Puzzled by Nature

A micro puzzle that comes in a plastic test tube…fun!

That title is an apt description of my addled mind these days, as a long pandemic winter settles down on us in northwest Ohio. Brain fog has become a familiar companion in the absence of any human contact and little structure to my days. I long for a return to my active life full of time in nature with my friends. But until that’s possible again, I’ve had to become resourceful about finding new ways to occupy myself during seemingly endless hours of solitude.

Of course I still have virtual meetings and virtual game days, but that’s the extent of my interaction with other humans these days. I do a lot of reading…and writing…and some drawing too. But I’m beginning to feel the walls closing in on me lately, and felt the need for something new in my life. So, naturally, I’ve joined the legions of devoted dissectologists, otherwise known as people who enjoy jigsaw puzzles.

The pandemic has stimulated a huge demand for puzzles reminiscent of the one that took place during the Great Depression. (Here’s a brief history of jigsaw puzzles that will clue you in to the origin of the term dissectologist.) I’ve found working jigsaw puzzles to be a rather meditative activity that helps keep my mind focused away from unproductive thoughts and worries.

Caterpillar puzzle from The Caterpillar Lab — 11″ x 14″

There’s an incredible diversity of puzzles available these days, and I discovered that I’m quite picky about the subject matter of my puzzles. It won’t surprise anyone that my favorites are nature-themed puzzles featuring insects, birds, and other animals. I’ve spent hours browsing websites, turning my nose up at puzzles with city scenes, reproductions of famous paintings, and images of colorful donuts. I also like book-themed puzzles, like the ones that have images of bookshelves overflowing with interesting titles. The photos in this post are some of my favorites from the nature puzzles I’ve done recently.

Article about the demand for puzzles

I’m particularly fond of the huge dragonfly puzzle below. Full disclosure about that dragonfly though: I didn’t finish it. I did the entire border and the dragonfly in the center, but only finished the lower half of the interior because it just felt tedious by that point. The design is exactly the same all around, and that just isn’t fun for me. I guess I’m picky about the subject matter and the level of difficulty. I’m a Goldilocks puzzler, looking for just the right amount of what I want…not too easy, not too hard.

I’ve loaned the dragonfly puzzle to a friend and I may have another go at it when she’s finished with it. I love the colors on that puzzle and may even consider framing it to hang on the wall. One day it’ll be a reminder of pandemic life, I suppose. Might as well find some beauty in these bizarre times, right?

The “Ecosystems of the World” puzzle (below) was a lot of fun because it made me curious about some of the ecosystems as I was studying the images. If a puzzle is visually pleasing, keeps my mind and hands busy, and teaches me something along the way, then it’s done its job well.

Ecosystems of the World — a very fun puzzle
Detail from “Charley Harper Tree of Life” puzzle
Detail from a puzzle of fruit label art

I often listen to podcasts and music as I work on a puzzle, taking breaks to dance with Sam whenever Fleetwood Mac pops up on my Spotify playlist. He just loves to be held on my shoulder so he can nuzzle my chin while I dance to “Second Hand News.” Seriously, he seems to have a real interest in that particular song…it’s so weird. He doesn’t seem to mind that I only know the lyrics to two lines. And yes, I know what you’re thinking — it’s possible that I’ll turn into the stereotypical cat lady spinster by the time this is all over. But come on, I can’t be the only one falling into some odd behaviors at this point, right?

Sam likes the beetle puzzle as much as I do

I realized the other day that even once it’s my turn to get the vaccine (hopefully by late spring), I still won’t know how long it protects me, so how can my life change at that point? I can’t imagine that we’ll be able to safely abandon the face masks and social distancing for quite some time. The uncertainty is so frustrating, and there’s no telling how long it will be before we can start to put the pieces of our lives back together. But it will happen at some point, for sure. In the meantime, you’ll find me in the jigsaw aisle….

Lifting Each Other Up

Magnolia Warbler - Magee Marsh 5-21-18 blog
Magnolia Warbler

How are you all doing? I hope you’re finding ways to adapt to this new normal. It’s really important now that we take care of ourselves and each other, both physically and mentally.  We don’t know how long we’re going to be in this situation where we have to keep our distance from each other — it could be weeks, or it could be months. And that’s one of the hardest things, isn’t it? The not knowing.

I’ve noticed some cracks showing among my friends in their posts and comments to each other. Perfectly lovely people are snapping at each other. The other day I sent a message to a friend asking how he was holding up, because I hadn’t seen him on social media as much as usual. His terse reply of just two words hurt my feelings for a while, until I reminded myself not to take it personally and that he’s just dealing with stress in his own way. In this time when communication is so important, everyone is touchy and it’s difficult to know what to say or not say to someone. So it’s evident that the stress is starting to wear on all of us. I find myself increasingly wanting to reach through the computer or the phone and give someone a tight hug, to quell their fears as well as my own. I hate being alone all the time! I would give anything to be able to meet a friend for coffee, or to host another day of board games or cards.

Cape May Warbler close crop with black currant blossoms w sig Magee
Cape May Warbler – I see you!

I’m so glad that it’s spring, and soon we’ll have the healthy distraction of warblers migrating through and dragonflies emerging. It won’t be the same as enjoying those things with friends, but it will be a lifesaver. Birders here in northwest Ohio will be denied their usual warbler migration hotspot, as the famed Magee Marsh is closed and I believe it’s likely to remain closed through May.

In the coming weeks I’ll have more nature photos to show you, but today I wanted to share links to some things humans have done to lift my spirits lately. Human beings are so much more resilient than we think we are, and I’ve been incredibly thankful for those people who have used their creativity and talent to help the rest of us get through this. Here are a few of them. I hope something here makes you smile or at least gives you some comfort. I find these wonderful reminders that, while I might be physically alone, I’m not alone in my experience. Billions of people are enduring this with me. Keeping that in mind helps me get through each day. We’re all in this together, and we’ll come through it together.

This first one is my absolute favorite. Italians have been playing music out their windows each evening as a way of maintaining social connections during their quarantine. It’s beautiful.

Virtual orchestra performing a cover of Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now.”

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performing “Higher and Higher”