Connecting with the Natural World in a Time of Pandemic

It’s now clear to (almost) everyone that we are living in one of those generation-defining times. From the small organization and government office, to the largest worldwide coordinating networks, now is the moment where leadership matters.

I read a Twitter thread by a virologist on the recent disease models. They noted, “This is the Apollo program of our times.” I thought that was very fitting. Only the stakes are higher, the timeline more compressed, the scope more global than ever.

So, I’m an ecologist. Not a healthcare worker, government official, or other key person in the time-sensitive COVID-19 response. While virology is a key component of ecological systems, I’m just another person that needs to work from home, tend to those within my case, and order take-out.

Though I haven’t been in my work office, I’ve continued with outdoor work, which is mostly solitary. As for exposure to disease by occupational risk, loggers (which I’ll use as a stand-in for ecologists) rank at about zero.

So, from the plywood-and-sawhorse desk that I hastily erected in my garage, my professional advice (to those that are able) is this: get outside.

Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) practicing “social distancing” west of the Ancilla College residence hallfs, 20 march 20

Most of us will not be suffering acutely from COVID-19 itself. But the economic and social disruptions are affecting us all. Many of us are anxious and worried, we’ve lost sense of time and the normal patterns that sustain our mental-emotional-spiritual health.

There are innumerable studies that link our health with our exposure to the natural world, from walks in the woods to simply having a tree outside your window. Volumes have been written about this (see especially Richard Louv).

UPDATE: Restoration ecologist Steve Glass reminds us that we are facing the triple threat of species extinction, climate change, and COVID-19 all at once. It is time to stay engaged, and to live up to the moment we are in.

The Audubon society notes that birding is the perfect activity for a time of social distancing. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a treasure-trove of resources, including their very helpful Merlin Bird ID app.

After all, you get COVID-19 from other humans. You can’t get COVID-19 from a tree, a stream, or a bluebird (or a Corvid, for that mater… undoubtedly blue jays and crows can outsmart viruses!).

You and I need exercise anyway. In addition to eating healthily and getting adequate rest, we stand a better chance to fend of attacks on our immune system (“Yes, You Can Take Your Kids For A Walk” NPR).

a Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), waiting patiently in a vernal pool, on the first day of spring, 19 march 20

iNaturalist has ways to explore nature while you are at home, by photographing and recording your observations and letting the global online community help you identify what you see. They have a smartphone app too, of course.

The Indiana DNR is keeping outdoor spaces open for people to use. Arnold Schwarzenegger is encouraging people to get out and bike. Just a reminder that we should be making sure our activities are as low-risk as possible during this time. It is definitely not the time to put any extra hospital visits on a healthcare system under stress, so be safe.

There’s been a passage floating around on social media the last few days. I don’t know the context in which it was written, or who the author even is. But I thought it a very helpful image for this time in which we are in solitude, together.

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

“And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

“And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”
~Kitty O’Meara

Moontree Studios wetland reveals interplay of plants, animals, soil, and water, the day after a prescribed fire; 19 march 20

8 Replies to “Connecting with the Natural World in a Time of Pandemic”

    • Adam Thada Post author

      Thanks for the kind words Gay.

      My hope is only that the inspiration can lead to tangible action for the wild world around us that continues to face a crisis of our own doing.

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