April has been gorgeous. And that’s felt slightly frustrating. The vast majority of us are staying home, mostly inside. For relief, those of us who can, probably have been trying to turn towards the sun. Some of us have gardens, or feel comfortable going on a walk. And there is always parks right? Well, what happens when the big parks close near and far? How do I access nature?
I love Seattle’s parks and the idea of not being able to visit Cal Anderson, Volunteer Park, and the Arboretum was initially alarming last weekend. However, this is the reality we have, one thing on a long list of frustrations of which closed parks and beaches is probably fairly low, but still on our minds on glorious spring days. I can understand the bitter disappointment of finding parks closed last weekend, (and I also would very much like to go look at wildflowers in Eastern Washington).
However, last week’s closure still gave Seattleites access to 479 other parks with both tiny, local haunts like Broadway Hill Park and social distancing worthy Interlaken open to us on the Hill. That’s not to mention the de facto green spaces that exist in the margins, green but not manicured or official. I am not suggesting flooding those spaces or ignoring the guidelines. However, as is typical of this landing pad for nature enthusiasm within the human built realm, I would invite us all to shift our perspective. As I have said before, nature isn’t just in big parks and green spaces.
If you are under any illusion that we are somehow in control of this world, and that if people disappeared that our mark would visibly endure forever, please let me disabuse you of this notion. Recall that empty lot or untended yard you walk by on a regular basis. Consider how fast that space was swallowed by life once the sun stuck around a bit longer. You need only peer at the cracks in the sidewalk to see that nature abhors a vacuum. Pretty much any place we don’t actively fight life, it will show up. Our absence in the past few weeks has not let animals suddenly and joyously roam where they couldn’t before (most of the “journalism” about those things are simply fake). But that doesn’t mean your bored ass should miss spring because you couldn’t go to Volunteer Park.
I’ll get to the point: there are opportunities to enjoy nature, properly socially distanced, just about anywhere. If you are bored, why not take some time to observe something? One of the most basic practices is to just sit somewhere and observe what’s around you. Having a way to take notes is useful and may give your uneasy hands something to do besides swipe up and down, left and right. Get comfortable. Peer at the nearly microscopic, and gaze into the distance. What do you see? Are any plants or animals you see or hear familiar to you? What are they doing? What don’t you know? What are questions that you might be able to answer? Where is all this pollen coming from? What is that insect that looks like a bee, but you’re pretty sure isn’t? How many different bird voices can you hear, no matter their names?
Now not to sound self-righteous, but this is how I start my day. I grab my coffee, sit outside, and write observations.
Currently I am participating in a community science project studying what effect, if any, social distancing might have on bird activity in the Pacific Northwest. All that takes is 10 minutes out of my day.
This week, because of some internet sleuthing as a result of all the bigleaf maple pollen covering my yard, I got wind of another project I’ll be engaging with called Pollen Nation, which tracks and informs our understanding of the health impacts of pollen. If you want to try to identify some birds but don’t know where to start, give the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin app a shot. Many enthusiasts on iNaturalist (including myself) would love to help you figure out mystery plants or invertebrates you notice. Or better yet, get your youngsters out identifying common species with Seek. All this stuff takes some time and effort, but I suspect the privileged and lucky among us have that to spare.
When it comes to living through a pandemic, those of us who can muster should be operating from a place of wealth instead of deficit. Nature abounds. What if we could use this space as an opportunity to change our perspective on nature and our relationships with the more than human world? (I fear the opposite, that this is an opportunity for environmental protections to be loosened while we’re distracted.) Every day is Earth Day, but April tends to be a good time of year to appreciate life and what we have.
Watch crows build their nests, the cherry blossoms fall, and note when you see the first butterfly of the year. Learn some new plants. Draw the clouds. There is plenty of nature here to explore.
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