Only a few short weeks ago, none of us could have predicted the impacts to our personal and professional lives that COVID-19 would wreak. During times of crisis or tragedy we are often compelled to gather with one another and find community, but in this time of social distancing and self-isolation even that comfort has been lost, except for maybe our digital connections.
It is in these moments I find myself looking for connection with our natural world. Last week as I scrambled to transition our office to an online environment, I found respite offline in my outdoor environment. As I entered the fields and forests near my home, I was immediately struck by the early signs of spring. The urgent call of the red-wing blackbirds, the steady drip of a maple tap and the lengthening days reminded me of nature’s steady rhythm bringing me solace and peace in a time of upheaval and confusion.
Most of us don’t do well with sudden change. The human psyche is designed to respond to harmful events, perceived attacks, and threats to survival with a fight or flight reaction that can lead to panic and anger. Our nervous systems go into overdrive and we can easily experience unprecedented levels of anxiety.
Over the past few years mounting research has shown that interactions with nature lower blood pressure and decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight or flight response. For those with physical challenges, or confined to the indoors, nature sounds can have the same positive physiological impacts.
In Vermont, we are fortunate as many of us have uncrowded access to a forested path or a country road and with the arrival of spring birds we can also observe the return of song sparrows and eastern phoebes from a window or back yard.
At the Nature Conservancy, as at other organizations, we had to cancel a full slate of outdoor field trips for individuals and families. Nonetheless, our desire to help connect people and nature runs deep, so we are rolling up our sleeves to offer online webinars about wildlife, habitat, birds and trees to bring nature into your living room or simply provide some fun and educational information to guide you on your solo outdoor adventures.
We have long recognized the restorative power of nature, but in times such as these, nature becomes even more essential. Our culture here in New England is deeply rooted in our seasonal cycles where many of us draw our spiritual connection and personal identity. Let us take this opportunity to immerse ourselves in the sounds, smells and sights of our awakening forests and coming spring. Carry this with you as you work for find a new rhythm at home and in your community. Fortunately for us, nature remains uninterrupted.
Heather Furman is executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Vermont.