Monday, March 23, 2020

Coping in a Time of Pandemic

American Robin

Spring migration up here always starts slow, and the new-fallen snow Sunday made the day seem genuinely wintry, which of course is supposed to be the norm in northern Minnesota in March. But singing robins took away the chill.

Most of the winter I haven’t had chickadees in my yard more than once or twice a day, but suddenly those little guys are spending more time here, which brightens my spirits every time I look out the window or go outside, which I have to do every time my little dog Pip needs to go out, since a fox has been hanging out in the neighborhood. When more birds start showing up, I’ll start spending more time out there taking photos.

Black-capped Chickadee

The past few weeks have seemed surreal, and I keep finding myself drawn to television and the internet to keep up on the news. Even in the best of times, the intensity of social media and news coverage magnifies, often to the point of exaggeration, every new development. Democracy depends on citizens having access to accurate information, but the information coming out of both social media and news right now seems to be promoting panic and meanspiritedness.

Whenever we humans deal with the unknown, fear is of course our first response. Fear is important and useful in prompting us to action. Right now, our actions should include getting into good habits with regard to hand-washing; not touching our face; sneezing and coughing into tissues or the crook of our arm; frequently sanitizing doorknobs, cell phones, remote controls, and other surfaces that we touch a lot; staying at least 6 feet away from everyone who doesn’t live with us in our immediate home; and patiently, calmly stocking up on food and other necessities in case a local situation leads to shortages or we can’t leave home for a few weeks. 

But fear can also lead us to unreasonable actions, like panic buying and trying to buy medications after irresponsible media figures spread rumors that they may be a miracle cure for COVID-19. This of course leaves vulnerable people who actually need those drugs for other serious illnesses shortchanged. Fear is also stirring anger toward people in power who are responding to the crisis poorly, some even profiting from it. Understandable though it may be, exulting when various people get the virus is ugly. This is a time for us to be listening to the better angels of our nature.

So this week I’m going to try my level best to limit myself to checking news and Facebook no more than one hour each morning and evening, and to stop reflexively checking the current infection totals multiple times each hour. I’m also going to limit myself to one movie or a couple of TV episodes each day. 

I’ll spend one hour a day on household upkeep—keeping those doorknobs clean and all that. We’ll keep preparing nice meals and ordering from our favorite local restaurants for delivery or pickup. And I’ll be spending an hour each day exercising to make up for not going to cardiac rehab.

But that of course leaves plenty more hours each day to fill. I’ve been entering old “For the Birds” transcripts into my webpage database—I want to finally finish that, then digitize old “For the Birds” recordings from old tapes and CDs. When I’m done, I should have the transcripts and/or sound files of over 5,000 programs available on my website—I’m almost up to 3,500 now. As I get bored with that, I’ll also enter old checklists into the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird, and go through bazillions of photo files, deleting bad ones and making sure everything is properly backed up. All these activities will help me get my office organized and help me ensure that no one in my family will feel bad throwing out stuff when I’m gone. And even better in this immediate crisis, going through all this is conjuring lovely memories that are lifting my spirits. 

I hope you are finding things to do that lift your spirits, too. Be safe and well, dear readers.

Black-capped Chickadee