I’m writing this on the Ides of March 2020, minutes after Minnesota Governor Walz declared that all of the schools in Minnesota will be closed as of Wednesday.
I had a small speaking engagement at Duluth’s Wild Birds Unlimited yesterday. I wore a pair of lightweight gloves—the kind I wear when birding in the desert or tropics. They protect my hands from sun exposure, not germs, but are useful for reminding me not to touch my face or other people. But even with a very small group, I didn’t do a good job of maintaining my distance. One person grabbed and shook my hand, and I found myself hugging the store owner before I left.
Lesson learned. I’m in a high-risk group, both for my age and because of my recent heart attack, so I’m going to have to force myself to stay isolated. I’ll be going to go to cardiac rehab one more time this week, where I’ll copy down my exercise routine so I can do it all at home. If I go stir crazy, I’ll take a walk where few people go, but I’m going to minimize even that. Russ or I will need to get out now and then for supplies, but that’ll be it. Spring migration is just now kicking in in earnest, and I’ll be paying attention. As Rachel Carson wrote:
There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds; in the ebb and flow of the tides; responding to sun and moon as they have done for millions of years; in the repose of the folded bud in winter, ready within its sheath for spring. There is something infinitely healing in these repeated refrains of nature, the assurance that night after night, dawn comes, and spring after winter.
Noted author Kenn Kaufman, who I am honored to call my friend, wrote this weekend:
I fully recognize the devastation being caused by the Covid-19 outbreak and by efforts to contain it, and I'm not making light of the situation by suggesting that people should just go birding. But I believe that in deeply challenging times, it is good for the soul to get outdoors and connect with the natural world. Being out in the open air, away from crowds, also reduces our risk of contracting or spreading the virus. And taking time to immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature can help to reduce our stress levels, thus strengthening our total health in the long run.
At this point in mid-March the spring migration of birds is well under way across most of the Northern Hemisphere, and it will continue through the end of May. Waterfowl are among the first major groups of birds to move north. Right now, Lesser Scaup are showing up on lakes, rivers, and coastal bays all across North America, along with many other migratory ducks. They will be followed by other groups of birds, in a regular sequence, peaking with colorful warblers and other songbirds in late April and May. In a challenging time when so much is unknown and unpredictable, we may take some comfort in seeing how these seasonal patterns in nature play out in the same reliable way year after year.
I won’t be taking very many walks out there, but even hunkering at home, I’ll be enjoying birds. Starting today, every day I’ll be posting at least one nature photo that I took in my own backyard, now or in the past.
Just about anyone with a window can enjoy something of nature. After my heart attack in January, I could see Bald Eagles out the window from my hospital bed. And over the years, I’ve seen at least 20 species from the windows of my daughter’s Brooklyn apartments. Over even more years, I’ve heard from countless shut-ins dealing with injuries, cancer, and other illnesses and difficult life situations who felt a healing balm from watching wildlife out the window or in their backyards.
This weekend, Turner Classic Movies showed The Diary of Anne Frank, which put my hunkering down in my home in perspective as I thought about what Anne Frank endured hiding in an attic for two years in such close, constant contact in tight quarters with 7 other people. Even with the constant day-to-day irritations and the ever-present, consuming terror of Nazis discovering them, she wrote:
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.