When the World Trade Center towers were struck on Sept. 11, 2001, I was in New York’s Central Park birding with a friend. As the horror of the events became clearer, I found myself returning to the park day after day, along with untold numbers of others. Most were walking slowly, somber and contemplative, greeting one another in a shared kinship of tragedy. I remember being deeply moved by the warmth expressed by people yearning for affirmation of life, finding solace along the quiet footpaths that wound through ponds and woodlands and open fields.
After one of those outings only a few days after the attack, I returned to our high-rise apartment. I looked out the window and spotted a kestrel, then a couple more, flying by as they hawked green darner dragonflies. Those falcons were carrying on an age-old pattern, one they pursue every September as they migrate southward, following the dragonflies’ simultaneous migration. That moment is seared in my memory. The perception of that simple, annual odyssey warmed and uplifted my spirits in an indescribable way. No matter how dark, how horrific the recent events, the rhythm of nature continued. It spoke of life, of unstoppable vitality and beauty.
I think of that time in the midst of this global pandemic. While the character and scale of the circumstances are very different, the need for comfort and solace is the same. Now living in Illinois, I find both in the bugling of sandhill cranes as they return to northern latitudes to breed, in the emergence of the early spring ephemerals, in the songs of chorus frogs on warmer evenings.
Nearly 20 years ago I was surprised by how many New Yorkers were drawn to Central Park. In the current crisis, the news of people flocking to parks and preserves in Illinois and around the country and the world — even, sadly, as more of those open spaces are being shut daily — seems completely logical. Nature offers balm to wounded hearts, peace to troubled thoughts, light and life that outshine the darkness and gloom of the daily news. Just this week, I received a message from a good friend in China including photographs of Japanese waxwings, an elegant bird species. She told me what joy they brought her. Another friend, this one local, sent a photo of a crayfish he had found with scores of tiny offspring on its belly. Many others have shared such natural discoveries.
Now, even more than after 9/11, I realize how essential nature is to mankind. It invites, inspires, nourishes, instructs, soothes, gladdens, fascinates, delights. My hope is that when we emerge from this troubling time, people around the globe will find themselves more keenly aware of how blessed we are by the gifts of the natural world — prairies, wetlands, forests, mountains, deserts, oceans and all their remarkable inhabitants — as well as by wild pockets in cities and towns.
Even more, I hope the recognition of nature’s value leads us to contemplate our individual and collective roles in caring for our planet as it has for us. As the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaches — in a year that feels unsettlingly bleak — committing ourselves to more active Earth stewardship seems a logical, fitting and entirely necessary outcome.
* First published in The Washington Post, April 4, 2020.
About Wendy Paulson
Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in the Barrington 220 school district and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington. Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.
During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, Wendy taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands. She is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.
Wendy and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.
CLICK HERE to explore all of the local bird profiles Wendy has authored in our Birds of Barrington series at 365Barrington.com.[vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”” style=”load-more” items_per_page=”15″ gap=”10″ item=”268053″ btn_color=”default” grid_id=”vc_gid:1545494260417-d5db2e15-4bbf-9″ taxonomies=”1053″][vc_column][/vc_column]