When the coronavirus crisis started, Dr. Jeri Fink of suburban New York found herself stranded thousands of miles from home. And while we’ll let her tell you why, she ended up sleeping every night with what she calls “a hairy pillow.” And that got her to thinking about this crisis… and to writing in this Boomer Opinion piece about what it will take to make things better next time.
I love animals. I grew up with cats, dogs, fish, birds, and salamanders. In summer I “camped” with horses. My friends collected Barbie Dolls while I played with plastic horses.
When I decided to become a snowbird, it was hard to leave my two dogs in New York to winter in California. My husband commuted cross country. Who knew I would be stuck in the California shelter-at-home for five months?
Missing my dogs, my husband, and family, I desperately needed a surrogate. That’s when I discovered a hairy pillow that felt like my dog’s. I slept with it every night.
My hairy pillow made me think about wildlife during the pandemic. People were hunkered down, the air was clean, and some human abuses were absent. Suddenly nature had the opportunity to reclaim some territory.
I first noticed it with “Finn”–- a red-breasted house finch that visited me on my balcony. He sang and I “replied.” We did this for weeks until he brought his partner, “Emma-Finch,” who joined the party. I noticed that Emma-Finch was carrying twigs in her beak, so I spread out nest-making materials and bird seed to help her along.
There were other changes. A friend, walking down his suddenly empty southern California street, met a deer. They paused, looked at each other, and continued in opposite directions. I heard about whales swimming in unused shipping lanes, sea lions lounging on marina docks, and penguins waddling through the parking lot of a closed restaurant in South Africa.
It was like living in Dr. Doolittle.
The craziest was herds of sheep flocking into cities. Online jokes ran from “at least people don’t have any trouble getting to sleep” to “herd immunity.”
Stories continued: monkeys crowding the roads around India’s Presidential Palace; cows relaxing on a beach in France; elk wandering across a pristine Colorado golf course.
Wildlife and nature had come out to play.
It made me ask, what have we done to our world? Wild animals were forced to adapt to us, learning our ways to protect themselves or go extinct. Many scientists believe the coronavirus came from bats in a “wet market” in Wuhan, China-– leaping between species that shouldn’t have been next to one another.
Pandemics are predictable when we destroy habitats to build houses and farms, when we randomly kill wildlife, and when we abuse our planet. We squeeze wildlife into tiny spaces. Climate change damaged Earth’s immunity, attacked nature, and made human health more fragile.
One can say we’re Earth’s virus.
Nature quickly figured it out when the crisis took hold and the biggest predator (humans) abandoned the streets. For a moment, critters were free.
Eventually things will return to normal-– crowds, traffic jams, plastics choking the seas and burning fossil fuels that drag us closer to climate catastrophe.
The virus will be tamed, but climate change, hand-in-hand with pandemics, will continue unless everyone-– you, me, our leaders-– let nature breathe freely. We all need a hairy pillow.
It’s time to rethink our world.