Finding Sanctuary in Uncertain Times

Today my husband and I walked in Council Grounds State Park in Merrill. The second our car passed the sign welcoming us to the park, I felt my shoulders loosen up. We weren’t able to stay for long because it is still a bit chilly out, but just being in the park, listening to the birds and the water flowing in the river, was enough to calm me. It was a place of sanctuary. It was so refreshing to take a break from the world, no matter how short.

It is still hard to believe how much life has changed in the last 14 days. Every day at 2:00 pm, I go to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website to get the latest update on the number of cases in Wisconsin. Every day I look to see how much closer to Oneida County the virus is today. I swear I can hear the cannons and the song from The Hunger Games as I check on the status of the arena. When did we enter this dystopian world? Streets in major cities are empty. The stock market has tanked. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. Schools are closed. Bars and restaurants are closed – which, for Wisconsin, is a statement. There is so much uncertainty. How long will the pandemic last? How many people will get sick? What is the aftermath? Are we looking at another Great Depression? Nobody knows.

And yet, in the midst of this chaos, there is a place of sanctuary. Nature. As of today, March 21, 2020, the Wisconsin State Parks are open. They are not staffed. Fees are voluntary and the campgrounds are closed, but you can still take a walk and escape the virus for a while. That is what the woods have always been for me. An escape. A safe place. A place of peace and renewal. I step into the woods and I am stepping into a place where the insanity doesn’t exist. It seems surreal that the same nature that gives me such peace can give me such turmoil. Nature is a funny double-edged sword like that. She has given us strong oak trees, and she has given us the COVID-19 virus. She gives us the gentle deer to admire and the grizzly bear to fear. The babbling brook to soothe our soul and the mighty storm to threaten our life. There is a majestic balance in nature. I think sometimes we forget that.

In our human arrogance, we forget that we are still just another part of nature. We tend to think that we are somehow outside of nature, but we’re not. We’re merely mammals. Mother Nature still has ultimate power over us. For all of our scientific advances, we are still subject to her laws. Viruses evolve. Pandemics happen. This is the way it has always been.

I know there are so many people who doubt the severity of this pandemic. I really hope that the powers that be end up looking like they overreacted. That will mean that these drastic measures have worked. In the meantime, we must trust that the leaders have good reasons for doing what they are doing. Only an absolute fool would utterly destroy a booming economy without a very good reason. Talk about political suicide. The fact that so many areas around the world are taking the same steps tells me this is not an overreaction. The coronavirus is deadly serious, and we all need to treat it as such. We all have to make sacrifices.

Eagle River, a small town of 1,400 people, is being overrun with second-home owners fleeing the cities. In response, Vilas County has issued a statement strongly advising them to stay in the city. If they do come up north, they are required to self-quarantine for 14 days. I understand why Vilas County has taken that position. Our Northwoods hospitals are not equipped to deal with a large influx of cases. Our grocery stores are already short staffed and struggling to keep up with a rapidly deteriorating situation. The last thing we need is thousands of people vying for our limited resources. At the same time, I understand where those homeowners are coming from. Second home or not, it is their home. They do have the right to use it. There are still very few confirmed cases in the northern half of the state. The Northwoods seems safe. Today anyway. All these refugees are seeking sanctuary. Who can blame them for that? There is no good answer to the situation. This is one of those times where a win-win solution simply does not exist. We cannot respect the limits of our small northern towns and give those homeowners and taxpayers the sanctuary they so desperately desire.

We all need sanctuary. Especially now. Even if you can’t go camping or escape to a cabin up north, go to the woods. Spend some time listening to nature. Enjoy the birds calling to each other. Find a river and listen to the water. Or enjoy the silence. Whatever you do, just be still. Leave the worries of the world at the edge of the woods. They will still be there waiting for you when you leave. But while you are there, relax. Let the woods calm you and help you get through another day of this alternate reality we all find ourselves in. Stay strong and stay safe, my friends.

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