WILD GEORGIA: Nature can help dispel the gloom of COVID-19

Coming across the stunning white bloom of a bloodroot in the woods in early spring can lift one’s spirit. CHARLES SEABROOK
Coming across the stunning white bloom of a bloodroot in the woods in early spring can lift one’s spirit. CHARLES SEABROOK

Charles Seabrook’s “Wild Georgia” column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

With the stock market plunging, schools and businesses closed and professional sports put on hold, it may be hard to find joy amid the gloom of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet, spring is here. For me, it‘s difficult to be gloomy when wildflowers are blooming, songbirds are singing, butterflies are flitting about and bees are buzzing — as they‘ve done every spring since time immemorial.

My heart gladdens when I come across the stunning white blooms of bloodroot, or hear the jaunty song of a Carolina wren, or watch a bumblebee sip nectar from a Virginia bluebell. They lift my spirit and calm my mind, and I can forget — at least temporarily — the upheaval around me.

Maria must have felt something similar when she sang in the opening scene of “The Sound of Music”: “I go to the hills, when my heart is lonely — I know I will hear, what I’ve heard before, my heart will be blessed with the sound of music, and I’ll sing once more.”

Harvard University researchers say that a simple walk in the woods can help relieve anxiety, depression and stress.

Other research shows that exposure to nature also can contribute to your physical wellbeing by reducing blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension.

I faithfully adhere to health care guidelines put forth to help prevent spread of COVID-19 — frequent hand washing, avoiding crowds and so on. But I will continue to seek solace and hope and joy in the outdoors, such as in our state parks.

As of this writing earlier this week, the Georgia State Parks department said its parks are staying open. "With many Georgians avoiding crowds and canceling travel plans, parks provide nearby places to enjoy nature and solitude," said the department. (Updates: https://gastateparks.org/Alerts)

If all of this changes, however, I may be left to connecting with nature only in my yard and the woods behind my home. But as long as they also have birds, blooms, butterflies and bees, I will be OK.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be new on Monday night. Mercury is very low in the east just before sunrise. Venus is low in the west just after dark and sets about two hours later. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are low in the east about three hours before dawn.