Dear Conservancy Members, Friends and Supporters,
I do not remember a time when I have experienced such a wide range of emotions as I have over the last three weeks. My thoughts often swing from optimistic to pessimistic each day, but there is one thing that saves my heart and my faith.
We all have dark thoughts during times of crisis. The demons in our brain go a little bit crazy. We start worrying about big things, like the state of our politics, our economy, and our medical system. Then the thoughts move much closer to home: the places we work for, our own paychecks, our family’s well-being, and our own health and security. Will we survive this crisis?
At work, dark thoughts also swirl. Yesterday, during a conference call with fellow PA Land Trusts, one organization shared that having just moved to working from home they experienced a cyberattack that locked up all their computers and information. Another organization was concerned they wouldn’t have enough money for payroll at the end of the month. Others talked about the drastic plunge in state revenue and our dependency on state grants. The organizational fear on this phone call was palpable – and contagious.
After that call, with my dark thoughts at their peak, I took a sunset walk around my yard, seeking solace and inspiration. A few feet into my walk, I found at my feet a small spring beauty. These delicate flowers emerge from the cold damp earth to signal rebirth. The Virginia bluebells were closing their flowers, awaiting night. An eagle was soaring across the brightly lit dusk sky. I found the dark clouds of swirling fears slowly begin to ebb and be replaced with a calm determination to stay focused on nature. Arriving back home after my walk, I laughed at the squirrels chasing the mourning doves away from my bird feeders. I enjoyed my spouse complaining about the early hatch of stone flies that covered our windows. My heart and faith were restored.
At the Conservancy, our tag line is SAVING NATURE. It has now become abundantly clear how much the opposite is also true. Spending time in, and focused on nature, can save us from anxiety and fear. Even during a stay-at-home order, spending time in nature is encouraged – it is recognized as essential, life-giving, and critical.
However, this new awareness and focus brings some issues to the surface. The crowds at local parks, trails, and nature preserves are overwhelming, demonstrating the shortage of public lands and wild places. The crowds, trash, parking issues, and other misuses of our properties highlight the stewardship burden we carry to care for these places. Balancing humans and ecosystems is always a challenge of ours, but the burden has become heavier during this current crisis.
Last week, the Conservancy reveled in all this new interest in nature and the community’s realization of the importance of our work. But it quickly was clear that even our 7,000 acres of protected land in 46 nature preserves was not enough to handle all of us that are trying to seek refuge in nature.
And so, for the first time in our history, our message is shifting – today, we implore you to explore and celebrate the nature in your own backyard instead of joining the crowds at our preserves. Explore the green spaces immediately around you. Fall in love with the wonderful and minute details of your home ecology. Snap pictures of your own back yard beauty and share them. Your patio can sustain important insects like monarchs and spiders. An entire ecosystem can be hidden in your shrubs and trees. Birds are abundant from the city to the country. Watch them, learn their songs, nurture them. Nature is everywhere, if you take the time to look for her.
As we heard so much over the last few weeks: stay home. We pledge that we will continue to protect and manage the lands that are entrusted to us so that when this is all over – and there will be a time when this is all over – our wild places will still be there, welcoming us back, helping to restore us physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Phil Wenger, President
Photo by Phil Wenger of his corgi, Yogi, among Virginia bluebells
Cover Photo by Kerry Givens of spring beauty