The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, 23 February 1944
As I write this post from the comfort of an apartment which I can leave at any time, I am not for one moment trying to compare my current situation with that of Anne Frank and her family in 1944. But I would draw a parallel with the intense appreciation of nature which can come as a result of confinement. I am very lucky to have a terrace and a garden where I can go to enjoy nature. Anne Frank only had a skylight. But I am moved by how much consolation she took from simply observing the beauty of the natural world through that window. With this in mind, today I take a look at how nature can help us get through difficult days in lockdown.
Not a time for judgement
This week, I confess, I am struggling with lockdown conditions. I hit the wall yesterday and for a moment thought ‘I can’t do this anymore!’ I am trying to juggle home-schooling my eldest son with caring for my youngest, keeping the house clean and tidy (practically impossible) and my doing regular day job. I’m not Anne Frank. This is not Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. I don’t face an existential threat. I’ve no right to complain, and yet here I am, complaining.
There’s a sanctimonious school of Facebook proselytisers who post gems of wisdom such as: ‘all you have to do is sit on the sofa to save lives: stop complaining and get on with it.’ This position, though perhaps well-intentioned, is quite presumptuous. For people who live with an abusive partner, for example, lockdown could constitute a death sentence. People with mental health or addiction issues will suffer inordinately. Instead of passing judgement on those who are suffering under quarantine, we should reach out and try to help whoever we can. This is an unprecedented situation and simply expecting people to ‘knuckle down’ and ‘pull their socks up’ is unrealistic. There is no survival manual for lockdown conditions. But if anyone knew how to see beauty and light at the darkest hour, it was Anne Frank.
The Nature Cure
In the above quote, the 14-year old diarist writes of being ‘moved and entranced’ by nature. In the bustle of our hectic lives prior to lockdown, it was easy to lose sight of the natural world altogether. We lived by the clock, the clock-in system and the Outlook calendar. In comparison now, as I write this post, I notice the cockerel crow outside. This means the sun is rising and soon it will fill the living room with light. I won’t notice the exact hour of the day as it progresses, so much as the position of the sun in the sky. At night, there will be thousands of stars and a handful of planets visible. This deeper appreciation of nature comes naturally to us, as it’s how our ancestors lived up until very recently.
When the weather is fine, I take my children out into the garden. The other day, they were fascinated by a grasshopper on the lawn. We followed its high-jumps here and there, losing sight of it then searching it out amidst its grassy camouflage. I was enchanted by a hoopoe which flew at eye-level in front of my car as I drove home from the supermarket. It would seem that the natural world is revelling from the pause in human interference, as witness the goats who took over a Welsh town at the start of the UK lockdown.
Wherever we live, and whatever our circumstances, we can take consolation from the natural world, if we take the time to appreciate something as simple as the sunlight, wind or rain upon our face. I’ll end today’s post with another quote by Anne Frank from the same diary entry of 23 February 1944:
As long as [nature’s beauty and simplicity] exists, and that should be for ever, I know that there will be solace for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances. I firmly believe that nature can bring comfort to all who suffer.