By Frank Davis
Like those of many others, my life and my family’s lives have been dramatically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now cliché to say that we’re living inside the movie “Groundhog Day,” with each day a virtual repeat of the one before. On the worst of days, the repetition of spending each day at home with little novelty and variety can wear on the soul. However, in many ways the pandemic is promoting a new way of being, which includes a greater appreciation for the simple and essential things in life.
In particular, my passion for spending time outdoors, already well established before the pandemic, has been greatly enhanced during these times. With most days spent crammed into a makeshift office at home, the disparity from usual patterns has made the need for time outdoors that much greater. Furthermore, because my wife, Jenny, and I don’t have the benefit of childcare for our three-year-old and five-year-old, it is easy for their outdoor needs to be neglected, furthered by the temptation to stay inside in the summer heat. But, I’m reminded each time that we get outside together of the transforming effect of the outdoors. Anxiety that was present moments before is suddenly hard to detect. Stress in my children’s faces and voices turns to ease, curiosity and presence. Even in our front yard, there is so much that offers delight, whether it be “roly-polys” on the ground, the fence lizard on a tree or the red-tailed hawk flying to its nest just beyond our backyard. There is “wild” nature to be found everywhere, and we are at our best when we bring our attention to it.
Sadly, the luxury (scratch that, the “birthright”) of quickly escaping to the outdoors is not readily available to all. We have the privilege of living in an area with abundant trails, and our family has a place on the Llano River to which we can escape all of the trappings of modern life. To many in our community, such experiences would be quite rare and precious. The necessity of clean water and air, especially for those living in dense urban areas, comes into sharp focus during a pandemic as does the acute realization of how necessary, constant, and calming the influence of nature becomes as our everyday lives change so dramatically.
Thankfully, important work is being done by Hill Country Conservancy and its many partners to ensure such opportunities are available to all. The Violet Crown Trail now links together 13 miles of trails through existing greenbelts and parks, some of which didn’t previously offer public access. Nature is now closer to home for many Austinites, and we regularly receive grateful reports of the impact of these new opportunities. Through land conservation, we are ensuring a future of fresh water and clean air for our community. The work that Hill Country Conservancy is doing is vital to our physical and mental health.
However, we must keep asking, “Is the work we are doing enough?” Perhaps a silver lining of this pandemic is the stark recognition that there is more work to be done to make our world equitable. How do we ensure communities of greatest need have the same access to the healing forces of nature as my family does? How do we safeguard access to fresh, clean air? How do we make sure that the benefits of conservation work reach everyone, regardless of race, income, age, ability, or location?
There are no easy answers, but we must not cease in asking the questions. Through the lens of the pandemic, we now see more clearly, and therefore are more able, to tackle the hard work that is necessary to help our community to become stronger, healthier, and more equitable. We’ve got a long road ahead, but I remain faithful we’re headed in the right direction.