How To Find A 'Wild Home' And Connect With Nature During The Quarantine Naturalist Melanie Choukas-Bradley says there are ways to find comfort in the natural world close to home.
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How To Find A 'Wild Home' And Connect With Nature During The Quarantine

How To Find A 'Wild Home' And Connect With Nature During The Quarantine

How To Find A 'Wild Home' And Connect With Nature During The Quarantine

How To Find A 'Wild Home' And Connect With Nature During The Quarantine

Rock Creek on May 11, 2020. Jacob Fenston/WAMU hide caption

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Jacob Fenston/WAMU

When stay-at-home orders were announced, the first thing Melanie Choukas-Bradley did was order a hammock and some vegetable seeds. Even if her favorite outdoor spots were closed, she would have a place to lie down and contemplate the clouds and birds, and would be able to get her hands dirty, growing her own food.

Next, she started writing a book: "Resilience: Connecting with Nature in a Time of Crisis," and it comes out this week. Choukas-Bradley has authored a number of books about D.C.-area nature, including titles such as "A Year in Rock Creek Park," as well as books about finding solace in the outdoors, like "The Joy of Forest Bathing." Now, during the pandemic, Choukas-Bradley says connecting with nature is more important than ever. But how to do it, when so many outdoor areas are closed?

Often, people think about connecting with nature by leaving the city — fleeing to vast open expanses far from civilization. But Choukas-Bradely has long advocated for finding the wild right outside your door, no matter how urban your environs. "I always encourage people to find what I call a wild home — someplace right nearby where you live that you can go to often and develop a relationship with it," Choukas-Bradley says.

Melanie Choukas-Bradley on Theodore Roosevelt Island. Ana Ka'ahanui/Courtesy of Melanie Choukas-Bradley hide caption

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Ana Ka'ahanui/Courtesy of Melanie Choukas-Bradley

A 'wild home' could be a tree on the street. It could be your yard, if you have one, or your balcony. It could be a nearby park. Choukas-Bradley says she has two wild homes: her backyard and Rock Creek Park.

Connecting with nature, Choukas-Bradley writes, is not about finding the most spectacular mountain top or canyon. Rather, it is about intimacy. "True intimacy springs from familiarity," she writes. "Traveling to faraway places is enlightening — both for enjoyment and personal growth. But, it is what we tune into day to day in our familiar realms that is the most essential aspect of our experience and consciousness."

This chipmunk has found a wild home in Rock Creek Park. Jacob Fenston/WAMU hide caption

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Jacob Fenston/WAMU

Developing a relationship with nature is similar to developing a relationship with another human, according to Choukas-Bradley. When you sustain a friendship over the course of years, you come to know the person in all their moods. "So it is with a beloved place," Choukas-Bradley writes. "Once we get to know a small patch of earth through the days and seasons, our understanding of its moods and rhythms grows. We welcome seasonal change and delight in the ways it transforms our wild homes."

Since the pandemic and shutdowns began, many people have been unknowingly following Choukas-Bradley's advice, seeking out nature close to home. Rock Creek Park is still open, and trails have been packed. Choukas-Bradley admits that can make spending time outside stressful.

"I have found for myself that I have been most comfortable in my own neighborhood or in parts of Rock Creek Park that are are not too busily traveled. I also seek out wide trails so that I can keep up that 6 foot social distancing," she says.

Pinkster flowers in Rock Creek Park on April 29, 2020. Jacob Fenston/WAMU hide caption

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Jacob Fenston/WAMU

Visiting parks earlier in the day, on weekdays, or in less-than-perfect weather can also help in avoiding crowds.

For her book, Choukas-Bradley talked to friends and colleagues around the country and found that many of them were finding joy in the natural world at their doorstep — whether pigeons on the balcony or microorganisms in the compost pile.

"If we are unable to travel even as far as our own workplaces, nature invites us to revel in her constant proximity," writes Choukas-Bradley.

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