“Death”, wrote Saul Bellow in his acclaimed novel Humboldt’s Gift, “is the dark backing a mirror needs if we are to see anything”. 45 years have elapsed since he wrote these words, but they have surely never carried more weight. As we reel, stunned and awestruck, through the COVID-19 pandemic, the menace of death has inspired a profound attentiveness to—and gratitude for—the simplest moments of life. Amid the soaring death tolls, it has felt at times as though nothing—not least the natural world on our doorstep—will ever be taken for granted again.
For those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs and not lose a loved one to COVID-19, the curtailed horizons of lockdown have augmented this new focus. When you are effectively placed under house arrest, excursions outside for exercise can become a glorious assault on the senses. Birdsong, blossom, the erupting green and gold of the seasons have been savoured, seen afresh, and imbued with rich significance. Under lockdown, we may have lived with banned birthday parties, romantic dinners, and shopping sprees, but nature defies quarantine and will not be cancelled.
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