There are so many thoughts, questions, and feelings rattling around in my head and heart. I don’t think I’m alone in this. This global pandemic affects us all, whether we get sick or not. One feeling that crops up is the desire to turn inward. To hold our resources close. Especially when we are being asked to stay home as much as possible. I think this is a natural, instinctual response to danger. After, all we are natural creatures.
But if there is anything this crisis has brought into clear focus it is the fact that we are all connected. It is our connections that are causing the trouble. Our physical connections may cause others to get sick. Our economic connections may make markets tumble like dominos.
Where to turn for comfort? I think we turn to our connections. This is a time to nurture our connections to others and to the natural world.
When I think of natural connections the first things that pop into my mind are Red Knots and Horseshoe Crabs. When I worked on Cape Cod National Seashore I talked a lot about horseshoe crabs. These prehistoric creatures travel from the ocean floor to the sandy beaches in the spring to lay eggs. At the same time the Red Knot, a shorebird, is in the middle of its 9,000 mile journey from its wintering grounds in South America to breeding grounds in the Arctic. The Horseshoe Crab eggs fuel their journey.
Closer to home, Turkey Vultures once again soar overhead and Red-winged Blackbirds sing from the treetops in early spring. These migratory birds are a tether between here and regions south, where they spend the winter. The invisible highways of migratory birds connect the hemispheres. Imagine traveling to Central or South America in winter and seeing “our” birds that we see in their breeding plumage in summer.
We are learning more about how some trees are connected underground through fungal networks and in the air through pheromones. They communicate with each other about disease and predators and may even support each other in times of need.
All these pieces are connected to each other and to us. The web of life. The sun shining in my window fuels the Norway Spruce tree, that feeds the Red Squirrel, who feeds the Fisher, who one day will feed the tree. Six degrees of separation that split and travel in so many directions.
Going outside has never been more critical for our physical, mental, and spiritual health. The dog and I go for a walk in the state forest land just outside of town. Be in the present, I tell myself. Focus on what is here and now since the future has never seemed so… unclear.
On this spring day, the sun hits my face and seems to go straight into the core of me. I breathe in the oxygen that every living, green thing releases. My exhalation is not wasted but will be taken in by those green leaves of all shapes and sizes.
The dog, still being a dog and unbothered by the human drama, stops to smell scat. It is probably from a coyote, full of fur and bone fragments from whatever small mammal’s life ended so the coyote’s could continue.
I hear water trickling down the ditch, through the culvert and into the small, slow-moving stream. It runs across the algae covered rocks that may soon be grazed by tadpoles. Somewhere nearby Spring Peepers are calling. They seek out mates to continue their half-water, half-land cycles of life.
I pass by a section of managed forest. I see the green moss blanketing rotting stumps from a long ago harvest. The brambles and young trees now coming up seem impenetrable. Vertical lines all reaching for the sun. It looks messy and imperfect. But alive.
In all of this, there is hope. And I find it here. Because nature doesn’t stop. While it may seem like everything is put on hold, birth, life, love, death are still happening all around us. On this spring day, all of these creatures and all of these plants are doing what they are called to do. They are all have a part.
I also hear the siren from the volunteer fire department in town. I image volunteers stopping what they are doing and jumping on a fire truck or ambulance because someone in need asked. I think of Audubon volunteers, who, so many times say “yes”, my coworkers who jump in with an “I got you,” and the friends and family who cheer, celebrate, comfort and care. And the people who I don’t know, who are doing their best. Imperfectly but still moving forward. This is also hope.
While we might physically be isolated, we are not alone. Like the natural world, we are more connected than we may think. And in this time, as in all times, it is our connections that make us the most vulnerable. But, more importantly, it is our connections that make us strong.
I just hope we don’t forget it. Because, after all this is over and the future that we can’t image right now is our present we will still need nature and each other.
Katie Finch is a nature educator at Audubon.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. Though the Nature Center is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, drive-thru sales are available from the Blue Heron Gift Shop. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.