I feel oddly content being semi-confined to my home by necessity, to do my part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The house is bright with sunlight. Not only am I out of my windowless classroom, I get an extra three days off to spend hours outside in the garden or out on the trails, doing errands when I feel like it. We will be back to working on Thursday, in some form, from home, but I’ll have regained the additional hour of my previous commute, and most likely not feel I need to start an hour and a half early and stay late as I did when classes were in session.
Local confirmed cases of coronavirus remain at three, deaths zero. I have traveled several times to our state’s ground zero to spend time with my boyfriend, yes, and he has visited me. But we had relatively little contact with potentially contaminated areas, I habitually maintain sanitary practices at school; he had been working from home for several months already, his contacts mainly with fellow skiers.
I had plenty of food and other basic supplies before all this started–dried, refrigerated, frozen, and even growing in the garden (kale, onions, chard, herbs). My supply includes several bins of non-perishables from the supply of the recently deceased sister of an acquaintance. She had kept a large emergency supply untouched as she slowly died, apparently of malnutrition.
I just bought early salad seedlings and planted my own flats of seeds. Already I see tiny leaves and stems rising up out of the soil; the rhubarb is unfurling outside and soon there will be asparagus coming up. The currant and haskap bushes are about to flower, and I pulled enough dandelions today to make dandelion root coffee.
Our infrastructure is largely unaffected, with phone and internet communication, online entertainment, information and shopping, power and transportation, other than confined public transport options, as available as ever. It could be months before things return to normal, but I expect to remain healthy, or recover relatively quickly if I do become infected. The return of my daughter from a ski resort in Colorado where she was working presents some risk, but she says a few tests have indicated that the illnesses in her residence seem to be the flu. Our local efforts will continue in any case to protect vulnerable folks from dying earlier that they would otherwise.
One thing that has struck me is that the economic slowdown has brought greenhouse gas emissions way down. Economic recession drives social anxiety and creates human hardship, but is a relief to the biosphere. Maybe this will contribute to a broader conversation about the unsustainability of economic growth, as David Suzuki and others have been warning. I don’t thing that’s an oversimplification, either. Though some argue that there are ways to decouple economic growth and carbon emissions. But even if the economy grows greener, until it becomes more like the economy of natural ecosystems, human society will still be exceeding the biosphere’s constraints. And it makes sense that living systems will sometimes reverse imbalances with large scale adjustments that could include great loss of human life, whether as part of a cycle, or an extinction event or punctuation and dramatic shift in the trajectories of human evolutionary.
This particular pandemic doesn’t seem like that large an event, but it alerts my mind to possible future events, and makes me wonder how all our various global perturbations of Earth’s systems will accumulate and return to bite us. Rather than a Gaia hypothesis or balance of nature-style restoration to equilibrium, with humans ensured a restored Eden-like role, seems more like a combination of this new theory of how life follows the second law of thermodynamics and chaos theory, where slightly different initial conditions and later events can lead to wildly variable results, even if they are deterministic according to the laws of physics.
And so my advice is that, no matter what happens, we be our best selves, and keep on hoping, dreaming, loving, and growing. Life was already short, so let’s try to be at peace with the fact that death is on the way for all of us, one way or another. I expect we will discover, or remember, great powers of resilience and creativity as we deal with the economic fallout of this, and I hope that our social safety net weavers will successfully combat the economic forces that tend to concentrate resources in the hands of the few who are in a position to channel them there during difficult times.