stop and investigate. When you’re called to begin again, move along. That is all.

“At the end of thirty minutes,” says Muller, “Notice what has happened to your body, your mind, your sense of time.”

Today I’m feeling much better. I take time for tea; to watch eagles soar by. And I’m becoming a better listener.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your day with me.

Cheers to you,
Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer



You might also enjoy:

Life with a flip phone in the 21st century
My niece Tina, a senior in high school, realized she was addicted to social media. To break the habit, she began by trading her iPhone for a “slower, dumber flip phone.”)

How a medical emergency launched my new love affair with plants
It all began when my husband Marty had a mini-stroke while we were RV-ing in Utah)

Libby’s Story: Fighting Cancer with Food
When Libby McClaren was diagnosed with cancer, the doctor recommended immediate surgery to remove the tumor from her bladder, followed by chemo and radiation treatments…

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6 Responses to How getting sick restored the value of rest in my life

  1. Velda says:

    Well written. As I care for my husband abandoned with cancer and chemo and all it entails, I have to work harder at waiting for my soul to catch up, but I try. Thanks for the reminder! Velda in Roseville CA

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Deborah says:

    Thank you for sharing.

    • marionowen says:

      Thank you, Deborah. It wasn’t easy to talk about getting sick, until I realized that maybe sharing my experience might help someone dealing with stress and need for rest. Cheers to you, and thanks for commenting.

  3. Sharon says:

    Sorry to hear about the agony you went through but that the problem was diagnosed properly and you got through it. I’ve never had a problem eating anything, but for quite a number of months I’ve had stomach problems, though nothing as bad as yours. It was first diagnosed as acid relux then a bacterial imbalance and was told to try probiotic food, Activia, etc. It wasn’t untill I discovered Culturelle, an over the counter capsule that finally has helped and am doing much better. The one thing I avoid now, coincidentally relating to your latest post, is sugar, as I read that the bad bacteria feeds on it. Has made quite a big difference.
    I apologize for the long post but perhaps this info could help someone dealing with this problem. And yes, an over abundance of stress can definitely play a big part.

  4. Roberta says:

    Thank you, Marion, for helping us have a healthier perspective on the seasons. I’m glad that you are feeling better.

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