This quote from a facetious online dating profile made me laugh:
“I like dogs. I like the beach. I don’t like rock climbing or other sports that seem like you do them in Colorado. I hate it when people judge other people about being athletic.” –Jenny Slate, Little Weirds
My close friends have joked about my “indoorsy-ness” and are well aware of my preference for staying within reach of cellular data services at all times. I am not opposed to walking on trails, but I would prefer that the trail parallels a street with a name; the trail receives bonus points if it ends at a cozy yoga studio or a natural food co-op with freshly made bagels and good kombucha on tap. My ideal way of “reconnecting with nature” involves sitting under an umbrella at a picnic table on a beautifully landscaped patio at a vineyard. The vintner is pouring a vertical tasting of pinot noir and teaching me about biodynamic viticulture and the impact of the climate on the grape vines we can see. I close my eyes and imagine that I taste the chalky minerality of the native terroir as he describes it, layered with the warmth of baking spices and graham crackers.
The way that I connect with new places typically involves elements of conversation, cuisine, and cultural retail–all of which are relatively inaccessible at this current moment due to pandemic lockdowns and shelter in place orders. During the past year–my fourth and final year of undergraduate medical training–my husband and I have found ourselves living out of various airbnb homes for clinical rotations and the times between clinical rotations when we have been quarantining in towns of our choosing. Not being able to see and taste these places through the lens of my beloved creature comforts has challenged me to channel my late brother’s bravery and curiosity, to consciously and creatively connect with outdoor offerings of each new place. It turns out that my disdain for the wilderness does not preclude my need for sunshine, moonlight, and natural curios.
The only rubber-soled pair of shoes that I brought on this year-long adventure are of the adidas samba OG variety. I bought this pair as a nod to my brother’s signature style. Mine were a pristine blush pink, in contrast to his well-worn white with navy stripes. As the year has unfolded (and the vineyards have closed for tastings), I have found myself beyond the reach of cellular towers with increasing frequency. Each new trail has brought an experience of the terroir beyond my palate. With each new adventure, my shoes have grown to more realistically resemble my brother’s: suede tinged brown, interior filled with sand, leathery creases accentuated with silty soil.
Expansion of mind is something that I crave, and as the pace of life has allowed it, I have delighted in this expansion by way of the simplest pleasures: observing backyard biodiversity. The exhilaration of spotting a wild orca just beyond our backyard in the Puget Sound surpasses that of any man made marvel in my recent memory. The scientist in me has embraced this new way of framing, reveling in tiny kangaroo rat tracks on desert dunes or eccentric sand dollars on pacific shores. The memoir-lover in me has followed suit, latching onto World of Wonders, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, which pairs poignant life lessons with species of plants and animals from the author’s experiences. With gratitude for a new perspective, I reflect on the adaptability and resilience of our own species. I am writing this down to remind myself to hold onto this increasing connection with our fragile and majestic planet.
Rooting into a place is not a new phenomenon, but like everything else during the age of COVID, it has taken slightly different forms. I am not saying I won’t be the first one to make a reservation when my favorite sushi restaurant reopens for indoor dining. However, this strange period is not unlike every other segment of life: a series of lessons and opportunities to grow. I wonder where the next turn will take us.
What new activities have you added to your routine that you hope to keep alive post-pandemic?
Have you been connecting with the outdoors more lately, too? If you haven’t already downloaded it, check out the Seek app. It’s a free phone app created by iNaturalist that uses your camera to help you identify animal and plant species from an online database. You can choose to log the species you find and earn points. I think I’m a few months late to the game, but I first learned about the app from the “Backyard Biodiversity” episode of VPR’s Outdoor Radio.
Interested in World of Wonders? Listen to this short NPR interview with author Aimee Nezhukamatathil.