Almost two years ago, I landed in Austria. Covid had already started in Asia and European countries just announced that they would shut their borders. The day after I arrived, the Austrian government announced the first lockdown.
There I was, back with my parents in the Austrian countryside. I did not know how long I had to stay, how much uncertainty we would need to face and how this pandemic would impact our lives in the long-run. Last weekend, I walked one of my “lockdown routes” again. It is a very scenic walk around a lake, along a creek and through the forest. In 2020, I went for walks almost every day. This was one of the few things we could do. I started with walking in the garden and then ventured out on 10-13 kilometer walks. Walking allowed me to forget about the news, the travel restrictions, the uncertain future. The walk last weekend took me back to the first lockdown in 2020, when I rediscovered being outdoors and reconnected with nature.
During the lockdowns, I saw daily life during two lenses – one was the one influenced by the media. Every day, we would wake up to the current Covid statistics, the news coverage almost only dealt with the pandemic and everybody was talking about it. It really stressed me out. I also saw that there was a large amount of misinformation out there. For example, multiple newspapers and magazines advertised holidays in Thailand during 2020 and claimed the country was open for tourism – even though it only opened slowly at the end of 2020. No week passed with messages from friends asking me why I did not go back to Thailand, because “it was open”. It was tough, I was stuck, yet, the media made it look as if everything was OK. After some time, I tried to push the media noise away from me. I stopped watching and reading the news and focussed on work.
The second lens through which I saw daily life was my walks. This was the quiet perspective on the pandemic and its lockdowns. Walking the same “lockdown route” last weekend made me feel a bit nostalgic. Spring has just started in Austria – similar to 2020. I remember the first daffodils, snowdrops and crocus slowly starting to bloom. I remember that when I was walking, I heard almost no traffic and I saw so many animals – hares, deer, pheasants were all reclaiming the territory humans had taken away from them.
On one of these walks, I was taking a break in my usual spot near a vineyard just at the edge of the forest. A hare was coming from the vineyard towards me. Usually, they run away as soon as they see humans. But this hare did not stop. I stayed quiet and did not move. It came closer and closer, until it was maybe only 20 centimeters away from me. But it did not notice me and kept looking for food. Only when I moved one of my legs did it look up, probably realized I was a human and ran away.
I think this encounter happened in week six of the first lockdown. The forest was so noisy – but not because of nearby cars, but because of the loud twittering of the birds. Deer families walked on paths – some even made it into our garden. Six weeks of humans slowing down and nature was taking back what we had taken away.
I still have not given up hope that we will learn from all of this. I hope that the lockdowns were a sign. “Hey, it’s not too late,” maybe this is what this sign tries to tell us. I keep hearing people say “Let’s hope we go back to normal again.” But, frankly, I do not want to go back to that “normal”. Something was wrong with our “normal” – the way we consumed goods, how we travelled, how we treated our planet. My lockdown walks have made it very clear to me that things had to change. I hope many of you feel the same.
Have a great week ahead!