The curious effect of COVID-19

Published on June 3rd, 2020

Points East magazine editor Bob Muggleston finds hope amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the 2015 film “The Martian,” Matt Damon is an astronaut who’s unwittingly left behind on Mars, and realizes that if he’s to be rescued – most likely in four years, when another ship will be close enough to do so – he’s got to survive on a planet that is unsuitable to sustaining human life.

Cut off from earth, and alone, he engineers the heck out of found items and immerses himself in routines meant to both ensure his continued existence and keep him from slowly going insane.

Trapped here in my house with my family – has it really been two months? – I’m definitely sympathizing with Damon’s character. Our isolation is different from his, for sure, because we can communicate with the outside world, but it’s still quite lonely.

There has been some engineering and repurposing, especially in the arena of masks meant to foil an airborne pathogen, and routines have been established in the interest of our collective sanity. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen “The Martian”: Big surprise – Matt Damon’s character is rescued.

So how does our story end? That remains to be seen.

One thing I’ll say about the COVID-19 crisis is that, in a weird way, it has forced a long-overdue reconciliation between us humans and the natural world. I’m not talking about our showdown with the virus itself, which, despite not being especially flashy, has done a remarkable job of grinding the modern world to a halt. What I’m talking about is a reconnection with the natural world right outside our door.

Nearly every day my daughter and I “adventure hike,” staying well off the paths in the forest next to us. My wife has taken up gardening and hiking, and my son and I mountain bike at least four times a week. One of the state parks near us here in Connecticut, Chatfield Hollow, when you drive by it, is full to overflowing.

Jogging, walking, biking, hiking, yard work – these activities seem more popular than ever in these days of COVID-19, and I suspect it has more to do with just the simple desire to get out of the house.

It’s like there was this place outside our windows all along, but the shades were drawn. I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods lately either hiking or biking, and I have to say – it feels different. In a way that’s good.

Perspective, perhaps?

Not too long ago in Scuttlebutt, the popular daily newsletter, editor Craig Leweck posited the concept that sailing might be dying, or, more precisely, “evolving in a manner that could lead to its eventual extinction.”

The piece generated truckloads of letters there and much hand-wringing. Leweck is mostly referring to sailboat racing, which has become prohibitively expensive and increasingly involves professional sailors. But a look out into the local mooring field probably indicates as much. In many places, there are fewer boats.

Why are people leaving? The same old saws: It’s too expensive. There just isn’t time. Or, on the racing front, it’s gotten too competitive.

Here’s why I’m not worried.

If nothing else, COVID-19 has revealed that as human beings we need a connection to the world outside our doors. Sailing – boating, in general – is a 5G conduit, ultra-fast and ultra-clear. And guess what? When you need it to be, it’s one of the earliest forms of social distancing.

Surely the guy hollowing out the log, within earshot of his bickering family, knew this. We need activities that are a pressure valve for the stressors of everyday life, and connect us to the natural world.

We’ve also realized how precious our interpersonal connections are with our friends and co-workers. Yes, we need to get away from them periodically (hollowed-out log), but we also need to connect with them in ways that feel authentic. Again, 5G connectivity. Think of that perfect day last year on the boat with friends or colleagues. Does it get any better?

Sailing – boating, in general – is well positioned once this virus is finally made impotent. With apologies to LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years . . .”

I’m ready to go boating. How about you?

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