Coping with COVID: a Plant Perspective

After a year of slogging through a pandemic —dealing with heavy emotions about illness and death, being cooped up inside, missing our loved ones, and adapting to major changes in our plans and our daily lives—and after a long winter that’s made it harder to connect, go outside, or vary the sameness of our routines—it’s getting harder to find ways to cope with the situation. March is the one-year anniversary of the period when coronavirus really exploded across the world, a black reminder of how much we’ve lived through.

But March is also the beginning of spring. As thin a ray of hope as it may seem, March 20 is the start of a new and gentler season. This year it’s accompanied by a vaccine and a promise of better things to come. And with spring comes also a physical reminder of vibrant life: plants! This month we’ll see the most intrepid little plantlets start to make an appearance, reminding us that under all this seeming deadness and despair, life persists, waiting to bloom and grow.

Longtime gardeners will know the pleasure of watching a tiny seed unfurl into a tenacious plant. Even if you consider yourself a menace to plants or gardening doesn’t interest you, watching the spring take hold and observing living green things can help take us outside of ourselves, lift our spirits, and remind us that we’re part of a larger living universe.

Take a hike

Itching to go outside after a long hibernation? March may still be chilly, but things are starting to stir. Bundle up, grab some boots, and head out for a hike in the woods or a walk around your neighborhood.

If you can, find a spot that’s easy to return to each week. Can you spot changes in the landscape from week to week—snowmelt, new buds, or signs of birds returning from migration? Do you see any early flowers? Around this time of year you can look out for crocuses, snowdrops, witch hazel, and fuzzy pussy willows here in New England.

Getting outside and walking around can blow away some of our cobwebs, and observing even the tiniest movements of nature reminds us that the world is constantly in flux. Right now our situation is changing so slowly it may feel like there’ s no movement at all, and it can be hard to remain patient as we wait through a difficult period. But at this time of year we can quite literally watch the seasons change before our eyes, a reminder that the things are in constant motion, and the challenges we’re facing in this moment won’t last forever.

Make your garden grow

If you have an outdoor space, now is a good time to start planning a garden! March isn’t too early to plot out ideas for garden beds and order seeds, and you can even start certain vegetable seeds indoors. If you don’t have room for a garden, think about welcoming some houseplants into your home! Green-thumbed friends may be willing to share cuttings and advice. If you already have houseplants and they need repotting, it’s a good time of year for that, too.

Surrounding ourselves with living things can have a surprising effect on our mood. Not only is it cheering to see lush green plants around us, it also gives us an object to care for. We’re forced to get outside of our own heads and provide for another living being, and when it thrives we’re rewarded, knowing that we had a hand in its growth.

Nature’s classroom

Even if plants don’t personally interest you much, take a moment to consider how they can reflect our own experience back to us. As Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird, “The garden is one of the…great metaphors for humanity….you pour yourself into it, care so much, and see up close so much birth and growth and beauty and danger and triumph—and then everything dies anyway, right? But you just keep doing it.”

If you’re willing to get a little abstract here, observing nature provides endless food for reflection. Consider: The trees have been dormant through the winter, storing nutrients underground, waiting patiently for conditions to be ripe to start growing new leaves again. The coronavirus has been a long period of dormancy for so many of us. What have you been storing up during this time that you’re ready to start drawing on when conditions are ripe? Or another example: Plant life is fertilized by nutrients from other organic matter as it breaks down and decays. What things in your life used to serve you before this period of time, but are now decaying? How is the breakdown of those things providing fertile ground for new opportunities in your life to grow?

Ready to get out into nature (or bring nature inside to you)? Here are some staff recommendations:

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