Too lazy to put on boots to clop through the spring snow out to the woods and me not quick enough to intervene, Sammy throws it off the front porch as hard as he can but it ricochets off a tree and lands just a few feet from the house.
“Hmph. I guess the coyotes will have to come close to the house.” He mutters.
“They won’t.” I assure him. We debate if it will be insects or rodents who will find it first. We were both wrong.
‘Quarantining’ and ‘distancing’ are new verbs for modern America, made real by Covid 19. Both words embody restriction of activity, a sloughing off of what is no longer needed even when we had stamped our feet to acquire it. “What’s the scoop with Americans and toilet paper?” one Chinese stand-up comedian asks his Jewish New Yorker friend in an interview. Nervous giggles and a lame explanation turned to uncomfortable guffaws when the comic states frankly, “Like, umm… there areother options.” I mean really. What distance do we hold from our bodies that we can’t simply wash up? The apocalypse is coming and we scramble for toilet paper, ripping it from our neighbor’s hands in an overcrowded grocery before the imminent shutdown. Today, ‘what can we do without?’, is a daily question and for many privileged ones, a sigh of relief. ‘Taking stock’ shifts from a figure of speech into a literal process of assessment. Need whittles down to truth instead of a gross overstatement. One person takes orders and makes a grocery trip for the whole neighborhood. We make do with a simpler life and learn to live with those we love. So far, I am distanced from personal loss, have food for the table and am in awe of a silver lining in the world’s largest pandemic.
Beyond the fear and grief, there are miracles. A report from China states that cities, burdened by air pollution are now witnessing consistent blue skies for the first time in years or even decades. Coal burning factories shut down and the air clears itself. In a matter of weeks children who have rarely seen a blue sky now gaze upward in wonder. Elders who knew blue skies before, breathe deeply through their face masks and smile. Nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant produced when fossil fuels are burned, has decreased by 100 million tonnes in a two-week period. * I don’t know what a tonne is but I read that it is approximately the same amount the entire country of Chile emits in a whole year.
From Venice, Italy, a country shattered by grief, comes another miracle. After tourist boats and cruise ships clear out, blackened waters quietly settle to crystal clear. Millions of minnows can be seen flitting in these waters and larger fish and birds have ventured into the city’s waterways and sidewalks. Dolphins, their radar honing in on unimaginable despair, swim the rivers. Harbingers of hope for broken hearts. Even here in the United States, where we have been slow to respond, a friend snaps yet another photo from his apartment window of the San Francisco skyline with the ocean beyond. Having seen many a smoggy pic, this one is startlingly clear. He includes the caption: “Never, in 6 years of living here, has this view been thisclear.” One week into the Bay Area’s shelter in place order and air quality experts can measure the difference.
The Earth’s capacity to rise and fall, expand and contract with whatever we take from her, whatever we dish out, is notmiraculous. It isnotextraordinary. It is her way, so ordinary we cannot see her lessons etched in every tree, every wave. So quiet we cannot hear her whispers murmuring from every stream. Cannot feel the pulse of her tide until it turns into a tsunami. A pandemic that is changing the face of humanity.
A flash of blue outside my studio window catches my eye. A bluejay on my front lawn is pecking at the earth. I stand for a better view, wrapping fingers round my mug of steaming echinacea tea. It keeps pecking at the same spot while I take a long sip. What the heck is she after? I wonder. She swallows tiny unseen bits and then bobs her head with extra intensity and I remember Sammy’s barbecue rib! She whips her head to the side and I gasp at the marble sized hunk she wrestled free. I murmur out-loud to her, “Oh Sweetie, don’t eat too much, you’ll get sick!” But before I could finish my sentence, she flew off with her prize. She landed in a nearby tree before launching on a longer flight across the wide field, her trophy secure in her beak.
Speechless, I realize I have become so immersed in excess that I assumed the blue jay would follow suit and overeat. I ponder this awhile before it dawns on me: over-consumption is not of Nature. It’s a symptom of dis-ease, a sign of imbalance. A question surfaces: has modern gluttony contributed to our tragic state of affairs today? I wince. I refuse to glorify Covid 19. The complexity of this crisis undoubtedly intersects all aspects of contemporary life: political, economic, environmental, spiritual to name a few, and I believe it will be years, maybe decades before we reallyknow the virus’s origins and full impact on humanity. This should not stop us however, from gleaning insight and consciously shifting our behavior to curb the immoral overuse of the Earth’s resources. The earth does not need us, but we need her. The March 2020 National GeographicThe End of Trash,makes this point in no uncertain terms. In 2015 alone, we extracted 93 billion tons of raw resources from the earth and reused/recycled a mere 9.3 billion. What happened to the nearly 84 billion tons of resources? Buildings, roadways and longstanding infrastructure account for less than a quarter of that. The large majority of what we take from the earth, becomes trash - entering the oceans, dispersed into the atmosphere and covering the land. Is it possible the Covid 19 tragedy can propel the circular economy movement and the conscience of humanity to emerge from this crisis with increased respect for our home, the earth? Air pollution experts warn of the likelihood of “reverse pollution” once the stimulus package kicks into gear. It is possible the environmental gains will be dwarfed once consumerism and overconsumption gets back on its feet. Can we avoid this if we are willing to learn from the birds around us? This bluejay discovered a juicy prize, a blip of enjoyment on life’s radar but possessed the innate wisdom to take only what she needed. And leave the rest. Her behavior heralds a lesson in moderation.
I stop writing mid-sentence, curious to see who else may have benefited from Sammy’s mis-throw. Pulling a sweatshirt over my pajamas, I enter the freezing morning and search for the bone. I kick at dead leaves and fallen branches. I pace back and forth, scanning, noticing tiny holes burrowed into the earth by rodents and beetles. I can’t find the bone. A robin swoops so close to my head I could hear her wing beat. She settles in the maple tree. The sun crests the hill beyond and catches her beak, turning it to translucent amber. It opens and song sublime fills the blue-skied quiet as I imagine a coyote slinking this close to the house, enjoying a juicy springtime tidbit.