Wild Times

Year 2020: unprecedented. Unpredictable weather continues. Phoenix, our winter home, missed its monsoon rains last summer but got them in fall and winter with cool temperatures. In late January we returned to Idaho for skiing. One small snowstorm and no more all February, often snowiest month. Polar jet stream had tilted north, dumping snow in eastern Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. November-December storms had left two feet of snow for groomed track skiing on Wood River Bike Path but it often was icy or mushy.

We worked on a poster for WILD11—an international meeting on protected areas to be mid-March in Jaipur, India—and on daunting international travel arrangements: fees paid up front required institutional gymnastics for transfers between Idaho and India banks; credit charges continually cancelled and an archaic Indian Visa process based on terrorism/security paranoia.

Then–Coronavirus. WILD11 on hold. On February 10 organizers decided to go ahead. We were asked to fill in for Chinese and other registrants who had to withdraw. On February 29 with poster just printed, David emailed me copy of new materials to review—and saw in his email that WILD11 was cancelled. Had we made it there, I am not sure where we would be as all hotels in India now closed, we’d be quarantined for sure.

We’re back in Phoenix with shelter-in-home rule and daily soaring COVID-19 infection/death statistics. We are not yet experiencing the New York City crisis but know it is coming. I pray daily for the medical people on the front line.

Weather continues unpredictable, many places. In a post this week, WILD Foundation president noted torrential rain in Jaipur, India—usually dry season. In Arizona, still some rain and cooler temperatures. A hike last week to check out post-fire conditions in Superstition Wilderness (just after storm) found high muddy creeks and a crest trail supersaturated with puddles and soggy tread—more like the East. A New Mexico friend reports similar soggy conditions in the pine parks of the Gila Wilderness. Idaho is getting wet soggy snow. A 6.5-scale earthquake March 31 with epicenter at Stanley caused an avalanche blocking Highway 21 between Boise and Stanley. We can’t even imagine the number of avalanches and resulting trail damage in the backcountry.

Shut down of schools and business has offered new quiet. Heavily used trailheads and campgrounds were closed on the Tonto National Forest but the remote ones we used near Lake Roosevelt were not. Small family groups camped along the road. Driving back to Phoenix at rush hour last week (5 p.m. on the dot), highway traffic was light with few uptight speeders.

After initial rush on dry goods and panic shopping, stores have settled; governor requested people shop only once a week. Stores offer safe spacing and hygiene initiatives. Shoppers, some masked, are friendly and keeping their distance. I think most realize we are in this together.

Outside exercise allowed. Out on my bike I saw small family groups walking. Spring flowers, often starting in late February, are all out in April; yards bursting with color: purple sage, red violet bougainvillea, pink and yellow cactus blooms and orange desert poppies. In the desert, yellow brittlebush and blue lupine. Superstitions were a riot of flower fields and green grass (although most probably exotic).

The WILD Foundation post I mentioned earlier said coronavirus is result of broken relationship of humanity to nature. This long read is worth some thought. Although we may think our western culture has more respect for sentient life than a rural Chinese “wet market”—alleged source for the coronavirus—I think western civilization also has been pretty thoughtless stewards of the plant and animal life entrusted to us. Whether you want to call people “created in the image of God” or “apex predator,” most realize our impact on the earth. From an evolutionary view, perhaps our greatly-aged and unhealthy society is due for some pruning.

Where is God in all this? Some Christians have overplayed the End Times card over Y2K and other recent events so I dare not. But the God of the Bible did “exercise judgment on all the gods of Egypt”—the economic superpower of that age. Interesting that COVID-19 is having greatest impact on our economy—the “god” most Americans trust. Our heavily funded medical institutions are overwhelmed; decades of discrediting and underfunding science and federal government have left us ill-prepared to understand/manage this new threat. If there is a God who created the earth and gave it to us, does our “stewardship” please God?

Perhaps God has offered us a “time out.” Maybe it is both a gift and a warning.

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