Is it me? Or is everyone who is brave enough to go outdoors these days a little friendlier, a bit relieved to see another human being?
With a record number of people unemployed, and only “essential” workers (a term that makes me feel dispensable) now allowed to report to their offices or shop floors, fewer vehicles are on the road. More people are cooped up in their homes and rediscovering the joys of daily walking. Runners and cyclists are out in droves, thanks to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz wisely allowing for outdoor exercise in his stay-at-home edict.
We dog owners have a ready excuse to get outside while the entire state shelters in place. After a weeklong staycation — when COVID-19 precautions sent my plans up in smoke — I want to share what I have noticed and been blessed to observe simply by maintaining my daily average of 14,000 steps.
- Appreciate your surroundings anew again. Naturally, I could tell you that the Grandview Theater (“the quaint movie theater dating back to 1933”) or Polka Dot (an art and second-hand clothing shop curated by artist and entrepreneur Emma Freeman) or restaurants such as the original Blue Door Pub or Augustine’s Bar & Bakery or Zait & Za’atar are the color in the fabric of my Merriam Park neighborhood in St. Paul. But how often do I take these amenities for granted? How consistently do I support these businesses rather than going the easy way of Netflix or eating leftovers or shopping online? It pains me to walk by their locked doors and darkened windows. A “For Lease” sign sits in the Polka Dot window. “Don’t close!” I mouthed through the glass while Emma was brightening up her display one afternoon. Some of the restaurants are gamely serving takeout. But the Grandview can do nothing but post encouraging words on its marquee: “Be kind,” it reads. “Stay safe.” Back at you!
- In a crisis, people are more forgiving.
I am grateful to the older woman at Airport Dog Park who dispatched efficiently with the muskrat my younger dog had just killed and then reassured me when I apologetically acknowledged that my fear of touching dead animals was irrational. “Feelings don’t have to be rational,” she said. That’s good, because my feelings are running away with me these days. Meanwhile, the morning walks at Airport Dog Park in wide open spaces have been an exercise in mutual respect. The dogs bound and play, and sniff butts, and do the base things dogs do, and the dog-owners smile and keep their social distance. If we want to maintain the privilege of being outdoors, we must obey the rules.
- A meandering walk will take you somewhere.
Along with my husband and our younger son, Nate, who had been furloughed from Seward Co-op (now open again and taking admirable measures to protect its customers and employees), I spent a weekday afternoon at Fort Snelling State Park, a place I had never visited despite being a lifelong Minnesotan. As a multi-modal commuter to my job and the community meetings that go with it, I don’t indulge in contemplative strolling. My walks are exercise and transportation. Imagine my delight, then, when Nate pointed out not one or two but a whole extended family of deer, feeding right there in broad daylight. “It takes young eyes,” I teased him, noting that some members of the herd remained effectively camouflaged. One smallish deer, likely a risk-taking adolescent, approached and kept following us as we moved softly off the trail. I’ve never gotten so close to a deer in the wild. It was magical and a welcome reminder that nature is the best tonic for the current chaos.
- Fewer distractions help renew our perspective.
“I’ve been avoiding my computer, smartphone and just about everything else which would increase my COVID-19 anxiety except once in the morning and once at night,” a friend wrote, explaining her absence from email. Likewise for me, the discipline of sheltering in place is not staying connected but recognizing when I need to back off and let go. When my irritation rises, when I can’t stand one more Zoom meeting, when the social media speculations and the beeps and pings of my iPhone overwhelm me, I can remember the surest remedy: Go for a walk.
Because when our economy is back at full steam again, and people like my older son are re-employed at bars and restaurants, and Polka Dot reopens, and the Grandview marquee highlights the latest films . . . maybe then so many people will have converted to multimodal practices that our roads will be less congested and the air will be safe to breathe. Not just because Coronavirus has gone away, but because the cars have.