The Uncanny Beauty of Nature During the COVID-19 Crisis

Central park

If I remember correctly from my years of English classes, in literature, “pathetic fallacy” is when human feeling are attributed to inanimate objects, aspects of nature, or animals, in order to convey an emotional quality to a scene.

For instance, if I’m telling a story about feeling sad, and I also describe the weeping clouds, the clamoring winds, and the lonely sky, that’s pathetic fallacy.

Perhaps because of my training in literature, these days, I find myself surprised that nature doesn’t reflect my emotional state.

On the one hand, the world is in turmoil, as fear, uncertainty, and devastation rage across the globe.

But as I take my morning walk through Central Park—at a safe distance of six feet and with a mask—I see flowers and birds everywhere. The blossoming trees have never been so thickly petaled.

In episode 62 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, I gave myself a “demerit” for failing to visit the flowering trees in Central Park. Well, this year I’ve made up for every time I’ve missed. I visit the park almost every day.

Despite reports that some people have been ignoring physical-distancing orders, I see people staying very far apart from each other.

Nevertheless, I wonder if the outdoor rules will change. In many places in the world, people are permitted to exercise outside only once a day, for one hour. I keep a careful eye on what we’re permitted to do here in New York City, and so far, my walks are allowed.

I’ve never been so filled with gratitude for this beautiful park—for the far-sighted city planners who created it, for the support of the city and the Central Park Conservancy that keep it so beautiful, and I feel so fortunate that it’s within walking distance from my apartment. I know that’s not true for many New Yorkers. And it’s so big that it’s easy to stay safely far from other people.

It’s a beautiful place to visit, but the beauty feels uncanny: the natural world is so lovely, while the human world holds so much fear and sorrow. It’s a fallacy of pathetic fallacy.


Right now, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and it will continue and change for a long time. While everyone across the globe is affected, it’s hitting people differently in different places. Countries are experiencing it at different times, and within the United States, states are being hit at different times. The crisis affects individuals very differently, too; people’s fears and challenges vary dramatically. Wherever we are, we’re all so grateful for the healthcare workers and all the essential workers who are doing such important work, so courageously, during this time.

I’m writing from my own experience, at this moment, in New York Cit



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