Guest post by Dr. Dodi Arnold; pictures by Clifton T. Arnold, Jr. 

 

I am still in awe at how quickly and profoundly our lives have changed. Last year this time, most of us could not have guessed how sweeping and suddenly our lives would be shifted into continuous uncertainty. Pandemics aren’t new. They’ve happened across time and history. But nothing has spread so quickly, so extensively, and disrupted so many lives simultaneously. 

 

Black people died (and continue to die) from COVID-19 at higher rates. We suffered as we lost loved ones, unable to have funerals and repasses like we are accustomed to. White supremacy, a perpetual sickness, bubbled once again to the top of America’s national consciousness. So much so that people choose to gather and protest during a pandemic rather than sit in fearful, silent acceptance. For all of the sad, wearisome things that happened in 2020, I witnessed a beautiful act of resistance. I saw Black people lean into nature with intentions of healing, rest, and self-sufficiency.  

 

I saw men and women coming together on digital platforms over their love and curiosity for birdwatching and gardening. For me, the urge to garden has always been deep and ever-present- the desire to witness nature and nurture something living and self-sustainability. I spent my early years in rural Southeast Louisiana. My grandfather and family patriarch, Don Christy, Sr., promoted environmental stewardship. We were subsistence hunters and anglers and operated our farm, which provided access to high quality, healthy foods for the Christy family, our neighbors, and friends. This connection to the land and self-determination was critical to my family’s endurance and resilience throughout segregation and the years that followed. It seemed natural that this would inspire and motivate me in 2020. There were times our local grocery stores out of common fruits or vegetables, and there were limits on meat. It was a reminder of how interconnected we are and how agriculture and trucking industries put food on our tables, and that COVID-19 affected everything. A return to gardening seemed like a good way to be prepared for the unexpected, a positive, constructive activity to pause the endless new cycle, and an opportunity to learn and share the skills with others. 

 

 

Caleb, Dodi's son, with Sky, his rabbit-hunting dog

 

The outdoors helped us grow and saved us in other ways. It was an opportunity for my family to lean on each other and introduce my 8-year old son Caleb to the traditions my Grandpa Don handed down. My son’s mental health is better because of the outdoor skills and experiences he’s learned in the last year. There are many challenges with asynchronous virtual learning, but our school districts’ self-paced curriculum allowed us to work ahead sometimes and plan multiday hunting and camping trips. Caleb learned how to use a bow and arrow, improved his marksmanship skills earning him the nickname “Deadeye,” how to track animals through the forest, and kicked off a love for night hiking.

 

I appreciated how Black-led organizations centered healing this year. In November, Outdoor Afro groups across the nation led Healing Hikes. These experiences focused on connection, restoration, and co-existence in nature. I hope that we continue our collective connection and restoration. I hope the pandemic has created space for a collective reprioritization on what is valuable and worth fighting for. That communities value and preserve their outdoors-based traditions. Our future depends on our ability to care for the planet, people, and living purposefully.

 

Caleb during target practice with his bow and arrow
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