How Nature Has Become America's Saving Grace As We Shelter In Place

Cassidy Randall

Anita Sharma’s family didn’t used to spend much time outside. A typical day involved the hustle to get her young children to school, a full day in the office, and making dinner while the kids watched a show. The coronavirus pandemic has changed that routine.

Now, at midday in Sharma’s home in the center of Washington, D.C., her kids put aside the devices they’re using for online learning. Sharma gets up from her laptop where she’s working remotely at her job in international development. They leash the dog, and the family walks a few city blocks to the 1,700-acre Rock Creek Park. They spend anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours counting birds and identifying them, learning about the surrounding trees and exploring the creek that runs through this part of the woods. That’s on top of riding bikes or shooting hoops in the driveway to start the day, and Sharma’s solo walks to escape the chaos of two kids and two parents trapped in the same house while social distancing.

Where nature was once peripheral, it’s now become an integral part of their days and a saving grace in a time of crisis. Far from unique to the Sharmas, this phenomenon is happening across the country, as families grapple with the threat of the coronavirus and adjust to a new normal that includes being cooped up together for days, weeks — perhaps months — at a time. As the pandemic recasts our understanding of daily life, it may also revive our estranged relationship with nature. 

It’s no secret that Americans have become increasingly removed from nature. Adults typically spend an hour or less outside per day — compared to 11 hours per day staring at screens — and that includes the time it takes to walk to the bus on the way to work. Things aren’t looking greener for the next generation: One study suggests that children today spend half as much time outside as their parents did when they were kids. 

But in the thick of precautionary measures around the COVID-19...

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