**This was written before a TN shelter-in-place mandate. Just so ya know...Most things still apply, some of course do not. Writing and reviewing this has already sparked the urge to write about six things I hope change in society post-Covid-19.**
There is absolutely no denying it -- life is different now. It’s different than it was one month ago, and it will be different again one month from now. The Covid-19 virus has seemingly crippled a global population who once thought they were humming along, and an American population who perhaps paused more often to see what our president tweeted that morning rather than embracing fresh air and our good health. “Ughhhh, I cannot believe he would say that...what kind of world do we live in.” Funny what we find important one week and newsworthy the very next.
This time last year we had concerns, but certainly not a global pandemic that would paralyze an entire planet. Before I go into what I am optimistic about, let's be clear -- I am certainly concerned. I am concerned about those who will contract more serious symptoms. I am concerned for our health care workers and the amount of time they will spend in hospitals over the next year, along with the grocery workers, and transportation folk. I am concerned for every single small business who will not have a fraction of their normal customers - and therefore a fraction of their already diminishing revenue from competing with online shopping. I am concerned that whichever decision our current administration makes on how to handle it will be the wrong decision in the eyes of many, throwing us to an even more vicious political squabble amongst ourselves. I’m concerned that although social distancing practices and the subsequent “shelter in place” orders are necessary to flatten the curve, the economic fallout after all of this will be far more. Yes that last one could be a WSJ op-ed in itself, but had to throw it in there - it is a true concern for me.
Daily, I am made aware of these concerns through nearly every means of communication. Inside every 6 foot interaction lives both the fear of contracting the virus and the yearning for physical contact. Despite my best efforts, it is beyond difficult to not talk about the state of affairs, the media, the virus, or some combination of all three.
With all of this said though, I still tend to be quite a bit more optimistic than most. While our current situation is, as we all know, quite unprecedented, I'll share 5 of the things I've noticed about myself and others during the last few weeks, which shines quite a bright light on us as a community of outdoor inspired individuals.
People are flocking outside
We have all seen the memes. I know some are adamant about not going anywhere, but I'm not, and I know I am not alone. I think we should be smarter about where we go and how we do it, but I think with some basic precautions, people can walk around the woods, rivers or neighborhoods with minimal risk to exposure. If you were an outdoors person to begin with, it's up to you to drive and walk further than the fledgeling “only during global pandemic” outdoors person. You know more spots, so go there. If the parking lot is full, go somewhere else - it's really that simple. Don't be a jerk.
I think people are flocking outside for two reasons. One is they feel restricted. Some could argue we have always been restricted - it's just our way of life...work, eat, sleep, repeat. However that restriction is not usually a physical one, and now it is. Restriction makes you crave freedom, being inside makes you crave outside, rain makes you crave sun, the list goes on. The other reason is pretty simple too. People are finally realizing that going outside makes them feel better. It's been widely talked about that Americans could have a Vitamin N (nature - duh) deficiency. Perhaps this will rewire many to the benefits of being outside with some sort of regularity. To sunlight, dirt, plants, bird songs and rustling leaves? If so, we will be better because of it.
With that, as I mentioned before, we have to be cognizant of how and where we recreate currently. Here's one resource from the foremost voice on climbing access and another for things you can do to prepare for your post-Covid adventure.
Access Fund: Covid-19 Resources for Climbers
Guide to Safe Outdoor Activities
You can still run outside during coronavirus pandemic
People are turning to the land
This kind of goes with the last one but it's something I've wondered for a long time. What if every person who had some sort of small farmable land in America had a small vegetable garden. Being outside is innate in us. Agrarian habits are as well. More are figuring this out as they pull weeds, till their small plot of soil, and watch the miracle that is a seedling emerging from a seed. Could there be quantitative benefits derived from everyone having a few tomato, pepper, lettuce, and okra plants they nurtured from seed to fruit? Could there be some psychological benefits from showing kids the miracle of how food is grown, becoming closer to our sustenance and caring for something so essential to life? I ain't no psychologist but I certainly vote yes.
It appears on some level there already is (NPR: Plant a veggie garden). Seeds are running out of stock. Soil and mulch inventories are dwindling and in about 2 months, many folks will be eating their first homegrown tomato. Want to start one too? Many local nurseries and farms have Spring plant sales. The format of those sales is sure to change, but picking plants of the local variety gives you a head start on a fruitful summer. One Chattanooga plant sale link is here Crabtree Plant Sale. If you are going to start a small plot, start small. I've tried to go big on a few seasons and become overwhelmed. Pick 4 veggies you will eat the most and get moving.
If you don't have room for a garden, another option to both help local businesses and eat local food is to sign up for a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture). It's both a great way to minimize contact with others while also supporting your local farms. You minimize normal transportation externalities compared to shopping at the grocery store. You're eating what is in season and you are eating things you normally would not buy. Several farms around us are still doing their CSA -- Signal Mountain Farm is one that comes to mind. If they are out of slots, there are 10+ others around and you could also check out Misfit Market, they bring "rescued" organic produce right to your door.
There are a lot of really amazing people out there
Every day I'm amazed at the lengths people are going through to support local businesses, and the ways small businesses are supporting those combating this virus. I think we forget the good in people during normal times as we’re flooded with so much negativity. Times like this do reaffirm my belief that people are inherently good. These people are the glue that keeps societies together. Local gyms are posting online workouts regularly; small businesses and individuals are pivoting to lend their hands to manufacturing virus materials; stores created online businesses and are offering private shopping experiences. Local restaurants are doing curbside pickup for a normally wine and dine kind of place. The ingenuity and adaptability is glowing among such an entrepreneurial community.
People are very creative
The internet is full of people taking an unusual situation and trying to create something positive. Spend a few minutes online, and you’ll see stories like the guy who ran a marathon on his balcony, or the guy that conquered a mountain in his living room, or the guy who climbed the height of Everest on his staircase. Brands like Peak Design are sponsoring at-home photo contests with awesome prizes. People are putting together quarantine art clubs. while others are putting their craftsmanship to work building furniture and weaving tales of each piece's existence, like Little Soddy Customs.
Some are even using their talents to turn out PPE for the people on the front lines (Atlanta Beats Covid, Outdoor companies making PPE).
The internet can often be a dark place, so it's been refreshing to see all of the cool ways people have been trying to help out or just spread a little joy.
We are making a concerted effort to maintain “authentic” human connection
I've never been one to video chat, but my family and I are video chatting with friends and family nearly every day. Why did it take a pandemic to do so? I'm not sure - but I can get used to it. I know I'm not alone either. The Southeastern Climbers Coalition has been doing virtual happy hours with members speaking about their field of specialty. Eating, family, cooking, non-profits, training at home, are just a few of the topics covered. They're hosting them every week so jump in the next one. I'm hoping that during the next pandemic, we will be able climb virtually. I have a few projects I think I could send in my virtual body.
Another change I've noticed is that people are using social media to be...social. Not sure if you’ve noticed this as well but it feels as though a stigma has been lifted off of everyone’s online personality. It’s as if being at home by yourself is more acceptable since everyone is having to be at home by themselves. They are peeling back the mask of what their online presence “should” look like and showing their normal everyday life - which looks pretty similar to everyone else's normal everyday life. There isn't much FOMO going around, that much I'm sure. I think creativity is bubbling out, real experiences are being televised, and people seem pretty stoked about it.
So overall, while there is certainly a lot to worry about, I’m working on trying to focus on the positives of this experience. I'm hoping that this helps us reevaluate our priorities and revitalizes our communities. Maybe these trying times will leave us a little more connected, a little less Vitamin D deficient, a bit more grounded and perhaps...just perhaps...a bit wiser too.