It's the first day of spring!
The days are getting longer, the weather is warming up, and it would be so nice to get out into the sunlight and enjoy some nature. But it's a trap! Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, your best bet of not catching/spreading the coronavirus is to stay indoors. So whether you're fully quarantined or just practicing social distancing, these nature documentaries can remind you of the outside world without risking contact with other people.
Dancing With the Birds
Is there anything that defines the beauty of springtime more than birdsong? The sound of twittering and chirping filling the trees can make even an urban landscape feel connected with nature. But singing is just one of the ways that birds have of seducing each other as the weather changes. The birds-of-paradise that live in New Guinea and parts of Australia prefer a different kind of performance. With brilliant jumping, twisting displays of iridescent plumage, they dance for the future of the species. And for the future of your species, you will stay inside and watch them do it. Dancing With the Birds is also the only documentary on this list that your cat is likely to enjoy as much as you will.
Oh wait, forgot about flowers. Flowers are the defining beauty of springtime, and in "Flowers" episode of Moving Art you can watch every variety and color of flower grow, bloom, follow the sun, and sway in the wind—almost like you were actually outside! The soothing imagery and wordless orchestral soundtrack make for great background viewing while you count out squares of toilet paper to make sure your roommate isn't exceeding their ration.
If you haven't seen Planet Earth, you've been missing out. There's nothing outside your door that could compete with this collection of some of the most spectacular sights in the natural world, all narrated by the incomparable baritone of David Attenborough (because we aren't heathens, and Sigourney Weaver can't say "water.") Until recently it was streaming on Netflix, but now you have to pay for it, so...
Our Planet is Netflix's answer to Planet Earth, complete with spectacular sights and David Attenborough's narration. It's almost as amazing as the BBC classic, and it won't cost you anything but a Netflix subscription
In the Hopi language, koyaanisqatsi means life out of balance, so you can probably guess that the entire film is just 86 minutes of nature imagery juxtaposed with surreal scenes of urban life and destructive industry set to a score by Philip Glass—duh. The only word spoken in the entire film is the title, repeatedly chanted in a voice that sounds like it's summoning dark spirits to bring on the end times. If quarantine has you in a particularly apocalyptic mood and really hating human civilization, then Koyaanisqatsi is the perfect way to kick off spring.
The story of Timothy Treadwell is a cautionary tale on the dangers of underestimating a deadly threat—and of going outside. For 13 summers Treadwell camped in the wilds of Alaska and convinced himself that he could hang out and pal around with giant Kodiak bears without issue. Without giving away Grizzly Man's tragic twist ending (he's eaten by bears), you can count on this documentary to remind you of the majesty and wonder of nature while also making you thankful that you live indoors.
Imagine living in the dark depths of the ocean where strange creatures with glowing appendages subsist off thermal vents and nutrients that descend from the sunlit waters above, and they never have to wash their hands. Blue Planet is a documentary series that explores every aspect of life in and around the seas. Episode two, "The Deep" is particularly beautiful and eerie, and invites you to imagine the isolation of an angler fish that may go its entire life without seeing another angler fish.
Chasing Coral would normally be a pretty depressing documentary. It follows a team of researchers documenting the disappearance of the world's vital coral reefs as a result of human industry. But if there is a silver lining to the current pandemic, it's that the reduction of human activity is mitigating the pollution and damage that we usually unleash upon the Earth's fragile ecosystems. If dolphins have started swimming in the suddenly pristine canals of Venice, then maybe some of the world's endangered coral will also see some benefit from this break humanity is taking.
Remember international travel? People used to get on planes and fly all over the world to see exotic locales and experience natural wonders unlike anything they could see at home. Well forget about all that, because it's gone. The closest thing in our new reality is sitting really close to your TV while Madagascar (the documentary, not the cartoon) plays. And maybe you can smear some banana on the screen to pretend you're feeding the lemurs.
It might seem strange to think of distant space as a part of "nature," but just as the moon pulls at the oceans, when we examine the workings of the universe we discover the interconnectedness of all things and gain perspective on the scale of human struggle. Also, imagine if you were out in space right now—no way you would get infected! The Universe is an ideal escape from the world.
Encounters at the End of the World
If it seems like the COVID-19 virus has turned the world into a barren waste, Encounters at the End of the World is a good reminder that there is an entire continent that remains completely unaffected—largely because it was already a barren waste. This exploration of the inhabitants and landscapes of Antarctica is the work of Werner Herzog, whose moody philosophical musings are the perfect narration for the end of the world.
Ghosts of the Mountains
Snow leopards are rarely seen by human eyes. They live in remote mountain climates and maintain solitary existences cut off even from other snow leopards. In other words, they are masters of social distancing. Watch Ghosts of the Mountains and be like the snow leopards.