Tuesday 28 April 2020

A postcard from home, with love and wonder

"For most of our time on this planet, people usually spent their lives within a few hundred miles of where they were born, doing much the same thing each day with the same people in their band or village, embedded in a culture that changed little from century to century," says psychologist and author Dr Rick Hanson* in a weekly e-missive that landed in my inbox recently.

"These external factors provided a stable sense of home, but they are largely tattered, even shattered, today," he says. Until now.

In other words: it's natural to be home, despite our nomadic roots and our lifestyles of the past generation or so fooling us into thinking otherwise.

Footpath sign of the times
The experiment
I've been thinking a lot about this global social experiment we're all taking part in thanks to COVID-19, wondering how being confined for a while to our homes and our neighbourhoods might change us in the long-term. What will we gain, and lose?

I'm not ignoring the suffering the virus and its accompanying lockdowns, shutdowns and travel bans have brought to many. We might be all in the same boat, but we're not in the same storm, as someone said on social media the other day. For some of us, this might be a relatively peaceful pause in "normal" transmission; for others it's a life-changing hurricane, washing them out to sea and the unknown on a serious scale.

Meanwhile the planet and its non-human inhabitants are getting a much-needed break from the "plague on the Earth" as Sir David Attenborough has called humankind. (His new doco looks great, by the way, about how the world can stop climate breakdown.)

Coronavirus cabin fever
Like a lot of people, I've been on an emotional see-saw for the past six weeks or so, which is one reason this post has been a long time coming. With everything constantly changing, on the inside as well as out there, I haven't quite known what to say.

At first, I overdosed on news, grimly fascinated by the speed with which everything, everywhere, shut down. I got anxious and overwhelmed. Then came a sense of solidarity and connection; we were all in this together, everyone was checking in on each other. Right now I feel a sort of coronavirus calm, as I settle into this new normal.

Toeing the social distancing line
I'm grounded, of course, like everyone, thankful not to have been stranded far from home when countries began to close their borders. And officially unemployed; I sent off my last commissioned travel story a week ago.

Concerned friends have asked if I miss travel, which is understandable. But I don't. Of course I love being away (and wrote about that in my most recent Traveller story Don't dream it's over), but travel has changed so much since I started travel writing 20 years ago and I've been growing increasingly uncomfortable with that.

Also (this might surprise some of you), I really love being home.

I'm aware that I'm undeservedly lucky to live where I do. Here in northern NSW, Australia, peace has settled on this little coastal town like a weighted blanket. Cafes and restaurants are open only for takeaways, events have been cancelled, shops are closed, people are staying home. There's less traffic on the roads. No tourists from out of town. Life is suddenly simpler.

The great slow-down
Unlike some of my colleagues, I don't want to use this precious time for professional development. I'm not planning to learn a new language or plotting where I'll go when borders re-open. As a writer, I'll always find something to do. But I don't want to be busy right now.

I want to slow down. And rest. To write when ideas surface, unforced and unhurried by deadlines, to be word-less sometimes, to make the most of this strange time to look around and experience where we are.

Homemade vegan fudge, mmm
So I'm cooking, mending, singing and decluttering. The things I am learning are practical and homely - how to bake bread, grow vegetables, make stuff with wood, skills that might be useful in coming years. (Global emissions might have dropped lately, but the climate crisis will be waiting for us when this is all over.)

Of course I'm slothing on the couch too and watching more movies than usual (DVDs in this low-tech household).

Worth getting up for
But I'm also waking up early more often to see sunrises, to surf or walk on the beach, to enjoy those perfect autumn mornings when the sea is brushed smooth by offshore winds and you get to see a few dolphins or a nesting osprey before breakfast.

I love that there's time now for reading on rainy afternoons and evening lake swims. Some nights I light candles instead of watching TV and go to bed early (8.30pm last night!), getting back in sync with nature's rhythms.

Seedlings from Forage & Graze
The post-pandemic world 
A few days ago, I had to drive a short way out of town to pick up some seedlings for my infant vegetable patch. It felt liberating to venture outside my home area for the first time in six weeks, to see familiar green hills, farmhouses and winding tree-lined roads with new eyes.

How will it be when we're allowed to travel further afield again, I wondered. What will travel look like in the post-pandemic world? The Guardian's George Monbiot and National Geographic scribe Andrew Evans, two writers I deeply admire, have written about this lately; click on their names to read their brilliant and timely stories.

"We have been living in a bubble... of false comfort and denial," writes Monbiot. "Now the membrane has ruptured, and we find ourselves naked and outraged, as the biology we appeared to have banished storms through our lives."

We're not above the natural laws that govern all life on earth, in other words, no matter how clever we have become at insulating ourselves from them.

We need to tread more lightly
We'll need to travel less I think, and differently, appreciate the world more, be less human-centric. Remember that travel is a privilege, not a right, and comes with responsibilities - to respect and protect the planet we live on and depend on, just as we naturally look after our homes.

"Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew," says another great writer, Arundhati Roy. "This one is no different. It's a portal, a gateway between one world and the next."

I sure hope so. As we hurtle, more slowly for a while, towards a climate tipping point, I hope we grow wings and wisdom in time. Until then please stay safe and healthy and be kind to yourself and others in your orbit. We really are all in this together, now and always.


*A mental health footnote: Dr Rick Hanson has an excellent podcast, Being Well, full of compassion and practical tips for dealing with life's issues; it's my go-to podcast whenever I'm feeling stressed or anxious.


  1. Excellent slice of what makes you the wonderful person i know you are.
    Loved reading your inner thoughts about so many things that you are passionate about Lou. X

  2. Lovely post Louise. I too am enjoying the silence. I live in a normally very noisy part of Sydney; party central at times. I know it will return to “normal” so am relishing this quiet time while I can.

    1. Thanks so much Caroline, yes enjoy the quiet while it lasts...

  3. Thanks Lou. Reading your words was like taking a big deep breath.