In Your Words: How Small Forest Landowners are Responding to COVID-19 Outbreak

Earlier this month, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office Manager Tami Miketa penned a note to readers with tips on how to take care of their mental health and get through the COVID-19 outbreak and its subsequent fallout. In her column, she asked landowners how they are staying safe and staying sane during the pandemic. The following is a selection of their responses.

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Thanks for many good suggestions during this trying time.

My means of coping is to apply for the Forestry program in order to assure I am doing my utmost to improve the land I live on. I am applying for the deferred forestry program, as well as building a garden, which will operate as a community-supported agriculture project to include neighbors in the efforts and harvest. Community-building seems to be the appropriate response and brings much needed solace to know we are doing our best. We are strictly quarantined as I have an extremely vulnerable partner to this disease. We count our (many) blessings every day and try to do our part to build community and take care of each other.

Blessings to all … this too shall pass.

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Thank you for your suggestion for maintaining the health and wellness of ourselves, our families, and our communities. They are wise and much appreciated, but I would suggest that you missed one very obvious suggestion – get out and enjoy your forest! You can maintain social distancing, get some fresh air and exercise, enjoy the various signs of spring out in the woods – birds, plants, and wildlife – and maybe even lay out your plans for managing your tree farm!

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I appreciated your newsletter sentiments at this difficult time. You included many helpful suggestions to live each day focused on what’s truly important.

I always turn to gardening to ground myself in times of stress & when my mind is whirling with “what ifs” or “I should haves.”

Some of the wonders I witnessed this week while gardening: a hummingbird collecting dried seed fluff from my clematis for a nest, and a cascade frog, fat with eggs, I think, sunning itself on a slate flagstone.

Witnessing but a moment in the life of just two of the many creatures with which I share my garden made me feel more connected to the planet.  I also experienced a surge of joyful gratitude.

I really enjoy the DNR monthly e-newsletter — I always learn something about the natural world. It was a treat to see a slight departure in content. You hit the nail on the head and your sentiments resonated with me, and I’m sure with many other readers. Stay well in mind and body.

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WOW! Thank you for such level-headed, calm advice. I posted immediately to my Facebook friends, many of whom are in recovery programs and several of whom have expressed how stressed they are by the current situation during zoom meetings we have set up during this period. How wonderful it was of you to “step away” and focus on the important things at this time.

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In the grand scheme of things, this is the most important message you have ever written in the newsletter. Forestry will be front and center again someday, and the SFL community will go back to politicking for priorities, but people’s well-being and the kindness and serving others is more important that a few trees and some fish (forests and oceans too). I am impressed with your departure from the norm to offer some hope in this crazy time. Good for you.

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First, I would like to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and compassion with everyone. I think there are many things for people to learn and adjust to throughout this process and the current events. 

I think and have shared with my wife that one of the greatest things to be gained from the stay-at-home opportunity is the reconnection with relationships. 

Most of us are a part of two family careers and generally pass through the home and are focused on the things going on at our jobs. Many people have a relationship but are not in a relationship. It can only be good to get reacquainted with those closest to us. I believe it will make all of us stronger. 

Additionally, we will all realize what we really need to survive comfortably and what we can live without.  I believe that will also make us all stronger. 

Finally, developing a sense of community will most likely be a part of the final picture of this time. People helping people and, also, people feeling comfortable asking others for help when they need it. Asking for help is sometimes viewed as a weakness instead of a strength. 

Even with all the negative side of this virus, I generally search and acknowledge the positive parts and look forward to those things as we all process our fears, stresses and concerns over the weeks and months ahead.

Thanks again, and stay safe and healthy.

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Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office

Tami Miketa
Tami Miketa, manager, Small Forest Landowner Office

In this message, I am stepping away from my traditional forestry-related topics to speak about the critical issue we are all facing at this difficult time.

We are in the midst of some very uncertain and unprecedented times, and our level of anxiety is extremely high. The outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and can cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. Below are some tips and thoughts I have come across that have inspired me and I want to share with you.

First of all, we all need to focus on the good you’re doing for others. Always remember, by staying at home, you are doing your part in protecting the vulnerable people in your neighborhood and community who are at risk for the severe form of COVID-19. Indeed, knowing others will benefit from your decisions and health authorities are genuinely grateful for your efforts can make stressful situations easier to bear.

Don’t get stressed about being stressed. The more you resist stress, the worse it gets. Instead, interpret the extra adrenaline as having a high energy level or an energy burst. Perhaps you can use the energy and take a run, take a walk through your woods, or just feel it flow through your veins.

Keep things in perspective. Sure, there are big things going on now. However, our brains can make relatively small things look really big, too. Remember that your financial portfolio is not your life portfolio. Your ability to think, talk, walk, see, hear, and love are way more important than the current value of a financial investment. Our brains are unable to process many things at one time, so our full attention becomes focused on one problem. Gratitude is not a corny practice; it is bringing ourselves back to reality when we’ve lost perspective. Multiple times a day, list your blessings ― shelter, food, health (focusing on what is working, not just what isn’t working) and, most of all, the people in your life.

Reconnect with family and friends. In these times of social distancing, use and appreciate the time to read, write, get home tasks done, watch movies, play board games with the family, and connect. Remember the people far away who could use some interaction. FaceTime your family, call your aunt, or Skype your old college buddy. Make sure they are doing well, and if they’re not, lend an ear and your warmth.

Take care of yourself. Eat nutritiously, with plenty of veggies and some fruit, and get enough sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, don’t try too hard. Obsessing about how vital it is to get to sleep won’t get you back to sleep. Think of it as a perfect time to meditate. Going over thoughts again and again? Try writing them down.

Practice good mental health. It is important during any stressful event to check in with yourself and your own mental health. You cannot help take care of others until you have taken care of yourself.

Remember that the situation is evolving. Some decisions are easy: If you’re sick, stay away from others. If you have plans that are two months from now, and there’s no penalty for postponing a decision, remember that the right answer may become very clear by that time, so why stress now? On the other hand, if you’re responsible for organizing an event, canceling sooner rather than later will let others make better plans. Overall, remember that the importance of our community’s well-being should be more important than saving a few dollars.

Know how to deal with emotions and when to ask for help. Accept your emotions for now. Otherwise, you’ll get sad about being sad or anxious about being anxious. You don’t need to justify your emotions. Simplify them and let go of the metaphors you hear in songs and movies. Know it will pass. If it’s prolonged, please ask for help. Talk to a counselor and/or your primary care provider. Getting help when needed is a sign of maturity and wisdom. Don’t wait until you’re at wit’s end – get help early and often.

Include helping others as part of your COVID-19 game plan. As I mentioned earlier, it’s normal to think of protecting yourself and your family first. However, if things get difficult in your community, I encourage you to keep an eye out for how you can help others. Reflect on how you might contribute to the strength and well-being of others beyond your immediate family, particularly if things get worse. Of course, this would not mean ignoring guidelines around public safety, or foolishly exposing yourself. But do think of how you might help others.

Roll with the punches. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving, every day brings something entirely new and unexpected. These disruptions to our cherished routines can be another big source of anxiety. Try to create new routines and new structure, and find new positivity to create comfort in the home. Sometimes, there are projects that we always wanted to do but never had the chance because we’ve been too distracted or busy. It might be the perfect opportunity to finally check boxes on that to-do list that we’ve been putting off.

Most of all, be kind and compassionate. We’ve evolved to take joy in helping others, connecting with others, and working in teams. The happiest people are not the richest ones but the ones who have learned to be compassionate. Think of the people closest to you and how you want them to be happy and healthy, and then bring those same thoughts and feelings to others. Be generous with your kind words and your kind deeds. We all will benefit, and so will you. COVID-19 is a wake-up call, and our salvation is in our compassion.

Asking someone if they are OK, leaving a note at the neighbors to see if they need something while you run to the store, sharing a supportive smile as you pass strangers on the street, these are all ways folks across America are showering acts of kindness on each other during these unprecedented times.

Here are some other ideas to help others:

  • Message and/or call to check in on friends and family. This is especially important for our senior and immunosuppressed communities. Remind them that they are not alone.
  • If you know of someone who needs resources (food, goods) but is unable to leave their home, you can send them a virtual gift card or order necessary items to be delivered directly to them (via online stores, grocery delivery, etc.).
  • Show gratitude for first responders, folks in medical fields, and those organizing food banks. You can do this by message, phone call, e-card, or the like.
  • Donate online to local non-profit organizations that are helping people through the crisis (food banks, shelters).
  • Writing gratitude letters is a great way to spread some kindness. Order postage online, and send a note to someone who could use a smile.
  • Do you miss connecting with people? Try coordinating virtual meet-ups and activities to give people some structure and fun. Virtual book clubs or game night, live-tweet movie/show watching, or any other activity that can be shared via social media and/or streaming.
  • Small businesses are taking a hit from lack of customers. To help with this, purchase gift cards that you can use at a later time, or gift to family or friends. The extra funds will help them keep their operations open. Check to see if they have opened an online shop with delivery.
  • Spend some time with your pet or walking neighborhood dogs. Maybe foster a pet if you would like some animal companionship.

Remember, self-isolation measures are temporary. Like all other disease outbreaks, COVID-19 will pass, and life will return to normal. Because we don’t know when that day will come, we just have to wait it out. By following the guidelines issued by public health and practicing good hygiene and social distancing, we can help ensure the health care system doesn’t get overwhelmed all at once. The best way to manage anxiety is by focusing on the positive that we have around us right now.

I would love to hear some of the things that you’re doing to help yourself, your family, and your community. If you would like to share, please send me an email at tami.miketa@dnr.wa.gov and I will post them on our website at dnr.wa.gov/sflo.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and remember, we can do this!