It’s Okay to Go Outside

I love being outdoors. Ever since I was a kid growing up in the country, I was outside all the time, running laps around a cluster of pine trees or speeding down our dirt road on my bicycle. My childhood was filled with the smell of honeysuckle vines and thorny patches of wild blackberries. Texas summers were humid and the air was full of bugs, but I didn’t care because I drank from our water hose and stuck my hand into our pond just to feel the slimy algae ooze through my fingers.

These hot summers were risky, though, but I pulled through them. I remember getting stung by a red wasp on my wrist. It got caught in my hair and it stung me as I tried to brush it out. I was at my friend’s house and his dad took me into their kitchen, sat me on the counter, and pulled out his pack of Marlboro Reds. He took out one of the cigarettes and busted it open to free the tobacco, and he pressed the cured leaves on the sting. It didn’t cure it, but it sure helped take away the pain for a few minutes so I could calm down.

There was also the time my best friend’s dog, Peabody, got so excited as we rode our bikes that he bit my leg. Well, he didn’t really sink his teeth in, but they scraped against my skin enough to leave marks. When he heard me cry out in pain, he stopped and lowered his head and ears. I wasn’t mad at him; he was just a pup who liked to run and our fun got him overexcited. He never did it again either.

If the sun was out, so were we. She called to us to come out of our houses and away from the TV to soak up her rays and leave our cheeks red. My mom would joke that me and my friend ‘smelled like ponies’ when we came in from the heat for lunch or a drink of water. Kids like to play in the dirt and they happen to sweat a lot. We knew we stunk, but we didn’t care. We were outside!

I’m sure most kids who grew up in the country would read this and nod in agreement, a rush of nostalgia flooding their memories of stomping in muddy creeks or playing baseball in the yard. I used to pick pears off my neighbor’s tree and then climb into another tree on the other side of his property so I could eat them. He knew I was doing it and he didn’t mind. He was an old farmer who shared his pears and watermelons with all the neighbors.

When I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I found that I had a lot in common with Oregonians: we all love being outside. If you’ve ever been to Oregon or live here already, you can’t really blame us for wanting to go out, especially when the sun comes out after consecutive weeks of rain.

I know what you’re thinking: we shouldn’t be outside right now unless it’s for exercise. When the ‘stay-at-home’ order came from our governor, I thought we would be confined, only going out to get groceries. It didn’t faze me at all, however, since those first couple of weeks were so miserable and wet and cold. Who doesn’t want to stay in during that kind of weather?

And then the sun came out. Pretty soon, it got much warmer. So I laced up my trusty running shoes and I ran. I ran so hard but I didn’t want to stop. I was outside!

There’s a paved trail right behind my apartment complex and it’s always filled with walkers, joggers, cyclists, and kids on scooters and skateboards. It’s maintained by Park and Rec, so it’s a nice, peaceful trail that cuts through small parks and quiet suburban neighborhoods. I’m very lucky that my access to this trail is just a few steps from my front door.

When I went out for my jog, I expected the trail to be empty after almost two weeks of ‘lock-down’, but I was surprised to find people out and about, some wearing masks, some not but maintaining proper distance.

I shouldn’t have been that surprised; after all, we’re Oregonians, some of us native, some transplants. But we’re all sharing what we love: being outside.

For sure, though, this newfound wariness of our neighbors would make us feel awkward toward each other. Would we ask ourselves ‘what the hell are we doing out here?’ And would the same people on this trail – people I see all the time – avert their glance and walk faster away from me? Will there be a new distrust of our neighbors because of what’s going on?

Of course not, Mysti. You watch too many horror movies.

That may be true, but we’ve seen movie plots similar to what we’re going through (albeit highly dramatized), and for a while, many of us went into panic mode and some were willing to get into fist fights over toilet paper.

That has since passed, but things are still adjusting. Grocery stores are limiting the number of people inside at a time, restaurants are taking curbside orders, and some Catholic churches are offering drive-thru confessionals to prepare for Easter Sunday.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed is going outside on a nice day which (thankfully!) has been allowed. Social distancing still applies, of course, and that doesn’t seem to be a problem in my area. I’ve passed by teens walking along the trail with their bubble teas in hand observing this rule as they chat. People are out walking their dogs, and kids are keeping at a safe distance on their skateboards.

There are people who object to us going outside, even if it’s once a day for a short walk, but you’re not going to stop people from going out. At least we’re not on a beach sharing drinks and bumping into each other.

We’re still sociable with these new social guidelines. We grin at each other as we walk past, and when one of us moves way off the sidewalk to let a group pass, we share an awkward laugh. Because it is awkward. We feel a bit silly having to make sure there’s six feet between us, but other than that, nothing in our nature of being neighbors has changed.

I’m not going to lie: I was built for self-isolation. I was an only child whose imagination was enough to keep me entertained if my friends couldn’t play outside with me. I love nothing more than to spend hours on my sofa reading a book. And yes, I’m a binge-watcher. Thank God for Netflix and its true crime documentaries.

But I’m not opposed to socializing, and the only way I can do it right now is to go for a walk in my neighborhood. I still get to see my neighbors’ dogs even though I don’t get to pet them (small price to pay, but I still hate it). We smile at each other and comment on the amazing weather, and many of the younger kids are getting creative on the pavement with colorful chalk and have taken to painting rocks. I find a different rock in random places on the trail and they all make me smile.

One particularly warm afternoon this week, I went for my usual walk and found a piece of art left by the children.

“April Distance Brings May Existence” Photo: author

I wasn’t the only one who took a picture of it, and I’m sure it’s on Instagram and Facebook somewhere. I’m also sure that this message has been spread and made viral in other ways.

It’s tough for all of us right now, and I do believe in the message that we’re all in this together, even though some of us are having a harder time of it. That’s why it’s important to continue to be neighborly, whether it be giving them a grin and nod as you pass each other during a walk, or calling them up to see if they need anything.

And if the sun is out and her rays are peeking through your window, don’t ignore her. Go outside. Observe the six-foot rule, but don’t be afraid to soak up the sun while she’s shining.

I guarantee: you won’t be the only one.

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