Wild at Home: some observations on the imagination of nature in a time of pandemic

by LUCILLA BARCHETTA

The covidays go by and I can’t stop thinking about the last time I went out for a stroll. It was a Sunday afternoon and although spring had almost arrived, the sky was white-greyish and the air was cold. “The cold will not stick around forever”, I said – eyes closed and head raised to the sky – “It may finally feel like spring”. The silvery sky annoyed me a bit but I soon realised that not every cloud has a silver lining, as the proverb says. That was my last stroll before Italy was put under total lockdown. Now, I would feel worse if I hadn’t gone out for a stroll, a beautiful four-hour stroll, following rivers, somewhere in the outskirts of Torino. 

Not surprisingly, this is so far what many persons miss in this dramatic moment when we are forced to stay inside: just loiter, smell changing weather, notice vegetation changes. When we feel the need to get in contact with nature we mean a set of human ideas about the natural world. Nature is often conceptualised as a place to go, a place to spend a slow time for solace, relaxation, and inspiration. But what kind of nature is this, a place for self-care or is it a refuge for the privileged? 

Over the last weeks, images of wildlife returning to the city – an imaginary which has also inspired eco-horror and cli-fi genre films – have, indeed, gone viral, although the majority of these reports were false or inaccurate. As cities become deserted amid pandemic quarantines, the urban environment appears as a ‘concrete wood’ in which the appearance (real and imaginary) of non-human animals and plants brings joy or perhaps calms our anxiety down in gloomy times. 

(1) TIMO HELGERT, RETURN OF NATURE 2020