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Column: The coronavirus quarantine pandemic blues

“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,” – John Lennon

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MARQUETTE — Dragging around the house, bogged down with them coronavirus quarantine pandemic blues, I knew I had to break out — or at least try.

I’ve been on a surreal rollercoaster ride of curvy ups and downs lately, with my emotions and thoughts careening between the rails.

Every day feels like Montuewedunday – again.

Stuck in my seat with the metal bar locked, I know it’s too late to do anything but go along for the ride. The experience has been strange.

Minutes smear into hours, hours move like a rock. Sometimes, I think I can hear my blood cells moving. Meanwhile, days disappear like mist.

Riding this alpine bobsled, corkscrew freak ride, I surge with adrenaline at times, hearing those thrill-seeker screams in my ears, then the bile of nausea claws at the walls of my stomach, while in between, odd silent moments emerge spent dreamily watching the scenery pass by.

Then, after a few brief hours of deep sleep, I nod to the man at the controls and we take another ride all over again.

In these phantasmagoric days, the best medicine for me has proven to be getting outside every day, even for just a few minutes.

If I don’t remind myself often that there is a whole world of wonder out there, beyond the latest breaking pandemic news, I frequently somehow forget. I get pulled back down into the backwater subtext of my most dreary internal monologues.

Nature’s clock is ticking with a whole other set of gears, with a movement that doesn’t necessarily know or care what we’re thinking, worrying about or doing – and for me, that’s a very reassuring thing.

It means that I can step even a single step outside my back door and see, hear, smell, taste or feel part of nature’s spectacular pageantry passing by.

Not long ago, down at the marsh not far from here, I got to watch a beaver sitting and eating on a beaver-sized island of reeds. I found a goose nest in my binoculars that blended in so well with the dead cattail reeds that I must have overlooked it a dozen times before.

I felt the chilled nighttime air and the warmth of the springtime sunshine on my face.

A few nights ago, I got to watch dozens of steelhead throwing themselves forward into the tannic face of an imposing waterfall. Little fish, big fish, they all tried to make the leap, no matter how tough.

They were traveling upstream from Lake Superior to spawn where they had been hatched out of eggs at the graveled bottom of the river years before.

The water was raging after significant rain the night before that swelled the river far beyond its banks, even for springtime. These fish were trying desperately to race upstream.

I’m not sure any of the steelhead made it up and over the falls that night. The water was so high and fast. It was an amazing sight to see.

I admired the strength of the fish, their determination and allegiance to the intrinsic code nature had set and locked inside them now firing – detonating like a time bomb, after years of waiting – at this precise moment.

Some of the fish were posed sideways and motionless while in mid-air, others hit the waterfall halfway up and slapped their tails trying to swim vertically up and over the wall of water. Some leaped from too far away and landed in the white, bubbly suds at the base of the waterfall.

Others had timed their jumps better, landing near the top of the shortest side of the rushing cascade. Still, they were overwhelmed by the power of the current and slipped back down to try again and again.

In another scene, at a place nearby, a woodland had been inundated with winter’s melted snow. Here, a regal pair of wood ducks moved secretively between the tree trunks that stood close to each other, soaking their roots.

The next time I’d arrive, a day or two later, with the waters subsided, I’d see these beautiful diminutive birds on the ground walking around within the shadows of the trees.

By the paired way these ducks were acting, I could tell they had likely already found an old woodpecker nest cavity close by and had begun the tasks of laying, hatching and raising their spring brood of soft, fluffy chicks.

When the time is right, the chicks will each take their turn to appear at the darkened opening of the nest cavity, positioned high above the ground. They will then look outside for the very first time and then jump to the water or the ground far below.

Fish jumping up, ducks jumping down, nature all around.

Ruby-crowned kinglets in the trees, pied-billed grebes on the water, bald eagles and turkey vultures tilting on the thermals, keen on viewing the scene below.

Deer tracks, wolf tracks, moose and squirrel too.

So, with that urge to break outside busting up inside of me, I knew I’d be smart to get out the door as soon as I could. But there was work here to do.

As usual, I had a pile of obligations taunting me, telling me I needed to stay behind my computer, beneath my pile of paperwork – back. Just stay back.

As a conscientious person, especially when it comes to work or other serious obligation, I often struggle greatly with putting things aside. It’s not easy for me to do. There’s good and bad with that.

I’m learning that if I always put my work first, I just may end up resentful and irritable, angry at myself for not taking opportunities for respite when they made themselves available.

But there’s that nagging feeling of hesitance and indecision, the grinding of teeth in my brain, that voice in my head saying, “work now, play later.”

Slowly, I’m learning to listen to my heart and soul as well as my head.

My compromise is to take at least short outside vacations every single day. It’s a middle ground I can live with. Surprisingly, as quick as they often are, those short excursions are literally breaths of fresh air.

I work with a better frame of mind afterwards, more efficient and resourceful, with more energy available to me.

Of course, these short trips are no where near as satisfying as those full days of immersion in the wilds, but they do just fine in providing me with a boost of life blood.

I’ve found that as little as five minutes in the backyard can shift my whole perspective, and those shifts can last for a surprisingly long period of time.

So, I broke out.

I took a trip up the road not far from the house. I got closer to a pair of sandhill cranes than I have in many years. The sunlight was dazzling on the waters of the lake. There were boaters and anglers out enjoying the day.

Ring-necked ducks bobbed their heads as they swam around in a pool behind a beaver dam. Mother goose was still on her nest. Green water plants have started to poke up through the water at the marsh and the pussy willows are blooming.

I saw several people out walking. I waved as I drove past.

Like last night, I plan to sit by the campfire in the backyard tonight, listening to the hermit thrushes and the robins herald the arrival of nighttime. I’ll take in the smell of the burning wood and big deep breaths of night air.

That kind of tonic brings me a good night’s sleep.

Then it’s up with the groundhog again tomorrow, whatever day it is.

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John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to pepinj@michigan.gov or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.

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