Saturday, June 22 2024 - 12:55 AM
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My Pandemic Renewal

Forced into isolation and self-imposed quarantine, I returned to my childhood home in upstate New York. I’d finally escaped the city! The endless stream of cable television news cycles had warped my mind into a muddled mess of endless worry, so I left it behind. This new adventure presented the opportunity to renew my appreciation for nature. I arrived during autumn, the golden and magenta leaves and fresh country airlifting a tremendous weight off my shoulders. Breathing in the spicy forest scents, a resident black squirrel skittered by, and coyotes howled from nearby fields, communicating to each other under waning moonlight.

Experiencing the seasons in towns and cities is not as magical or as life-changing as enjoying it deep in the country. I snuggled into a cozy forest nook on a high hilltop, a microclimate blessed with cool winds and abundant wildlife, away from the toils and troubles of the world. Ensconced in this leafy world of wonder, I set about collecting fallen sticks and debris, a simple task, yet one I relished. I explored the fields and forest peripheries before coming upon an old campsite. The camp consisted of a freshly fallen towering pine for seating and plentiful firewood. It was now covered in branches and leaves, fallen into disuse after years of festive bonfires. Refurbishing it to its former glory, I realized the forest was a home for all God’s creatures, even humans; we just don’t know it. Not enough of us, at least.

Rekindling the Fire

I assembled the wood into a pyramid shape, lit it, and breathed in the spicy scents of fallen leaves and pine smoke. Campfires enjoyed deep in the leafy forest are a mystical and spiritual experience. I looked high into a lofted canopy of spiraled spruces, spinning around the small clearing of mossy logs and a buried fire pit, consisting of blackened charcoaled remnants hemmed in by a circle of stones collected from a nearby field. The aroma of smoke and leaves stirred my spirit, and I felt a sense of peace the city never brought.

The change in my body and mind came in waves. First, I felt relief from being away from the throngs of crowds in the crowded coastal city I’d been living in the past several years. Then gratitude that I was safe and in a peaceful place of frolicking chipmunks and curious rabbits. Seeing the horror of death and sickness on the news kept me planted where I was. I felt sadness and a desire to help, and I feel writing this essay is a positive step toward that effort.

Being out in the quietude of nature brings about a calming effect, enhanced by the aromas of leaves and plants, their essence creating a natural environment for meditation. Breathing deeply and floating into the recesses of the mind, afloat in nature’s ambrosia, is a pleasant form of release that’s important for any person to indulge in. Life has a way of clogging our minds and pours with superfluous garbage and excess, literally and figuratively. Nature melts this away, and simple daily chores and exercise all kept me focused and grateful through an, at times, brutally cold COVID winter.

Hallelujah Anyway

I heard a woman on the radio call this the ‘winter from hell’ as it relates to COVID. Luckily, nature and isolation kept me grateful, introspective, and safe from the squalor and strife affecting densely populated areas. Tasks such as carrying firewood, lighting the stove, dumping coffee, eggshells, and orange rinds on the compost pile, all connected me with nature. Starting the day with these activities was especially helpful for my state of mind. It cleansed my being, like a rejuvenating Swedish spa, at the beginning of each day. These adroit actions created gratitude for simplicity and the natural world’s purity, its environs offering an endless canvass of diversity and exoticism.

From the constant presence of snakes and frogs to coyotes and black bears—all denizens of the deep forest—I found that nature had been beckoning me to enjoy its attributes, and I happily obliged.

In return, I accessed a playground of biological diversity and limitless sightseeing and recreational opportunities. Nature simplifies yet beautifies and enhances all aspects of life. Psychological studies that continually reveal the beneficial aspects of a simple walk in nature should be no surprise. Daily walks down my country road, during cool mornings, weather wet and grey or brilliantly clear and sunny, was beneficial to my mood in ways that are difficult to describe. At night, a moonlit walk among the waving fields of wheat and crackling leaves of corn entranced me. Sunsets of serrated clouds and orange glow were magic for mind and mood, and atmospheric aspects sorely missed in cities and suburbs. The forest helped me through this pandemic, and for that, I am forever grateful.

If you enjoyed this, you may like, Sleepless Nights | Get Outdoors to Escape the Stress

Brendan Murphy writes from the Atlantic Northeast.
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About Brendan Murphy

Brendan Murphy

writes from the Atlantic Northeast.

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