In times of heightened stress, nature offers us a balm for our anxiety. Spending time outside is always restorative, but it seems especially critical now. The natural world continues its transition to spring, oblivious to our concerns. Birds will continue to feed and sing, mammals will still forage for food, and reptiles will soon begin emerging from their cold-weather exile. In six short weeks, ruby-throated hummingbirds will return to our sugar-water feeders and grace us with their acrobatics.
Whether you are looking out a window or strolling down a trail, watch the daily machinations of those that fly, scurry, or race through our yards and trees. Notice the new green growth popping out from last year’s leaves. Listen to the gurgle of a rain-fed stream. Take a moment to feel the bark of a sun-warmed tree. If you tap maple trees, enjoy the daily hauling of sap. The steady drip into the buckets continues unabated.
Nature preserves will remain open. If you find yourself on a near-empty trail, appreciate the moment of solitude amid the whirlwind of recent events. You may hear the call of a barred owl or the singing of a tufted titmouse. It’s still too early for frogs, but the earliest garter snakes will emerge soon. Denizens of all habitats, they will sun themselves on south-facing hillsides and rock outcrops. They mean you no harm.
In your backyard, look closely for nesting birds. I noticed a black-capped chickadee eyeing a nest box in Waldo County recently. It was a reassuring sight, the mark of new life. Robins and red-winged blackbirds, both harbingers of spring, are already here. Cardinals and blue jays continue to add color to our feeders and thickets. Trees and bushes will provide nesting habitat in the coming days and months.
If you’re suddenly working from home, or are simply indoors much more, consider keeping a yard list. Jot down the birds you see, as well as what they’re eating and doing. Over time, you’ll get the sense of when they arrive as well as what they eat. You can see birds anywhere, but there is something special about the birds that visit your feeders and live in your backyard.
As the human world contracts and our routines are disrupted, perhaps the best thing we can do for our mental health is to look outside and take in the seasonal changes unfolding around us. Watch the birds, talk a walk, and enjoy the relative isolation of the outdoors.
Be well and be safe.
(Lee Emmons, of Newcastle, is an amateur naturalist and former educator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)