My go-to default for almost anything, miserable or exciting, is learning. I would have rephrased Descartes or Hamlet or whomever to say, “If I can learn, I am and that is never a question.”

COVID-19 has opened the door to a slew of learning opportunities. Zoom is now a household word that’s fast becoming a verb instead of a company name.

Learning is better than blaming. Full stop.

Don’t blame the guy who’s sick next door or Asians. It’s a shallow catharsis. I’m deeply offended when people in high places call COVID-19, “The China Virus.”

One, it’s inaccurate.

Second, it’s racist. Asian-Americans in Seattle have already reported hearing more racial slurs thrown at them. Despite the challenges the virus brings, it’s our opportunity to see how all the peoples of the world are connected if racism doesn’t pull us apart.

Third, China virus sounds like another way to demonize the virus–the enemy did this to us.

We’re not effective when we demonize what we need to learn about.

Taking the enemy out of the forest

Last week I was engaged in battle with three ferociously invasive plants: Himalayan blackberries, Lamium, and stinging nettles, a thug team that is trying to take over my entire woodlands.

Weeding them out takes so much time that, in recent years, I practically gave up. I started HATING the threesome. Resenting them. Avoiding them. Dreaming of bringing in tanks, bulldozers, and herbicides (just a fantasy). But doing very little.

This year, I’ve tried a different approach: weeding in small increments. As I stopped worrying about the whole forest and concentrated on a small patch, I relaxed and became INTERESTED in my adversaries instead of hating them.

For example, you have to respect the Himalayan blackberry for being tenacious, even in the harshest of droughts. Introduced to our region by the famous horticulturist Luther Burbank (we all make mistakes), the blackberry’s root ball is a work of art. The plant’s sturdy stalks grow into twenty-foot arches, stunning in their way, when I’m able to forget how the plant’s thorns have slashed my arms.

Lamium is a groundcover, in the mint family, that would be happy to colonize our whole woods. One small plant can send out roots, and bingo, the forest floor will be coated in a mat of pretty silver, green, and purple leaves. If Lamium only respected boundaries, it’d be the perfect plant for dry shade.

And stinging nettles. OK, nettles are natives and will be with us long after I’m gone. I respect them for that. The small hairs on the back of their leaves can sting for a day if you have the bad luck to brush up against them. Once they’ve taken over, no more strolling through your woods. Their tough, thick root systems are more intricate than the sewers of Paris. Yet, if you can manage to harvest and steam them, nettles are incredibly nutritious.

When I stop demonizing these plants, I learn about their ways. Plus, I feel more peaceful.

Instead of feeling like a driven, weeding-monster, I nestle into the woods and enjoy the magic of loam, animal tracks, and bird calls. Last week, I discovered patches of native bleeding heart plants–a surprise I would have missed if I hadn’t been crawling on my knees through the woods.

Bottom line: I don’t minimize the risks of COVID-19, a different order of danger from what I face in the woods. Yet, even with the coronavirus, we learn more when we stop demonizing and start, as good scientists do, observing.

Speaking of learning

During this time of shelter-at-home, incredible learning opportunities are spawning every day. From colleges to yoga classes, everyone’s using online group software like Zoom to reach their constituents and beyond. Free seminars and music performances are offered as gifts to the many who are feeling isolated. For learning geeks like me, it’s prime time.

Here’s what I discovered with a minimum of searching:

Join 1.3 million people in learning about happiness. Yale has just made its most popular course ever The Science of Well-Being” class free to the online world. Study the science of happiness and surprise yourself, while watching the amazement on young Yalies (recorded in 2018) as they learn that the big salaries they crave won’t be their ticket to happiness. Dr. Laurie Santos, the course’s lively instructor, looks young enough to be a student herself. As a self-proclaimed data-nerd, she backs her teachings with lots of research.

Tour the Louvre

After the Louvre, check out these other world museums to enjoy.

Learn to cook new dishes, or survive on what’s in your pantry.

Learn something new. I’ve chosen drawing. Time to give up the mantra, “I can’t draw,” and see if I can learn. YouTube has a ton of videos, and Udemy offers these free drawing classes.

Then, there are e-books from the public library, and a host of webinars popping up daily.

No excuse to be bored if you’re a philomath,* (a lover of learning), a polymath,* (someone who loves to learn across disciplines), or an epistophile .* (someone with a reverence for knowledge).

*I just learned these words.

But mostly, enjoy learning because it’s fun and you can make great use of this very odd time.

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