Slowing down enabled connection with nature
During the March – May COVID-19 alert levels 4 and 3 lockdowns or rāhui, 40 people from across Aotearoa New Zealand shared reflections of connecting with nature with our social scientist, Alison Greenaway. Most people noted that slowing down renewed their sense of connection with nature, seeing, hearing and feeling nature more intensely both at home and in their local areas. Connecting with nature generated a sense of calm, brought joy and eased numerous anxieties.
"Coming to terms with what is going on in the world has caused me to increase the amount of time that I do spend in nature because I find it's the only way that I can eliminate the stress and think clearly without being too overwhelmed with what's happening in the world"
We explored nature closer to home
For some it was disconcerting not being able to be on the sea, go for overnight tramps, cycle more rugged paths, pat other people’s dogs, recycle, buy seeds, check pest traps, weed or plant in public areas. However, people appreciated discovering new aspects of their homes, properties and local environment. A few people thought they were not allowed to travel more than 2 km from home and one person did not leave their property at all.
Some watched birds and insects up close and online
For most people connecting with nature involved hearing birdsong. People spoke with delight about seeing tūī, goldfinch, pīwakawaka, Canadian geese, yellowhead, blackbirds, chaffinches, ruru, barn owl, gulls, kererū, kākā, and a spoonbill. Some people appreciated small connections e.g. growing micro-greens, seeing changes in light or autumn leaves on the pavement. Others appreciated big walks in their local bush or long days working on their land. A few people shared photos and stories of their nature discoveries via social media. Some appreciated being able to see wildlife via webcams around the world. Others watched nature documentaries, and some families accessed online environmental education resources.
Many became more thankful and compassionate
People expressed gratitude for the connections with nature they made and compassion for those considered less fortunate (e.g. those in apartments, towns or overseas). An increased sense of loss was felt by one person when trees in her local park were cut down during lockdown due to Dutch elm disease. A few people spoke about COVID-19 as the earth crapping back on us after we’ve crapped on it; and rāhui as Papatūānuku having a rest or restoring the mauri of earth.
"I feel like Mother Earth is heaving a big sigh of relief. I feel like the birds are coming back into the city. Particularly the tui. We have got tui now in the district who are not using the local dialect. I reckon they've come over from Rangitoto or Motutapu or one of those bird sanctuaries. Our local tui do all of these beeping noises, repetitive beeping but these birds have got proper songs"
By slowing down during lockdown people connected with nature via a range of pathways up close and at a distance, they connected via many senses individually and in groups, and for a wide range of reasons including fitness, daily routine, family activities, hobbies, growing food, care for the whenua, mindfulness and overall well-being.