Nature can be a companion and a source of peace and perspective in the days ahead.
Over the course of a few weeks, life in the Pacific Northwest and America at large has been profoundly altered. Gatherings, including sporting events, concerts, shows, fundraisers, reunions, and religious services, have been canceled. Schools and nonessential businesses have been closed. People are scared for their own health, and for the health of their neighbors and loved ones who are elderly or have compromised immune systems. We are being tested, economically, medically, socially, and even ethically. With more changes and restrictions yet to be announced, it’s fair for us to wonder what we can and should do with the days and weeks ahead.
Biologically speaking, we are eusocial creatures—we care for one another in advanced ways, within and across families. The fact that we know we are all in this together is what makes us strive to be better people. So, what happens now that this novel coronavirus is forcing us to isolate ourselves from one another, forcing us to live with fear, stress, and uncertainty?
We can take inspiration from nature. As a land trust, we are founded on the belief that nature’s complex web of life has innate value. We also believe in nature’s value as a resource for health, nourishment, understanding, and uplifting the human spirit.
During this time of physical distancing, we can take solace in walking around our neighborhoods, observing the gradual budding of new leaves and the unfurling of fern fronds. Walking* and gardening also allow us to surround ourselves in thriving, vibrant communities of living things. We can still watch sandhill cranes and geese fly overhead as they continue their ageless migrations. We can still take heart in a visit from an Anna’s hummingbird, flitting from one new flower to the next. We can smile at the first California lilacs opening their doors to throngs of bees—mason, honey, and bumble. Life keeps on unfolding before us.
Nature offers us lessons in endurance, collaboration, and interconnectedness. Rather than seeing nature as based solely on the notion of survival of the fittest, we can look to nature’s myriad examples of symbiosis, of mutual thriving, of generosity. From organized ants to mycorrhizal fungi, to the coyote and the badger, we see portraits of interconnection and interdependence.
We will feel a deep sense of loss, and varying levels of worry are natural in times like these. Let us keep perspective. Those of us feeling inconvenienced by event and trip cancellations, remember the artists, freelancers, small businesses, and hourly workers for whom these interruptions mean lost income or choosing between personal health and missed rent. Those settling into working from home, remember those who are unhoused. Let us recognize and support our healthcare workers who are on the front lines of a pandemic while scrambling to find childcare.
We have the capacity to behave like an introduced species, taking more than our fair share of resources, hoarding, constraining, withholding. We also have the capacity to act like a naturalized species. We can demonstrate that we are creative, resilient, and generous. We can give back to the network of life, human and otherwise, that sustains us. We have the capacity for both fear and love and we can choose to act out of love even when we are fearful.
Whether you tend your backyard habitat or stop to listen to morning birdsongs while walking the dog, look to nature for small wonders in the days and weeks ahead. Take time to check in on your neighbors, take advantage of technology to stay digitally connected with your friends and family, and share what you have with those hit hardest by the economic and health impacts of this pandemic. Nature teaches us that interdependence begets resilience.
Take heed from nature. Create. Amble. Share your time and compassion. Sing for the dawn of each new day.
* This post initially recommended hiking as a way to connect with nature during this pandemic. As of March 23, 2020, both Oregon and Washington have issued Stay-at-Home orders. While these orders do not forbid hiking, gardening, or walking around the neighborhood, those recreating outside their homes must practice social distancing. In addition, we have since seen numerous public lands, including Oregon and Washington state parks, USFS lands including Mt. Hood National Forest and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, counties, and cities, close down or restrict access to visitor use. We know this closes off places that provide many of us solace and peace, but we support these decisions in the interest of public health. Please connect with nature as close to home as possible and in ways that protect our public health during this difficult time.