Before arriving in the park, I had to walk through an obstacle course of potential threats. These include the sets of doorknobs that I would need to open in order to leave my apartment building. I then had to steer clear of the street corner where people congregate and talk, some of them with repeating dry coughs that I can hear regularly from my third floor apartment.
If I can make it one block without encountering anyone too close, I feel safe. There’s an abundant forest at the end of the block, and the forest is not out to kill me.
Walking in forests with a mindful intent, often known as "forest bathing," is known to provide a host of health benefits including the reduction of stress and an enhanced sense of wellbeing. Walking among the trees is also said to help boost the immune system. That may help us fight off the common cold but not so with this virus. With the novel coronavirus and until a vaccine is found, our bodies lack the defenses to recognize it and keep it away. The danger comes from physical proximity to other people, not from the trees in the forest.
If physical distance can be maintained, and sometimes it’s tricky, walking can greatly enhance our well being. As I’ve written in the post Walking for Fitness, “this modest and inexpensive form of exercise can lower anxiety, improve the mood, make for better sleep, and reduce the risk of dementia.”
Still, everyone should stay home right now except when necessary. As of this writing, taking a walk is still permitted. People with dogs have little choice. New York officials, and especially the governor, have been providing daily briefings and updates, including guidelines about walking. The walks must be solitary (though a household can stick together), with distances kept at six feet apart.
On my walk yesterday, I could see with my own eyes that springtime had arrived. The twenty-minute walk lifted my spirits, and it was a good stretch of the legs. In the early hours of the morning, I also felt safe. There were only about twenty people, of all ages, in my area of the park. They mindfully kept their distances. Many smiled or nodded from afar. We should still make the effort to be kind.
I felt lucky the park wasn’t crowded. Many people, and not just younger people, have not yet fully grasped the serious dangers of close physical proximity. Can they not hear the sounds of sirens nearby? Given the overall uncertainty of this serious public health crisis, I must say that I have never taken a walk with such trepidation or with such a feeling of guilt. When we’re told to stay home, taking a walk feels like a breach of the social contract.
We’re walking through all this, alone and together. And on an early solo morning walk, in the light of spring’s renewal, you’re likely to enjoy the new company of song-filled warblers and other migrating birds. As solitary Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -.”
Images from Inwood Hill Park, March 20, 2020.
• From the Merriam-Webster Twitter feed, my new favorite word:
1. 'Solivagant': rambling alone : marked by solitary wandering https://t.co/fOWKB11Qfs— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) March 19, 2020
• “Is It OK to Take a Walk?
By Alex Williams, The New York Times, March 17, 2020
“With Mayor de Blasio’s closure of the city’s restaurants (except for takeout), bars and gyms, which took effect this morning at 9 a.m., along with schools, movie theaters and any other place where people congregate, the stroll, it seems, is all that’s left.”
• ‘It Sort of Gives You Hope’: One Place New Yorkers Go to Escape Their Homes
By Michael Wilson, The New York Times, March 19, 2020
“Frequent visitors this week said attendance was robust, but measured, with little close contact. Parkgoers kept more distance, but with collegial nods and smiles, as if all on the same team.”
• Website of New York governor's office: https://www.governor.ny.gov/
Related Post: The Long Days of This New York Spring March 31, 2020