Pandemic Optimism from Nature

by JAKE NORTON

May 2020
“Let us… seek peace… near the inland murmur of streams, and the gracious waving of trees, the beauteous vesture of earth, and sublime pageantry of the skies. Let us leave ‘life,’ that we may live.” - Mary Shelley
Nature’s painting.

It’s easy to get lost in the mental miasma of the pandemic, to be dragged ever downward by the relentless tug of dark news and darker personalities. I find myself succumbing to the quagmire daily, wondering what the new normal will be, and when we might see it. (Is this it? I truly hope not.) The headlines wear me out, the news brings me down, the future awash with threats of global virus spikes and economic nadirs, political unrest and wannabe-strongman power consolidation. It’s hard to remain positive much of the time, to see the bright side of things like I am wont to do.

The antidote, I’ve found, is one that abounds: the fantastically optimistic, omnipotent, healing power of Nature. I’m certainly fortunate here in Colorado to have an abundance of it out the back door. While a wander in unpopulated acreage certainly mends the soul with efficiency, I’ve found the same healing, optimism-inspiring benefits simply by looking at a tree in the park, studying its leaves and bark and smells and colors; observing the ants and critters that call it home; gazing at the sky as clouds sail across it in their endless delivery run of shade and moisture; soaking in the masterpiece of sunset as it’s painted over a mountainscape or cityscape, reminding us that Nature is there, always coloring, drawing, creating, and inspiring.

If you’re like me, take a break from the news, turn off the headlines and the emails and the constant barrage of distractions we seem to now call life. Wander outside (mask on, please) and find a park, a tree, an ant, a bird, a sunset. Give yourself permission to do nothing but sit, and watch. Quiet your mind and let a bit of Nature’s elixir flow into you. Breathe deep of the now-cleaner, pandemic purified air, and let it cleanse your mind and spirit, revealing the truth that tomorrow will be another day, another chance for us humans to live, to learn, to work together, and to bring about a brighter future for us all. In 1876, Whitman wrote in his notebook:

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.”

Aspen leaves and sunset.

Nature remains, and it does indeed release our best qualities and optimism from our “torpid recesses,” locked away as they are by the pains of the current moment. Go into Nature, wherever you may find it. And, as Mary Shelley wrote:

“Let us… seek peace… near the inland murmur of streams, and the gracious waving of trees, the beauteous vesture of earth, and sublime pageantry of the skies. Let us leave ‘life,’ that we may live.”

(Thanks to the endlessly inspiring Brain Pickings by Maria Popova for these last quotes!)

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