‘Isolation is a revelation… there’s the time to see in depth what, before, we’ve only caught in passing’

Country Life's mystery columnist Agromones finds the silver lining in self-isolation.

Hunkered down at home in the country, only the two of us, I’ve never seen the spring as I’ve seen it this year. No engagements, no meetings, no agricultural or any other conferences and, much more sadly, no parties: Covid-19 has driven us to isolation and it’s a revelation.

We haven’t moved house, but, for nearly three weeks, we’ve looked out on our very local world wholly differently. Yes, the magnolias have blossomed as they always do at this time of year, but we’ve inspected every stage of their blossoming: the beginnings, as the buds start to break, then the odd individual forward bloom opening to its fullness, then more and more of them until the whole avenue is ablaze with the heavy white flowers.

These magnolias have been a source of joy since we planted them more than 20 years ago, but with all the rushing about of normal life, they’ve been enjoyed as the odd passing snapshot, the moment of admiration. This year, the whole wonderful process has been my daily study.

Forced to look by self-isolation, I’m beginning to see what I’ve been missing—not only with the magnolias, but the flowering cherries, the daffodils, now the hyacinths and soon the tulips. They’ve always been a much-loved and hurriedly tended backdrop to our busy lives; now, they’re front and centre as the rest of the world is increasingly shut out.

Coronavirus has changed our perspective. In depriving us of outside contact, it has opened up the nearer world that we’ve not had the time properly to appreciate. I’m beginning to understand more personally Wordsworth’s poem:

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The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Or, as my father would often quote, W. H. Davies’s simple formulation:

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have not time to stand and stare.

To stand and stare at the muntjac, nosing its way down to the river; the green woodpecker happily digging at the lawn; even the blue tit flying off, gorged to the full, having attacked the new glazing putty in the drawing-room window — we’ve seen it before, but not watched it properly, savouring each moment, almost participating, because, before, there was always something more urgent to do, somewhere else to go, somebody crucial to meet.

Of course, we’re not merely lazing about. There’s the writing and the preparation, the tele-conferences, the telephones and FaceTime, but it’s all scheduled and to the point. Somehow, virtual communication is automatically more succinct. Without the travel and the wasted hours inherent in the hustle and bustle of human contact, there’s the time to see in depth what, before, we’ve only caught in passing.

Aren’t we country people fortunate to have this chance? We wouldn’t have chosen it and, doubtless, corona-virus frightens us as much as it frightens everyone else, but rural lock-down can be rich and rewarding. Being cooped up in an urban flat asks a resilience and discipline — much undervalued virtues nowadays — that the countryside does not demand. We should be grateful for our auspicious state.

However, saying thank you increases our appreciation of the gift. If, as seems likely, we’re in this for the long haul, a bit of old-fashioned wisdom, of counting our blessings, could, for many of us, turn self-isolation into a rewarding experience. In any case, we’re much more likely to get through all this by trying to make it so.