Finding Respite Outdoors

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It is hard to get away from the terrible effects of the COVID-19 virus that weighs on us all, creating anxiety, constricting our lives, and causing many to fear leaving home. At the start of Michigan’s pandemic, like many, I sought the security of my house despite the low infection count. So much was unknown, the stakes and risks so high, much of which has sadly borne out.

As the case numbers increased across the state and Kent County where I live in Grand Rapids, the walls seemed to close in. Everyone at the office was directed to work from home. Social distancing emerged as a national slogan and practice. Every news channel was supersaturated with COVID-19 coverage. And my supply of hand sanitizer steadily diminished with none being available on store shelves.

So, I decided one afternoon to go for a walk outdoors. Normally filled with neighborhood people walking dogs and children playing in their yards, the streets were empty. A nearby school playground, typically bustling with kids, was deserted. Not a one. I was reminded of a scene from a post-apocalyptic film; morose thoughts began to fill my head.

But I walked on, listening to the birds, and the sunshine and fresh air proved a salve for my spirits. The exercise was invigorating. Nearly an hour of that cleared my head and loosened up the tightness I felt all over.

The following weekend, after getting an invitation, I decided to play tennis at a local park (before the city closed the courts) with another who I knew practiced good COVID hygiene. I had not played in 100 years, so it is with, perhaps, literary license that I say I “played.” But running around chasing the ball was cause for genuine laughter. It felt great and helped me adjust to the rigors of COVID life.

The following day, we hit a local park trail, just over a 3-mile walk, where it was clear that others had figured it out: getting outdoors is good for you. Couples with children, small groups, and individuals all kept their distance. It was chilly, but most seemed relaxed, glad for a break. The sun was shining, and a cool breeze dusted the forested hills. Most everyone said ‘hello’ as they passed, careful not to get too close.

In Michigan, we are fortunate to have an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, from city and county parks to state and national parks and forests. And though traveling long distances to visit premier locales might be prohibitive because of COVID concerns, government restrictions, and hotel and restaurant closures, getting out for a day-trip is something well worth considering if you are not sick and have not been exposed to the virus.

As of this writing, state park campgrounds and bathrooms are closed, but the parks remain open. Most have plenty of space to spread out. If you live nearby, get out and visit one. Go and see the wildflowers. Plan a picnic or a hike but keep your distance, then stretch and breath. Soak up some of what makes Michigan so special. ≈


Howard Meyerson is the managing editor for Michigan BLUE Magazine.

*Photography Courtesy iStock

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