By Maureen Seaberg
In her luminous essay on COVID-19 for the Financial Times in the spring, Arundhati Roy said the pandemic is a portal.
Through history, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew, she wrote. And this one is no different. “It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
I took one of my favorite writer’s words to heart. I started to downsize my life; to simplify. I spent more time meditating and reflecting. And I spent more time in nature — taking my semi-pro photography to the next level. I considered my home a place to shower, sleep and continue my main vocation — writing a book on the senses for a major publisher. Otherwise I was out-of-doors, where it felt safer, with my beloved Nikon Coolpix P1000 charged and hanging from a strap around my neck with a surgical mask. During this time I would see the hobby I started two years prior turn into a trend. Everyone, it seemed, was bird watching. Audubon and the New York Times each wrote stories about the safety and wisdom of the solitary activity during the crisis.
Humanity may have been on its knees, but the animals I have always loved seemed to revel in cleaner land, water and skies in suburban New York City. And so did I. I went native, wearing more outdoorsy clothes and lighter makeup. This simplicity idea was just the tonic for the end of the world as we know it, I thought; a very protective psychological construct. I felt freer — though I was aware I might be deluding myself in some sort of fairy-kissed netherland in my mind while Rome burned around me. I didn’t care if I was.
Then I saw her.
It was not yet dawn, but through the trees, a tiny white duck shimmered on Clove Lake — in a Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park on Staten Island’s north shore. All by herself…