Social Distancing from Nature

If you asked any human three years ago if they thought six feet was a long distance, I’m betting most people would have said no. However, when having to maintain six feet between you and anyone you love, it may as well be an ocean. It’s amazing the longing to be touched. The frustration at not being able to give hugs. To touch a friend while they cry. Simple things we took for granted all of us began to realize how vital they are to us.

I lived in a studio apartment in the downstairs of a house during a year of the pandemic. I shared a porch with the mother-in-law unit next door to me and it’s tenet and her pup. I am so grateful for her willingness to share the porch. We spent many a day sitting in the sun watching the squirrels and hummingbirds. I spent countless days sitting on that porch, looking out across the backyard which was on a very steep incline that flattened out at the very bottom. The yard was home to a pear tree, several evergreens, multiple other trees whose names I don’t remember, bushes, grasses, birds, and squirrels.

I watched the trees go from bare branches, to small buds, to full of leaves. I watched birds flit back and forth with scraps of grasses and twigs to build their nests. I got to know the plants and animals…. from a distance.

One day I decided to leave the porch (which was roughly six feet from the start of the incline) and climb down the incline and settle myself there for the morning.

That’s when I realized that six feet is also a huge distance when it comes to hanging out with other living beings in nature. Sitting with my feet in the dirt, directly under a tree as birds landed above me was a very different experience than watching it from the porch. Feeling the dirt. Noticing how the grass was growing. All of a sudden I was PART of nature. I was immersed in a totally different way than I had been when watching from the porch.

It was as though I had entered into the world all of a sudden, rather than just sitting as an observer from a distance.

I realized we are not meant to social distance from nature either. Sitting in our houses looking out our windows, or even on our wooden or concrete porches six feet away is a distinctly different experience. I wonder what impacts that distance has had on us. Impacts we might not be aware of. Just as social distancing from other people left us feeling isolated and depressed, I wonder, what has this distance from the planet cost us?

Years later I find myself living in Central Washington state on eighteen acres of beautiful land overlooking a lake. I live in the upstairs of a house with a huge deck some twenty feet off the ground. I have spent hours and days sitting on this porch, feeling the wind, watching the birds. Forgetting the lesson I learned while in Portland. Slowly spiraling and feeling the depression lurking in the shadows threatening to overtake me again. Feeling lost, angry, confused.

Today I finally went and sat among the trees. There is a small apple and peach orchard and I went and sat in the long grass under the trees. I took no book. Nothing to write with. Just me. And the two cats who followed me to the orchard.

And I just sat. Sat with my shoes off and felt myself connect with the earth. Felt my body slow down. Felt the peace that washes over me when I finally cross the distance from the house to the ground and actually connect.

And I remembered, while I sat there, that I am PART of this planet. I became aware of the fragility of my skin when one of the cats decided to play with me and her claw tore superficially through the flesh of my hand. I realized with a small jolt how easily she could literally rip me to shreds if she wanted to. And I started to wonder, what is my role in all of this? In this planet? Where do I fit? Where do humans fit?

Earlier today as I sat on the porch before crossing the six feet between me and the world, I heard that same cat meowing urgently. Sometimes she really wants love and attention and will make her needs known. I finally got up and looked over the railing and saw her below, a snake hanging from her mouth.

When I left the porch to fully be outside I found that snake half eaten in the driveway. Sitting there with the cat, my hand newly injured, thinking about that snake, I wondered… where do I fit? I watch the dogs bring back animals they have found. I just watched one of the dogs chase off a deer that ventured past.

I’m not sure how my body fits with this planet… I watch the cats lazily lay in the grass. Sharpen their claws on the trees. Climb the trees and reposition themselves. Jolt upright when a flock of quail noisily erupt nearby.

I know my body likes sitting on the earth. Watching the clouds. Petting the cats. Obseving the insects that land on or crawl across my skin. Feeling the tendrils of grass between my fingers. Picking the ripe raspberries and enjoying their taste with an occassional crunch that I suspect is an insect. Watching the sunset.

I know my body also likes to swim in the lake. And run across the fields, especially if I am being chased by the six month old puppy who is now so big he is faster than I am. I know the wind feels good on my skin.

I wonder what purpose I fill in this interconnected web of life. I suspect answers lie in me lying in the grass, not in my bedroom.

And I remember that for me to be fully me, to connect with the truth of me, requires me to leave the porch and close the distance between myself and our true home — the earth.

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Ruth Gerhard

Ruth Gerhard

Serial Entrepreneur. Master fire builder. Expert axe-wielder. Lover of words, pictures, and great big ideas that require both to be expressed well.