We can discover the wonders of nature, rolling in the rushes down by the riverside.
By The Deadhead Cyclist
There is one school of thought about the COVID-19 pandemic which suggests that we are all going to become infected with this virus at one point or another, and it seemed that my time had come. Ironically, it appeared that my buddy, Bill, and I had successfully dodged the Corona Bullet, as we were halfway through the final 800-mile drive back to Colorado, having played 34 games in six baseball tournaments in Arizona and Florida, spanning six weeks. We were about to slide into home plate, head first, with the winning run, our trusty mountain bikes safely secured behind my 4Runner, when my pick for T.W.I.G.D.H., the 11/24/79 show from the Golden Hall Community Concourse in San Diego CA, was preempted with breaking news.
Being the dutiful husbands that we are, and figuring that it would be the least we could do as a gesture of gratitude to our wives for letting us out of the house for most of October and November in the midst of a raging pandemic, we had decided to engage in the ostensibly academic exercise of getting ourselves tested before coming home. My results had already come back negative, but I was about to be rudely awakened from the dream of a joyful reunion with my beloved, as we sped north on Highway 191, just south of Moab, Utah. Bill’s test, we suddenly learned, had come back positive!
After six weeks of mandatory temperature checks, wearing masks to and from fields, fist and elbow bumping, waving at opposing teams across the diamond, setting up socially distanced chairs to avoid the dugouts, taking most meals in and eating out only where there was outdoor seating, and doing our part to jettison the hand sanitizer industry to a level of prosperity previously unimaginable, there I was two feet away from someone ostensibly shedding the virus, with whom I had been living for six weeks, and sharing air for six hours, with another six to go!
In one of the most pathetic examples of the adage, “too little, too late,” we strapped on our masks, as we sat in stunned silence, contemplating our options. Over the course of the next hour or so the path forward became obvious: finish the trip, quarantine myself, get tested the following morning, and hope for a positive – and by “positive” I mean, negative – result.
After sleeping on the couch in my basement home office for four nights, imposing on my wife to deposit food and drink on the floor outside my door, and obsessively checking the website where the test result had been promised, I found myself growing increasingly cranky. Despite my best efforts to maintain a positive attitude, to focus on the “first world” nature of my problem, and to make good use of my time by writing, reading, and getting caught up with friends by phone, I was starting to lose my shit. Even my recollection of a meme that referred to quarantining as the “Drums and Space” part of life (referring to the traditional, experimental segment in the second set of a Dead concert) had lost its luster.
Hundreds of studies have shown that spending time in nature offers protection against a myriad of conditions, ranging from depression, obesity and ADHD to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
But on the afternoon of Day Four, as temperatures rose from the wintry 30s and crossed into the 40s and low 50s, I decided to get out on two wheels. I quickly came out of the Drums and Space portion of my life into a personal Sugar Magnolia, one of the Grateful Dead’s many songs extolling the virtues of a deep connection with nature. Literally within minutes, my mood improved, my mind cleared, and a general sense of well-being surrounded me. Almost miraculously, 25 miles and one hour and thirty-eight minutes later, I was better prepared to resume my quarantine with a positive attitude and renewed sense of optimism.
Despite the politicized divisiveness that has accompanied this historic period, there is one thing we should be able to agree on: Maintaining a healthy body and mind are of paramount importance as we face the emotional and potential physical challenges associated with the pandemic. There is no question that individuals with a strong immune system are better prepared to find themselves in the asymptomatic/mildly symptomatic camp in the event of infection. And the starring role that a healthy frame of mind can play in building our immune systems and overall health is not only unmistakable but scientifically documented. Of course, this applies broadly to all illnesses, not just to COVID-19.
In a culture that notoriously focuses far more on treatment than prevention – and that almost completely ignores natural, as opposed to medical prevention – it comes as no surprise that our approach to the COVID-19 crisis has been fixated on a one-size-fits-all protocol of social distancing, masking and testing, while falling woefully short on building our immune systems, general health and emotional well-being. Realistically, many of us will be infected with the virus regardless of how rigidly we follow the prescribed avoidance techniques, but we can limit the risk of serious illness and long-term consequences through proper action.
Once source of optimism is a film, called The Great Pause, which promotes the value of making some fundamental changes in our lives, starting with our own health. Here is a list of things we can do immediately to be better prepared for a COVID-19 infection that will also be of great benefit in every corner of our lives:
- Exercise at least two hours per week.
- Eat a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Don’t smoke (tobacco).
- Drink alcohol and consume recreational drugs only in moderation (assuming you don’t have a history of substance abuse, in which case, abstinence is advised).
- Consider immune system boosting supplements, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Zinc, Selenium, Raw Honey, Garlic and Probiotics.
- Engage in stress-reducing activities, including meditation, yoga, being outdoors and communing with nature.
With respect to the final bullet point, hundreds of studies have shown that spending time in nature offers protection against a myriad of conditions, ranging from depression, obesity and ADHD to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. It’s well known that the benefits lie in nature’s ability to improve the effectiveness of the body’s immune system, powerful ammo to battle COVID-19.
Whether or not Robert Hunter had this in mind when he penned the phrase, “wonders of nature,” the Grateful Dead’s focus on being connected to nature has proven to be prescient. Just in this week’s featured show we have ubiquitous references to nature in China Cat Sunflower (“midnight sun,” “dream night wind,” “leaf of all colors,” “double-e waterfall,” “violin river”), I Know You Rider (“sun will shine in my back door,” “March winds will blow,” “cool Colorado rain”), Cassidy (“wolf has slept by the silver stream,” “wash the nighttime clean,” “grow the scorched ground green,” “flight of the seabirds”), Passenger (“firefly, can you see me?, shine on, glowing brief and brightly,” “seasons have frozen us into our souls”), and plenty more in Terrapin Station, Playing in the Band, Lost Sailor, and Saint of Circumstance.
And that’s just one concert!
Which brings me back to the final song of the show (not counting the One More Saturday Night encore), Sugar Magnolia, which is nothing less than a hymn to the doctrine that being connected to nature is as fundamental a human need as food, water and shelter. Indeed, we are nature, and to neglect that truth, to live a life separate from the Earth that we are so intrinsically intertwined with, is to swing and miss at the pitch that is being delivered to each and every one of us, with every single breath, as part of our birthright.
The morning after my revelatory ride, I awoke in my quarantined state to an email and a text. The email was the long-awaited result of my COVID-19 test:
SARS-CoV-2 Not Detected
The text was from Bill:
Results are in. I’m negative.
The question of whether Bill’s prior test result was a “false positive,” may forever be filed under “unsolved mysteries,” as there remains much that we still don’t know, and may never know about this confounding virus. What we do know is that there is plenty we can and should do to strengthen ourselves in anticipation of the possibility of an infection. What we also know is that the Grateful Dead urged us to “discover the wonders of nature” more than 50 years ago. Clearly, the time to heed that advice is long past due.
I’ll meet you “in the rushes down by the riverside.”
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