The Virus

by Mar 8, 2020

We’re getting ready to head into the deep wilderness of southeastern Arizona – a week at the American Museum of Natural History reasarch station. A week of teaching with “Orion in the Wilderness” – Orion Magazine, that is. Gary is on for working with a group of writers interested in translating their scientific knowledge into narrative nonfiction.

We’ve spent the last two days exploring the Organ Mountains just outside Las Cruces, NM. The picture can’t do justice, because that’s how majesty works. Truly astounding. Impossible to capture. Still there have been headlines and word from family and friends on circumstances in our country and world. Even politics pale in the face of corona virus.

Here are a few notes we’ve made at the feet of these rugged beauties.

Las Cruces Albertsons – Quote from the checker, her black hair pulled back in a loose pony tail, her eyes bright, her vest bright red: “Wash your hands with soap and don’t touch your face. Take good care of the elders and young children. We can do this.” We immediately appreciated both her authority and her credibility. Think of how many people she interacts with in a day. We join her. Take care of yourselves and each other. If you’re able, stock your home with two weeks of water and food so that if you feel symptoms, you can stay away. This is an act of interdependence, and act of kinship in support of everyone – especially elderly, young children and people with other illnesses. We can do this.

Over recent weeks, we’ve been talking about some of the newest evolutionary science. One thing we ran across today was the parallel between evolutionary processes and human immune responses. This is what happens in a body that comes in contact with the corona virus. First illness sets in. The symptoms we’ve heard about; fever, achiness, shortness of breath, a dry cough. All are signals to stay away from other people for a while. At the very same time, they’re also signaling the immune system to begin searching out the best response to the problem.

Think of it. For as long as there have been humans, and really for far longer than that, this system has been perfecting itself. With efficiency natural to your physiological organization today, antibodies will know to come online for taking on and suppressing the virus should you get it. Your resilience arises from that system’s efficiency and resourcefulness, just like a pine tree will create and exude sap to spit out intruding beetles. But it all takes time – with corona virus, about 14 days.

Here’s the other parallel we’ve been seeing. There have surely been unfortunate barriers to our best responses as human communities, but for the most part local, national and global communities are responding much like the immune system. It’s taking a while – longer with the aforementioned barriers – but we’re getting there. Across the planet, we’re taking action. Many responses look quite drastic, like all the school closures in Washington State and the quarantine of 1/3 of Italy. Others are less obvious, like the action taking place in laboratories all around the world.

It’s on us to support thoughtful, measured and kind action. To pay attention locally – super locally – right here in our individual bodies and families. Susanna, a friend of ours who lives in Colorado, put it this way. Acting straight out of our interdependence to take care of each other just makes more sense, she said. “It’s a responsibility way beyond selfish, paranoid panic.”

“We can do this.”