Normally this time of year I would be at my annual Women’s Writing Retreat, more affectionately known as Dollbabies Week. Like so many other spring activities and conferences, that plan was washed away by the tide of Covid-19. My literary colleagues and I have organized a remote edition instead. It won’t be the same, but I’ve resolved to set aside dedicated writing time this week, and to devote my evenings to a series of virtual activities for the retreat.
At Avila, we have one week of classes and then finals, although it’s unclear just how everything will wrap up schedule-wise. Some students may require extensions due to the extraordinary circumstances they or their families are facing. We are committed to providing them all the support they need to finish successfully.
As of this writing, the numbers in the United Stats are 940,797 confirmed cases, with 54,001 deaths nationwide. The U.S. has only about 4% of the world’s population, but we are suffering one third (32.2%) of the world’s Covid-19 cases, and just over a quarter (26.5%) of the deaths.
This reminds me, eerily, of some statistics I often return to in my introductory environmental science course: The U.S. has only about 4% of the world’s population, but we use approximately 20% of the world’s energy and produce about 35% of the world’s waste. We are also responsible for about one-third (33%) of the atmospheric carbon currently heating up the planet.
Coincidence? Maybe. I don’t believe nature is vindictive or conscientious in her response to our actions. I do believe our actions have consequences, and that it is past time for us to wake up to the suite of unhealthy behaviors our society has encouraged and even glorified.
These have been dark times, but it’s my hope that everyone of us can find a bright spot inside of the struggle. In many places we are rediscovering our sense of community as we support each other through the crisis. The spaces we once shared freely together have increased in value during quarantine. The virus may have contaminated surfaces, but it has cleaned up our air and quieted our streets. Anecdotal reports the world over indicate nature’s positive response to the pause in human noise. In light of this, perhaps we should make every Earth Day a day of complete rest, of remembrance and respect for all the members of our global community that benefit when we remain silent.
I have missed my students and colleagues dearly, and the adjustment to working at home has been tough. (Though I am grateful everyday that I can work.) Still, I’d be lying if I claimed I’d found no benefits from enforced solitude. I’ve connected to new people through online workshops and seminars. I’ve learned a host of new technological skills necessary for the post-Covid19 world. I’ve learned I don’t need the car every day to survive. I’ve become more aware of creatures in my own backyard, as bright birds and small mammals eagerly embrace the lush Midwestern spring.
While my original plans for summer research have been altered and might yet go up in smoke, I have gotten out to the field for some routine work. The native bee communities of Jerry Smith Park are active, queens and a handful of young workers setting up shop for the summer months. I’m very curious to know whether the Covid19 shut down will have any impact on their numbers and diversity.
I’ve started writing fiction again, which seems like some sort of miracle. Inspiration came from an unexpected direction, an online nature writing workshop that I signed up for in the wake of the Covid19 lockdown. As a result of the workshop, I’ve been reflecting on my personal journey from the child who imagined a suburban playground as prairie to the adult trying in some small way to bring real prairie back to life. That thread inspired me to sit down with one of my old stories, shuttered away for a few years because it just wasn’t working. Now the elements are coming together in a much more constructive fashion. And also, it’s just good to be writing again.
That’s my Covid19 status in a nutshell. The good and the bad, always in balance. Many are asking when will we get back to normal. The short answer is: There will not be a ‘normal’ ever again. Nor should there be. The only way out of this is forward, to a new way of thinking, of organizing our lives and activities, of constructing our health system and our economy, and most fundamentally of engaging with the natural world.
The ‘normal’ of our past was not normal. It was a twisted system with perverse incentives, unsustainable in the long run and vulnerable to disasters like this one. What we once had needed to be reformed. Not in dramatic, brutal, revolutionary ways, but with thought, care, patience, and compassion. It’s a tall order, but I’m a person of stubborn faith. I still believe we can come out on the other end of this and succeed in building a better world. I invite you to believe with me, and to work toward making that dream manifest.
Stay safe and healthy. You are needed for everything that is yet to come.