Three Things Cindy Coughlin Learned This Summer about Getting Dirty

This is a guest post by Cindy Coughlin, a Pemberton-based HR professional, coach and facilitator, who operates Thirst for Change Coaching, where she blogs knowledgeably but equally engagingly about things other than gardening. When she told me recently she had unexpectedly become a happy garden-sitter, I begged her to write about it for Traced Elements. I had literally just seen Dawn Johnson that morning, and learned that Dawn’s squash plants grew over the wheelbarrow, obscuring it entirely, as it awaited  Dawn to return from a camping weekend and get to the garlic harvest. So I share Cindy’s awe for this Eden in which she has apprenticed herself. So happy to welcome Cindy to the Traced Elements community. ~ Lisa


Flourish. This is my word this year. It originally started as part of a peer mentoring group where my main focus was on getting my consulting business up and running. We had to come up with a theme or a word. I picked Flourish. Well, actually I picked “Nourish to Flourish” –  the idea being that I put in the care and attention to help build up my first year of going it solo.


Cindy Coughlin chooses to Flourish. Photo by Cathy Goddard

Nourish, according to the dictionary, means to cherish, foster, keep alive, to strengthen, build up, or promote.

Flourish is to thrive.

And this mantra, this intentional approach has quite naturally carried over to other aspects of my life.

I’ve been working with my awe-inspiring, plant-whisperer neighbour and friend, Dawn, in her spectacular garden. I approached her in the spring and asked her to put me to work. Now to give you some context as to how outside my comfort zone this is – when I was younger and had the list of chores split with my sibs, I’d be adamant about staying inside and doing the laundry, vacuuming, etc. When I moved to Whistler and started off as a lifty, it was the worst job I could imagine. I hated working outside (I know weird, right, cuz I love riding and skiing and playing outside). I also really hate big bugs – especially of the 8-legged nature.


Plant-whisperer Dawn Johnson. Photo by Cindy Couglin

But this spring and summer, working in the garden, have nourished me in the best ways.

Here are three things I’ve learned about getting dirty:

Paying Attention

I need to be paying attention. I’ve been reading books about trees, books about bears, books about over-tourism. I’ve been watching tons of the stunning newsfeeds on the climate emergency. All of these are asking me, begging me, to step up my game, consider my impact, take some type of action – start somewhere. And now I feel the pull to pay attention. To pay attention to my food. To pay attention to how nature provides. To pay attention to the interconnectedness.

Recently I was trying to cut some lettuce, quite close to a flower which had a busy bee in it. I could see the bee was getting agitated with me being so close. So, instead of wildly flapping my arms to scare away the bee, I just stopped and watched. The bee did its bee thing in the flower and then moved on. I felt so filled up. Co-existing and working with nature.


Feeding my Soul

Dawn and her family went away for a week and I was trusted with taking care of everything while they were gone. Isn’t that incredible – I was TRUSTED to take care of a garden – my mom would literally think I’d been taken over by aliens.

And it was incredible. Everyday I’d check on the budding plants. I’d chat with the chickens and bees. I’d cut some lettuce and some yellow little squashy thing for dinner salad. I’d find that zucchini hiding under a massive, prickly leaf – happily earning my stripes by scratching my arms while I cut the stem. I’d just stand and stare and admire. I’d thank the garden for everything. I’d tell the garden how beautiful it was.

I tend to just take. Take from this earth. I feel like I’m starting, albeit in a small way, to give back. I’m starting to see, really see. And by seeing, by paying attention, I am feeding my own soul. I am seeing the interconnectivity. I am part of the impact and I can make new, different choices.

And I’m learning. Dawn to me is like Yoda was to Luke. Like Mr. Miyagi was to the Karate Kid. Her wisdom and unwavering passion is a gift to this world. And I feel so filled up as I watch, listen, try things out and learn. I’m learning how to garden. I’m learning to care for my food. I’m learning to take only what I need. I’m learning about eating food that is in season and waiting, anticipating, for things to come back next season. Meaning, going without in the off-season – oh the anticipation will make it so much sweeter.


All the Good Eats

The little yellow squashy thing that I thought was just an ornament has this beautiful mild flavour with just the right amount of crunch. The edible purple flowers that my Albertan-meat-and-potato husband is welcoming in his salad – taken in very small quantities because the bees love them so much – are so good. The cukes and zukes that seem to grow 5 inches overnight – no one believes me – but I think if I sat and watched them for 24 hours, I’d actually witness them growing. And the flaves from these are incredible!


I’m completely impatient for the carrots and so am happily pulling them as babies in service of giving space for the others to grow nice and big and sweet. Have you ever pulled a carrot from the earth, dusted it off and ate it right there? Nothing tastes better.

And the pièce de résistance, the biggest surprise of all has been the asparagus. Dawn simply broke off a piece and handed it to me right in the garden while she took a mighty crunch from her own piece. No salt and pepper, no butter. I took a tentative bite and was shocked to find out this is what asparagus actually tastes like. Almost 50 years old and I have just experienced what asparagus is supposed to taste like for the first time in my life.


If I can do this, anyone can do this. I am getting dirty. I am working it out with the 8-legged-who-shall-not-be-named. I am learning. I am growing. I am nourishing. I am flourishing.