Connection in a Time of Distance

This past weekend, I went to walk my familiar two-mile loop around a small lake named Heart in a nearby State Park. As I parked my car in the lot near the trailhead, the joyful noise of red winged black birds claiming territory and calling to potential mates was filling the air even before I turned the car off. I got out and walked right down to the lake on a short, muddy path. The male red wings were all around, trilling their songs and flashing their gilded, bright red shoulders among the leafless brown-gray branches and last year’s tawny cattails at the edge of the water.

I stood there listening to the chorus of birds and looking out over the water. Behind me I could hear a family with small children who were talking, laughing and greeting some friends that were getting out of another car. At first, I felt interrupted by their loud communication, but then as I turned to look, I saw how happy they all were to be together, headed for an adventure. I smiled, glad that these people were taking their children into the woods despite the gray and chilly day. Usually on days like this there weren’t many people there, but on this day the parking lot was full.  

The family and their friends went off in one direction, and I entered the trail from the opposite end. As I walked farther in, away from the talking and the red wings, all was quiet except for the occasional drumming of woodpeckers and the sound of little streams running down the hillside to feed the lake. A little way down the path I paused and looked over the tree-covered hills, breathing into the peace. I could feel myself relaxing into the spaciousness of my surroundings. This was a welcome feeling in this time of worries.

As I continued walking, I thought of the many people in this world who are suffering as the global wave of COVID19 is washing through our lives, disrupting our routines, and causing challenges that threaten a sense of security and even survival for many. We have walked through a doorway that most of us would not have imagined one year ago. I can’t help but think that this situation is rapidly illustrating how truly interconnected all of us in this world are. I also think that perhaps, even in the shadow of so much suffering, we might be able to see some light. There in the fresh air of the woods I was able to temporarily put the burden of worry down. I felt a lifting and then something like joy crept in.

I met three more families with young children on the trail that day. I have been walking this loop for a few years and I rarely see families with children. On this first Saturday after school closings and a growing list of other cancellations to enforce “social distancing” here in Michigan, I had encountered four families on the trail around Heart Lake. No sports, no lessons, no visiting others. No evening events for parents and many are now home for at least the next few weeks, as well. In a time when money might become very scarce for those who are laid off, walking in the woods is free and there is little worry of contracting COVID19 out there among the trees and the birds—so long as you keep your distance from your fellow humans.

Families walking together in the woods on a chilly, cloudy day in the middle of March is a good thing. Being in nature, the part of our world that is more than human, is one possibility that can nourish us as we are all poised now in the space between worlds: the world before this global crisis and the world that will unfold in the coming weeks. We don’t really know what that will look like.

We are all called to be generous in a time of crisis like this. To give what we can to help others. I hope that landlords, businesses, banks and congress members can all feel that call and act on it. Every day there are more beautiful stories that are emerging of people and businesses responding to need and offering what they can. Truly, voluntarily sequestering yourself from others is a profound act of generosity, especially for the young and healthy who face little health risk. It involves a great deal of sacrifice. If we tune ourselves so, we might also feel generosity expressed within each of our own lives not only in response to the circumstance and risk, but also in the experience of spaciousness that could be created by the reduction of the usual tasks and outings that occupy our time.

It is important that we remain mindful of what people are losing within this pause in usual activity: health, loved ones, security, consistent formal education, communal worship, steady income, warm meals, sleep, social and extended family connection, and even the cancellation of much anticipated important events like graduations and weddings. All of us have vulnerabilities of some kind. May each of us find meaningful ways to help and to connect even as we practice this new thing called “social distancing.” May we all be able to find some beauty and solace within our present days despite the challenges and concerns that we face.  

Sitting quietly on a hilltop bench about half way around Heart Lake, I surveyed the immediate area. The leafless forest around me was standing in the liminal time between winter and spring. This is a time when the moss shines and things low to the forest floor are visible before the riot of green things start their party. The view over the hillsides was open all the way to the lake below. The sun was a bright spot burning within a sheet of cloud and its diffuse light reflected in cold vernal pools here and there that would soon be burgeoning with frogs and insects. The shady north end of the wetland border of the lake still had some snow and ice. Only the sound of running water and the amorous red wings at the shore of the lake had openly declared that spring was imminent. Even as I have very real concerns about more difficulties and sorrows ahead, I am looking forward to hearing more bird songs and witnessing the emergence of vibrant growing colors in these woods as life rushes in.

All photographs are my own, taken March 14 and 17, 2020 on the Heart Lake trail in Bald Mountain State Park, Lake Orion, MI. All rights reserved. Please contact me directly for permission to use any part of this post.

Ripe Fruit

  • Even while observing “social distancing” you can take yourself and your family out for a hike. If you live in Michigan here is an online trail map that you can access: Michigan Trail Map

Author: Michelle Berry Lane

For as long as I can remember I have felt deeply connected—physically, emotionally and spiritually—to the natural world around me and I have loved words. My writing emerges out of those two loves. I have a dedicated daily journal practice and I write poetry, some of which has been published recently by “The Ibis Head Review” (Vol 3:2), “The Wayfarer” (Vol 6:2) and in Ireland in “Woodland: The Magazine of the Native Woodland Trust” (Fall 2016 & Spring 2017). In my professional life I have been an elementary science and nature studies educator for over 25 years. I have an MEd in Curriculum and Instruction and I have also taught Environmental Education to pre-service education students and graduate students who are already working in the classroom. Connecting people with the earth and illuminating the interconnection of all life has been at the core my teaching. For the past four years I have participated in the Contemplative Leadership program at the Cardoner Institute (https://www.cardonerinstitute.com/) in Lake Orion, MI. I have also been recently engaged with the planning and facilitation of adult religious education at my Episcopal Church and through this program I have done presentations about “Celtic Spirituality and the Sacred Feminine” and “Journaling as a Spiritual Practice”. I have found this work to be very rewarding. I am a longtime practitioner of Yoga, a camper, and a lover of music and books. I live with my husband, Mike, and we have two adult daughters who are making their own ways in the world.

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