Silver Linings

You wouldn't know it from this shot, but my neighborhood sidewalks have been hopping lately. 

Even though Gracie and I have been delaying our daily outings until five thirty or six p.m. in order to avoid the heaviest human traffic, we are still coming face to six feet away face with dozens of people (and dogs) as we tour around. Biking, scootering, pushing strollers, jogging, walking dogs, holding hands - you name it. As a long-time walker, I can say with confidence that the volume of people out and about is many times more than what used to pass for normal. Even on sunny spring days, by early evening these streets used to be close to empty, and I marvel at the energy and enthusiasm, not to mention downright family fun, that I'm seeing every single darn day. 

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Earlier today, I was doing some reading on notable conservationists from the nineteenth century. (I know, that's a jolting segue, but I'll explain more in a day or two.) Here, if you'll indulge me because I promise to connect these dots, I learned that John Muir, famed naturalist, writer, and passionate protector of lands destined to become some of our proudest national parks, started out as a inventor of machines. But then an accident involving projectile bits of something sharp and dangerous nearly put out his eye, and he decided to look for another line of work.

In this funky time of not knowing what would happen next, Muir took to hiking and walked alone from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, thereby fueling the sense of adventure and love of nature that propelled him into his new career as the father of modern environmentalism and proud papa of Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park, among others. Muir founded the Sierra Club to further his ideals and goals, thereby securing a legacy of environmentalism for generations to come. 

Hmm. Interesting. I read on.

Next noted personality on my research list was Frederick Law Olmsted, a Scottish-born Connecticuter with big plans to go to Yale. But just before he shipped off to school, he suffered a bout of sumac poisoning that weakened his eyes and derailed his plans for Yale. Poor Olmsted spent years drifting through a series of apprenticeships, and even tried his hand at farming before settling into journalism. His career took off and, while rubbing shoulders with intellectual giants, Olmsted struck up a friendship with a charismatic landscape architect named Andrew Downing. 

Despite Downing's intent to enter in the design competition for the new proposed park in New York City, he died in a steamboat accident before he could submit his plan. With absolutely zero training or experience in landscape architecture, Olmsted stepped in to further Downing's ideas and ended up winning the hearts of America and the world for not just the majesty of Central Park but a string of other urban parks that graced the United States like a necklace of emerald stones. Olmsted believed that green space should be available to all people at all times, a concept that stands at the heart of a public park, and an idea that may sound obvious to us but was at that time, a revelation. 

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As Gracie and I walked along today, dodging kids on bikes, wagging hellos to other pups, smiling and greeting neighbors that we saw along the way, Muir and Olmsted popped back up in my mind. 

Covid-19 is no one's idea of a good plan. This determined virus is our piece of flying metal, our case of poison sumac, and it has - at least for now - thrown us off the path we planned to follow. And we are allowed to grieve that fact.

But after some time for the licking of our collective psychic wounds, after this disease finishes its rampant run through the world, after we come to terms with the loss of loved ones who have not survived, we may be able to see Covid-19 as something else. 

Maybe, just maybe, this pandemic will be the turning point in our postmodern lives. Though in these early days, it's been looking like nothing short of a tragedy, maybe, just maybe, the coronavirus is leading us in the direction of a better life, a life that at this moment in time of pain and confusion and loss, like John Muir and Frederick Law Olmsted, we can't even begin to imagine. 

And so it may be that heading out for with the family for a socially distant walk around the block on a sunny spring afternoon might just be the sliver lining of this storm and the start of something really good.