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Nature: A Refuge in a Pandemic Age

Don Levee BikeBy Don Corrigan

On a hike in the age of pandemic this past weekend, an acquaintance noted how the sky has not been this blue since the week after 9/11. There is minimal air traffic, so the skies get a breather from the burning jet fuel, contrails and all the airliners’ heat-trapping gases.

Don’t get me wrong. This column is not about the Green New Deal and its plans for the likes of Southwest or American Airlines. I’m a believer in keeping the skies friendly for air travel, at least until my daughter gets home from Dublin, where she says she is working in a “Shelter-in-Place  Paradise.”

This missive is actually about how we are now taking refuge in nature. We are discovering purple wildflowers, blooming dogwoods and pondering “nothing but blue skies,”  as Willie Nelson sings.

My friends in Webster Groves are doing Blackburn Park, Larson Park and Deer Creek Greenway. My South County  friends are doing Grant’s Trail, which I imagine is very congested now. It scares me on “quiet days” when  hikers, bikers, in-line skaters and baby carriage pushers struggle to get around each other.

I am taking to Laumeier Sculpture Park, Powder Valley Nature Center and Emmenegger Park. They’re close to me and they are  gems. On a recent evening, however, they were too packed for the comfort of six-feet of separation. So, I ventured farther west to Route 66 State Park. The main lot was packed, but there were plenty of nooks and crannies for parking and to begin bipedal adventures.

The deafening chorus of frog trills and peeps heard on a walk at Route 66 are comforting. These creatures don’t give a fig about all our anxieties. Tiny toads and frogs have important business to attend to – thank you, very much.

Michael Dawson, the Saint Louis Zoo’s coordinator of the local chapter of FrogWatch USA, could find a lot of “citizen scientists” ready to help with the mission to save the frogs at Route 66.

Of course, we are venturing to these nature spots to save ourselves. With sports entertainment kaput, gyms closed, schools shut down, the office operated remotely – the coronavirus pandemic has changed our routine. And we are compelled to take some solace in nature, just outside our door.

Nature can play a role in building our resilience in times of trauma. Keith Tidball, author of “Greening in the Red Zone,” expounds about nature’s healing powers after wars, deadly storms, nuke plant disasters and now – pandemic.

Less than an hour in nature can lower stress hormones and address angst and depression. Doctors now issue “nature prescriptions” to heal our hurts.

Despite what you have heard, this pandemic will last far beyond Easter. If we do get back to “normal,” will we go back to spending an average of 11 hours daily in front of a screen? Will  we take the local park for granted? Will we shrug when leaders decide to sell off a wildlife refuge or another piece of nature?

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