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Getting Outside

| May 15, 2020
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The winter seemed exceptionally long this year. Part of that was just a stubborn cold streak that gave way to one or two nice days in March but then stuck around to provide the latest snows I can remember. When I was a little kid, I remember one Sunday spent with my grandparents where we were meant to visit my cousins in Rochester. As a Buffalo kid, the little distance between our cities seemed relatively long and exciting. However, when we got to the toll booth, the snow was already coming down thickly and my grandfather decided to turn us around to go back. I was simultaneously delighted and disappointed. Obviously, I had looked forward to a day of playing with my cousins, but on the other hand, the late spring snow had seemed so wild and unique. It had been May 7, the latest snow I could remember...until this year. I saw flakes in the air when I looked out the window while washing dishes yesterday. Mark your calendar: that was May 12. 

The length of winter has seemed to keep pace with the pace of everything else. Stay-at-home orders, canceled events-- my life has slowed considerably, and the drawn out winter drags along a calendar in no hurry to move on. However, I’m an active person once the snow lifts and the sun remembers what it’s here to do. I like to get out and move, no longer content with at-home yoga practice and living room cardio. Many of my friends are the same, and our lockdowns have made us that much more grateful for the times we can go out. A missed sunny afternoon feels like a crime.

My best friend lives in the Hudson Valley, in a region that is threaded with trails for hiking. While many of the larger trails are closed to prevent too many hikers in areas that won’t allow for social distancing, there are many smaller trails taking a more adventurous solo hiker up for gorgeous views. In April, my friend made an order of maps from a local outdoor shop; as soon as the porch drop-off packet of maps had arrived, they were already making plans. Now, every Wednesday finds them tackling at least six miles to hop streams and climb to the top of summits with evocative names like Storm King. On these smaller trails, they rarely encounter another hiker, making the outings safe, enjoyably exhausting, and full of new experiences. We’ve come to call these their “Wednesday constitutionals” when we talk about the trips.

Being a little further from the mountains, but no less eager to get out on any day that isn’t raining (or snowing), I’ve been exploring my options as well. The easiest is running in my neighborhood with my dog. Though I’m not in my peak running condition from last summer, it’s quick to come back. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that my dog bounced back more quickly than I did, but nonetheless, we run through the streets that weren’t part of our usual routes last year, taking delight in some of the wilder lawn flotsam with which my unknown neighbors have decorated their property. In some ways, it’s more exciting than holiday lights.

You can tell a lot about people from what they choose to put up on their lawn. Speaking of holiday lights, some people have put them back up on their houses, giving little glimmers of festive light to brighten up dim evenings. I literally laughed aloud seeing a lit Christmas tree in one house’s upper window. Laughing feels good, especially when you’re running. Sports fans give themselves away too, stickers on the cars parked in the driveway matching flags and pennants waving from porches. I give an internal “way to go, kid” as I run by houses with yard signs proudly announcing that Brian or Tianna is part of the graduating class of 2020. Lawn gnomes are a perennial favorite, jovial and vintage in their peaked hats and perpetually rosy cheeks. One yard I pass is a wonderland of angels and fairies, pastel against the suburban landscape of driveways and square plots of grass. The joyful mess of kids’ toys on a front lawn, brightly colored dump trucks and plastic creatures abandoned, might mean someone was called in from play before they expected it. I hope it was for a good snack, something with peanut butter involved. 

I run through an area that is home to at least four baseball diamonds, a tennis court, and two basketball courts. There’s not a ball in sight, but the seclusion means I can go into the fenced basketball court and let my dog off leash for a little bit, his own personal small dog park. We play chase, he sniffs the ground where I don’t see anything (once he did find a dropped piece of hot dog, and I was very grateful he knows the “leave it” command). 

Sometimes I pass others out for walks, their own daily “constitutionals.” Sometimes they have dogs with them, and our dogs wag furiously at one another while we keep them, and ourselves, at a safe distance. Every person seems genuinely happy to be outside, to be moving, even if they know they have only their house to look forward to at the end of it. Taking advantage of what we can is something to be grateful for, and I’m fine with that. We’re wearing masks, but you’d be surprised how much of a smile you can get from someone even if their mouth is covered. There’s a lot of smiling that happens in someone’s eyes as you pass them, raising a hand in quick greeting as you keep up with your energetic dog who might have glimpsed a squirrel on the next tree trunk. 

I hope whenever any walkers or runners head by my house, they do it just late enough in the evening to see the glowing flamingos I have stuck into the ground, flanking my front steps. I hope they’re enjoying getting out for a little but, and I love wondering what they must be thinking about me and my choice of lawn decor. 

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