Almost every day I walk outdoors. Many of the places I walk are places I return to again and again for different reasons. Some are simply close by and easy choices when time is tight. Some are seasonal. I have my favorite spots for watching for spring migrants and I know where I’ll often find the first blooming mayflowers.
There’s a spot where brown creepers sing and a place where big black racers stretch out in the sun. There’s a field where woodcocks perform early in the spring and meadowlarks serenade each other in May.
In some ways, these places and things are very reliable. I can count on them. Nature is not always reliable, however. Places change over time and life adapts accordingly. The woods where I heard whip-poor-wills as a child now has houses built all over it. The little pond where we used to find newts is now grossly polluted and I haven’t seen a newt there in years.
The beaches I walk have lost and gained sand over time. Some have become rockier and some have become much, much smaller. I now see seals where there once were none and I can spy whales from the shore in more than a few locations when the timing is right. These were things I never dreamed of as a child. And, of course, there are the white sharks. Those were things I saw on Jacques Cousteau’s ocean documentaries on television, not something I ever thought I’d someday see right here on Cape Cod.
Life has certainly changed over the last few weeks. The day I turned in my column last week I had a job. Two days later, I did not. I had classes and workshops scheduled. Not anymore. Many of us are sitting at home, looking out our windows wondering what the future holds. For lots of us, incentives and small business loans don’t mean very much. We’ve cobbled together livings by working part-time, freelancing and working on contract. We feel like the whip-poor-wills and the ruffed grouse, no place to go and we don’t quite know what to do next.
The tiny virus that has disrupted our lives has been discussed ad nauseam, so I’ll assume you’ve read what you need to read and know what you need to know. It’s an interesting and compelling reminder that we are not in control. The tiniest amongst us can take us down in an instant. Its disruption is as damaging as any huge bulldozer and we can’t even see it. Thanks to magnification and amazing cameras we do know what it looks like and I have to admit, it’s rather lovely to look at. It’s designed perfectly for its job. Nature is like that. Form almost always follows function.
I’ve been walking the beach watching for piping plovers and ospreys. They arrived on schedule as they do most years. The robins are singing, and red-winged blackbirds fill early mornings with their raucous calls. The Rosa rugosas are budding and mayflowers are already blooming in some sunny protected areas.
Spring is springing in spite of our human turmoil. In fact, worldwide, pollution has lessened, and breathing is easier due to people staying home. Nature is taking a deep breath. Perhaps that is what we are all supposed to do right now. Just breathe, rest and reset ourselves.
In spite of the dire news, people are helping each other. There is more generosity than hoarding, more kindness than meanness. This is heartening and reaffirming.
In the end, we are more like the plants and the birds than we may think or remember. Like them, we are resilient and have endless capacity for growth and regeneration. We might have to stay close to home, but we don’t have to give up our humanity or our ties to the natural world. As this all plays out, those may be what save us from despair and insanity.