Unless you have been living in an alternate universe (and if you are, can you let me visit?) you would know that the current global pandemic has pretty much ground human activity to a complete halt all over the world. We are sheltered in place as we weather this beast, staying at home, communicating electronically with video or by phone, leaving the house only for a much-needed walk or to get groceries. We are so careful with human contact, wearing masks and gloves, standing 6 plus feet apart, incessantly hand washing. Our cars have sat in the driveways weeks at a time rarely turning on. It’s safe to say that human activity has been effectively shut down.
What has become evident during this time, however, is as humans have slowed and our footprint on nature has become minimized, the migration and growth patterns of plants, birds, and animals have suddenly flourished. They no longer need to compete with the very powerful daily human impact and they are reclaiming their natural seasonal movements. I marvel at how much human activity has changed how the natural world works which of course has been the decades-old argument on climate change.
If there has been any question that humans have heavily contributed to the changes in nature, the events of recent months are debunking every doubt out there. Before and after satellite images of Wuhan China show clear skies in the weeks following the lockdown for the pandemic. For the first time in decades, people in the city of Jalandhar were marveling at being able to see the majestic Himalayas, whose lovely peaks had been covered by air pollution for the past 30 years. In the city of Mumbai, tens of thousands of flamingos have flown back to a city whose peace is due to a lockdown. The canals of Venice have returned to their clear, blue color with the lack of motor taxis and motorboats clouding up the water. The fragile ecosystem of the lagoon is having a chance to recover, bringing fish and seafood back to the canals. In southern Morocco and in Dubai, the desert sands are reclaiming roads that were cut through its wildness because a lack of cars has left it barren.
In my own garden, flowers and shrubs are flourishing in a way they have not for many years. Huge blooms in riotous colors, countless bees hovering in the lavender, the sunsets brilliant in a sky free from car exhaust. In the back corner of our lot we have pea gravel and river stones where once a wooden play structure stood for our kids, that much loved place removed as the wood rotted and the kids outgrew the need to make forts and sandcastles. And yet after more than a decade in place, flowers are growing through the gravel. I know we believe we live in harmony with nature but if we have learned anything these past months in quarantine, our ways have routinely overpowered the natural rhythms of the world.
Could the answer to climate change really be as simple as making humans slow down? Doing so has given space to a great revival of other species around the globe. Sometimes we have to embrace change in whatever ugly way it can show itself. Certainly, Mother Nature has unleashed this deadly virus that knows no color or gender or age or race. Or political party despite some of the arguments floating around. But this change has also been full of beauty and I am kind of scared and I am kind of in awe. We are witnessing an unprecedented event whose outcome has yet to be discovered or seen.
I think of what our parents and grandparents lived through. 2 World Wars, The Great Depression, the Korean War, the Vietnam War. Other pandemics like Swine Flu and HIV. And yet humans always have rebounded, stronger, better, different and the hope is, wiser, but that is not always a given. It is ever so with evolution.
I love that the flamingos flocked to Mumbai. That is home for them. Maybe we are all headed back to the source to rethink the great human experiment. How will we be different? How will we be the same? We are all suffering from quarantine fatigue. I miss going to a restaurant after a busy work week or meeting a friend for wine or just wandering the library, my happy place surrounded by stacks of books. I am reminded of the classic Eagles song The Last Resort in which musicians Don Henley and Glenn Frey wonder how humans can inevitably destroy the incredible beauty of the earth they claim to be paradise.
I so want to believe dolphins are swimming in the Venice Canals although we are told that it is not a true story. But maybe we all need to indulge in a little fantasy here. Maybe the earth and all who inhabit it can be different. We can live in harmony and take care of each other. John Lennon challenged us to imagine a world full of love, and peace. Maybe now is the perfect time.