Pondering a Walden experience?

A careful outdoor escape from self-isolation can bring sublime relief from fear of a disease.

AP
A Chicago police officer notifies a cyclist that the trails in Promontory Park, along Lake Michigan, are closed in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

As the weather warms, Americans will want to spend more time outdoors, perhaps pushing government limits on access to public spaces. Crowds jamming into parks and beaches have caused authorities to close many popular gathering spots. Outdoor team sports like soccer are being discouraged or banned.

As of last week, about a quarter of national park sites were closed, according to The Washington Post, including the Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is urging people to stay off the winding path between Maine and Georgia. Wilderness hikes might seem like the perfect getaway. But campsites can get crowded. And getting into trouble on a trail and needing to be rescued could pull responders away from other important work.

Escaping self-isolation for the outdoors remains a great idea. Yet it needs to be pursued close to home with all the safeguards of personal distancing. A local park or nature trail may not bring gasps of amazement like the Grand Canyon. But exploring any sort of nature can bring delights of its own.

Joggers, lost to their headsets, or bicyclists whizzing past have their own aims and claims to open spaces, of course. But others who set aside their earbuds and slow their pace will find special joys. “In times of crisis, the natural world is a source of both joy and solace,” famed naturalist Sir David Attenborough recently told The Big Issue magazine.

For those in the Northeast, a walk through woods and wetlands – preferably on a wide trail – can yield sightings of red-bellied woodpeckers, kingfishers, blue herons, bluebirds, and red-winged blackbirds. Skunk cabbage is bursting from muddy banks. Rosy flowers are brightening the awakening red maples. A sleepy painted turtle, emerging from hibernation, might wander across the path. Human contact is left to a friendly “hello” and a brief sharing of what’s been spotted.

What if it’s a rainy day? A few quiet minutes gazing out a window onto trees or a budding garden can reveal a world of beauty and activity. Where is that bird headed with a twig? Is that a hawk overhead, forcing other wildlife to hide?

At night, the stars now shine a bit brighter with less human-caused air pollution. Venus is shining ultrabright in parts of the world. In coastal areas, if a beach is open and people obey rules against clustering, riding the waves is an ideal activity, allowing one to be enveloped by the ocean’s power. Others may like “forest bathing,” the Japanese practice of lying, sitting, or walking among trees to soak in their cleansing magnificence.

The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote: “Mine is an obstinate penchant for nature in all her moods and forms, a satisfaction with whatever is hers.”

Shakespeare found that “our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

Each person locked down in wintry fear of a disease can be lifted by a close encounter with the outdoors. Even if not with each other for now.

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