As an importer and sales rep for a variety of luxury accessory brands, going into retail jewellery, stationery and gift stores has been a big part of my professional life for over 25 years. Owning my own business and working in that industry is a dream come true, but it couldn’t be more different from what brings me true joy. Behind the scenes, in my personal life, I am an avid birder and nature photographer. These topics never come up with my customers unless I discuss my “tourism” to a local birding hotspot when travelling across the country.
During my store visits I would frequently see stationery cards with a landscape or floral photograph attached by hand. I bought them to use as Thank You cards and I always thought “I could do that.” The idea stayed with me for decades, but was never acted upon. I wasn’t the creative type, or so I thought at the time. A lovely idea though...
When I co-founded The Gratitude Shoppe in 2018, my late husband encouraged me to make a few cards to see what happens. He was very proud of my work and my biggest cheerleader. At his urging, I selected a few favourite images and made a small collection. I was genuinely astounded by the customer reaction. People bought them! I was constantly replenishing stock and introduced more images. It was so nice to be able to talk to like-minded people about songbirds, birdwatching and my garden – all of my favourite subjects that I had basically kept muzzled my whole professional life. I could share my knowledge with people eager to learn. Most people have no idea of the variety of birds around locally, and how simple it can be to bring them into their yard and support their health and well being - as simple as planting native plants in the garden. At the same time, I learned from others with different experiences. Different trails to walk. Locations of a bucket list bird to find. A new garden centre a Sunday drive away. That was the first time I realized how joyful it could be to build a career around a passion.
Like millions of people around the world I had plenty of time in the spring and summer of 2020 to pursue and explore the boundaries of my hobby when the economy shut down. My passion has always been to capture and share the simple and miraculous wonders of nature. Photography is a blessing. It enables me to lose myself in my focus on a subject and capture a moment of grace.
I walked every day, with my camera, and fully enjoyed the migration of the songbirds as they travelled through my neighborhood from their winter homes to their breeding locations in northern Ontario. Songbirds are delicate and fleeting. It is so exciting to witness these little creatures that survive the hardships of migration, not to mention the dangers and hardships in their daily lives.
I spent more time than usual in my garden enhancing the flower beds with native plants to attract a wide variety of birds, and setting up perches to photograph them. I also planted a rose garden for my late husband and worked to photograph the variety of roses I had planted, as well the daffodils, tulips, poppies, and lilacs. My passion project blossomed.
They say that when your work is aligned with your passion, every moment is a joy. When I’m taking pictures time stands still. My mind quiets and all I focus on is the subject of the image I am trying to capture. I frequently notice the moment thoughts start to return as I put my camera down. That is when I know I was truly in the flow with my purpose.
I spent hours going through 20 years of photography, yet it was enjoyable, relaxing, and even therapeutic. It seemed like a guilty pleasure that only could have been done during a period of quarantine.
The technical side of creating a Facebook page for Elizabeth Stratton Nature, an ETSY page, and moving the Gratitude Shoppe online was far less thrilling, but the frustration was worth it to see my artistic and creative side emerge online. I never considered myself artistic before this past summer, so it was a joy to see that develop.
I’ll always be grateful to 2020 for allowing me the opportunity to spread my wings and create a joyous and profitable side hustle. My professional activities are much more well-rounded, balanced and joyful. And joy is what it is all about.