Susan Steen

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall

Watching Wellington waddle and hop along, I find myself smiling as baby Annik looks at him through the glass. The two come from such different parts of the world, and theirs was a meeting neither could have imagined nor expected. 

Wellington was on a field trip of sorts, and his story would have been well told by Dr. Seuss, I think. Wellington, a rockhopper penguin, Annik, a baby beluga whale, and the rest of the wildlife at Shedd Aquarium are missing the visitors but seem to be enjoying their explorations and freedoms. 

I find myself mesmerized and often very relaxed watching the animals hop, waddle, swim and live life on the other side of the screen. I wonder if they have any idea that when Jane Goodall spoke of how we all have an impact on the world around us, penguins, sea lions, and otters would be included.

I’ve loved nature for as long as I can remember. Growing up with woods around me, the sights of nature have been comforting, and the sounds that come from that space continue to calm me. 

I’ve thought about Goodall’s words and how the world around me has actually had an impact on me but hasn’t seemed to need me too much: The sun rises in the morning and sets in the afternoon and has never needed my help to do that. The moon appears at night and has never asked for my assistance. The mountains stand where they are, and even though the fog (or smog) covers them, they haven’t really needed my help to exist. 

But as more homes have been built in the area where I live, I’ve seen changes in the environment that have required some help from me, and I ask myself, what kind of difference do I want to make?

It seems that most everything I think about writing these days somehow comes back to this pesky virus, COVID-19. This week, I’ve been thinking about nature and the way it has been impacted by the presence of the virus, and I’ve found many positives.

  • ïBioluminescent plankton are being seen in the water at the beaches in Acapulco for the first time in 60 years.
  • ïShipwrecks that are normally visible in Michigan once the ice melts have been visible even from an airplane.
  • ïSea turtles have been nesting and hatching throughout the world from Brazil to Florida without the intrusion of humans.
  • ïThe bears in Yosemite have been said to be having a party (according to the rangers) with the absence of people.
  • ïOne of my very favorite discoveries of nature due to the lockdown is that people in India can see the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years. The air quality is remarkably better since factories are closed, and people have awakened, some for the first time in their lives, to see the Himalayas. Can you imagine waking up one day to see they were there all the time?

I’ve been following several sites that have shared nature with the viewers, and since I cannot travel to these places even on a normal day, it’s been a real treat to see what is happening in other parts of the world. 

Have you taken advantage of all of the amazing opportunities to learn and experience nature since your museums and zoos shut down? School might be out, but field trips are still happening. The animals still are doing what they do; the humans who care for them still do their jobs to be sure nature is cared for. Never have we needed to support each other the way we have now.

Supporting the environment might start for many of us on the internet, where we can learn more about why nature needs our help and how we can make a difference in our own neck of the woods. For those with available dollars, donations can be made to support the places that normally depend on visitors’ funding.

These aquariums, zoos, gardens, and science centers can be found on the internet or their Facebook pages:

  • ïThe Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, where Wellington lives, has programs you can check daily. If you want to look for Wellington the penguin, search for #whereswellingtonwednesday.
  • ïThe Cincinnati Zoo has a great selection of learning opportunities.
  • ïThe Atlanta Zoo has a link for learning about conservation and other important nature topics, and it has a Live Panda Cam that you don’t want to miss.
  • ïThe Houston Zoo has all kinds of live cams, and the one that fascinates me the most is the Leafcutter Ant Cam. Who knew?
  • ïOur local Discovery Center at Murfree Spring has a wonderful Discovery at Home option if you visit its website.

It seems that Goodall was right — what we do makes a difference. Nature does need us, and we need nature. It took having everyone around the world stay home to make the point, and it happened in a short period of time. 

The fact that a deer was roaming through a cathedral in Europe while people were away should be a wake-up call for us to consider what we could be doing to help preserve the beauty that has become visible during an otherwise upsetting pandemic.

When I think of how many years we’ve been doing what we do to obscure our view and to drive nature away, and I see how quickly nature is responding to the absence of people, I realize that with a little effort from each of us we can make a big difference to the world around us, the right kind of difference.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

Recommended for you