Depending on where you are right now, you might have access to areas where it’s safe to get outside while maintaining six feet of distance from other humans—or you might not. Regardless, we’re all stuck inside more than usual right now, and we are eager for distraction.
These podcasts and recently released books will help make the indoor hours fly by, and they’ll also make you feel a little more connected to nature. Bonus: you’ll be very prepared to spout new bird facts to your friends over Zoom.
The Field Recordings podcast is my favorite pandemic discovery so far, a near daily release of different audio makers’ recordings from somewhere in nature. Each episode is around five minutes long, accompanied by a no-nonsense description of where it was captured and what you will hear. The variety and specificity of these dispatches is delightful—there are appearances from katydids and coyotes, peaceful moments during storms, even an underwater recording from a canal in Ireland. This is a good solution when you’re longing to be somewhere else but have to find joy sitting right where you are.
‘Nature Obscura: A City’s Hidden Natural World,’ by Kelly Brenner
Naturalist and author Kelly Brenner makes even pond scum seem lovely in her exploration of urban nature within and beyond her hometown of Seattle. By interviewing experts and sharing observations from the slimier parts of the city, Brenner makes the case that earthly wonders aren’t limited to designated green spaces at all. Using examples like the tiny Anna’s hummingbird, now found in places where nectar-bearing flowers previously didn’t exist (our backyards!), Brenner’s book is a comforting reminder that nature can be spotted just about anywhere.
‘Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World,’ edited by John Freeman
Tragically, climate change is one thing that’s not on pause right now, and this impressive collection is a small but engaging way to remind yourself of that. Through poetry, fiction, and reporting, writers from around the world tackle the existential quandaries of living on a dramatically changing planet: Margaret Atwood contributes a poem about rain, Japanese author Sayaka Murata creates an unsettling dystopia in which everyone is rated based on how likely they are to reach age 65, and author and hip-hop artist Gael Faye writes about the disappearance of fireflies from his native Burundi. Every piece is short but impactful.
‘Trees in Trouble: Wildfires, Infestations, and Climate Change,’ by Daniel Mathews
Sorry to be a downer again, but it’s not a bad time to pay attention to wildfires, too. Fire season is happening whether or not the worst of COVID-19 is over, and resources will be strained more than usual because of the pandemic. Trees in Trouble dives into the forces that threaten the forests of the West, from invasive species to climate change, with a focus on major fires. It explains how wildfires affect every other aspect of forest health, how human beings are in a constant race to properly manage it, and how climate change is (of course) only making it worse. This is certainly not an uplifting book—but it is full of interesting potential solutions to said threats, and there’s lots of lovely writing about the region’s incredible diversity of trees to help you remember why all this is worth thinking about.
So you want to get into birding, now that birds are the only wildlife you can reliably watch without breaking quarantine rules like a jerk. Join the club! (Really, it’s an easy club to join: Audubon magazine has even endorsed the activity during shutdowns and offered a helpful beginner’s guide.) You can augment your new hobby with Bird Shit, a newish podcast in which cohosts Mo and Sarah banter about bird facts and the art of birding, while interviewing fascinating people from the birding world. Its tone is hyperactive, and it gets pretty far down the rabbit hole—but you’ll be there, too, after whipping out binoculars a few times.