Self-Isolation Reading List

Blue Mountain's Editor, Ned Morgan

From Famine to Pandemic: Looking to Nature for Hope and Restoration

My ancestors fled the Great Famine in Ireland and settled in southern Ontario in the early 1840s. They arrived broke and illiterate. Undernourished and overworked, they struggled to scrape a living out of their 100 acres of Upper Canada bush. If they could observe us today, they wouldn’t believe how most of us live. Faced with all our leisure time and universally accessible technology and widespread access to any food under the sun, my hollow-cheeked ancestors would proclaim that in 2020 Canada the majority of us live like so many kings and queens. And they would scoff in disbelief at how how little we appreciate it.

Maybe the current pandemic is auto-adjusting our inability to comprehend how fortunate we are to be alive at this moment in 10,000-plus turbulent years of human civilization. Before the pandemic hit, one of our main public preoccupations was the insurmountable rancour between the political left and right over how to fine-tune our prosperity. For the time being, that’s somewhat on hold. A broader affliction now dwarfs that mutual resentment.

Most of us have watched movies or series with fictionalized circumstances not unlike today’s pandemic. In such productions every action, event or character is tied to a narrative cunningly designed to keep you watching. But when a global pandemic really happens, nothing is dramatic. Our awareness that the worst is actually happening, maybe in our own town, dribbles out slowly—not in anything resembling a narrative arc—until one day we can’t help but realize that everything has changed.

Not every change is bad. Lately I’ve noticed colleagues and fellow citizens striving to be extra-kind in their emails, phone conversations and as they pass (keeping a safe distance) in the street or on the trail.

Maybe we can see this time as a rare opportunity to refine and develop, perhaps with less deafening background noise, the relationships not just with coworkers and strangers but also with those closest and most important to us.

Back to the mid-19th-century pioneers. It is impossible to get inside their heads but we know for certain that their subsistence-agriculture micro-economy required a close, reciprocal relationship with nature. It wasn’t an easy or a fashionable life but it was far more attuned to the natural world than we can understand. Back then, nature was the hottest show in town. It was also one of the only shows, apart from the odd church fête. With no Netflix, they streamed the outdoors. And their data plan was unlimited.

It is likely that the recent coronavirus outbreak is due to transmission from wild animal to human. It follows that human overpopulation and exploitation of nature—our drive to expand commerce at any cost—are probably the root causes of this disease. Since the pandemic is forcing us to slow down, isn’t it a good time to recognize and attempt to curb our destructiveness?

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Here’s a reading list of items that may not directly tie into living through a pandemic but should nonetheless offer some sort of solace or guidance.