I’ve always felt like the world gets bigger when the warm weather hits. This year, that feels especially true. Experts agree that spending time outside carries a low risk of virus transmission, although it is not by any means foolproof.
Wear a mask. Stay six feet apart. Keep your hands clean.
My insatiable appetite for nature during this pandemic got me thinking a lot about a project I worked on with Dr. Elisabeth Stoddard in 2018. Dr. Stoddard teaches environmental studies at WPI where she analyzes the intersection of nature, society and social justice. During our collaboration, she helped my fifth-grade class examine the shifting culture that has led us to spend upwards of 10 hours a day on screens as opposed to the two or three commonly recommended by physicians. She noted that this change has led kids to spend less time outside, leading to increased rates of ADHD and childhood depression.
There have been plenty of recent stretches when I never saw the light of day. Sometimes it was nerves about the unknown. Sometimes it was laziness. Sometimes it was the addictive essence of social media. Whatever it was — the days I spent time in nature made me feel stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally than the days when I did not.
Here are three easy ways I hope to get outside in Worcester this summer:
Slow the Streets
Cities across the country are narrowing or closing their roadways to make way for pedestrian traffic, bikers and alfresco dining. These “slow streets” have garnered predominantly positive feedback at a time when public spaces are at a premium and they’re likely headed our way.
Become a Victory Gardener
Faced with catastrophe, it is common for Americans to garden. Take for example, the Victory Gardens that fed families and boosted morale during World War I and World War II. I was not surprised to learn they’re back on the rise. Follow my landscape design idol, Lily Kwon, on Instagram for novice-gardner inspiration at @freedom_gardens. Kwon’s platform urges people to “rewild” their cities, explaining, “‘Freedom Gardens’ aims to help our community grow thriving edible gardens to support their physical and mental health, and safeguard them from a volatile centralized food system and a collapsing job market.” That was all I needed to hear for me to pitch my own tomato teepee.
Another way I got myself out the door was by visiting the EcoTarium, Worcester’s museum of science and nature. The scenic trails and outdoor wildlife exhibits are now open and accessible to the public with a flexible pricing model. You can register for admission online and then settle in with Slydell and Daisy, the museum’s resident river otters, as they swim and snuggle. It’s also fun to replace the words in a variety of Alanis Morissette lyrics with “otter.” (Slydell and Daisy seem to enjoy music at a reasonable decibel.) For example, “You, you, you OTTER know.” Or, “I got one hand in my pocket, and the OTTER one is hailing a taxi cab.”
If there’s anyone who recognizes the poetry of nature and solitude, it’s Ralph Waldo Emerson. He wrote, “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea,/Drink the wild air.” I hope you’ll find it in you to take him literally. Your wellness depends on it.