Mother’s Day weekend brings snow and record low temperatures. The freeze takes the glory out of the magnolia and wisteria, even the hostas — a plant I thought could survive nuclear winter. I notice strange behavior in another scarlet tanager, and after two dead birds are taken to the local nature reserve, the director blames hypothermia.
I know I am fortunate to be on this farm, to be healthy and have room to move around, but the dying flora and fauna, and the horrible human toll of Covid-19, rattles me, and I worry for my children, our country, the world. Usually I find solace in the woods, so I take long walks, forage for morels and ramps, pick watercress by the stream. But this time I hear our planet pleading, far away at first — bird populations plummeting, insects dying, arctic ice melting, the Amazon burning — and then closer to home.
Nature is not just carrying on. Chimney swifts, which roost every summer in our 19th-century chimney, have declined by 72 percent. The emerald ash borer kills hundreds of our ash trees. Our summers are hotter and wetter. The “100-year flood” has come about five times in the last 12 years. Nearby, water is contaminated by fracking. Nary a bat can be seen in the night sky, lost to white-nose syndrome. My maple sugaring friends can’t decide when to tap trees because of climate change.
In my small slice of the world, I see a neon sign, flashing red, and I wonder how long can we go on without seeing, and without listening — to the bats, the bugs, the bees, the birds, the trees, the land?
My hope is that when the pandemic releases its grip, when the world speeds up again and we return to work and school, when there’s less time to watch birds and weed a victory garden, that we remember what Covid-19 has taught us: that our health and our planet’s health have never been more intertwined — and to take care of the planet is to take care of ourselves.
As quarantine lifts and spring turns toward summer, one of our hens finally broods. Fourteen eggs beneath her, she stays on the nest hour after hour, eating and drinking only occasionally, a long 21 days. Each time I visit, she looks more bedraggled, as if she is wasting away. She used to get up when I brought kitchen scraps, but now she won’t leave her clutch even for lettuce. Every day she sits, warming the life beneath her, full of hope.