When the quarantine began back in March, I started walking in one of the many forest preserves we have near our home. We are so lucky to have many nature preserves that our county sets aside to take care of nature in a very unnatural suburban area, especially when the housing boom began in the late eighties/early nineties.
I would drive by these places all of the time over the past 25 years and think how pretty they were; some of them I would walk in with my friends when the girls were small and were riding in strollers, but since everything closed up here in quarantine, the preserves were my sanctuaries to get out of our house and explore.
It was around my 50th birthday when I decided I would make myself a challenge: I wanted to visit most, if not all of the forest preserves within the Chicago and Milwaukee area within my 50th year.
At first, it was just a challenge to myself (and my husband) to get ourselves out of the house and force ourselves to try new places, maybe lose a little more weight, get in shape.
But then as the weeks became months, it became more than that.
It became self-care in the form of mental health saving grace.
For me, it eventually became a migraine coping tool.
My place to pray, to cry alone at times, to look up at the skies and talk to God and my relatives who have passed, as well as the birds and the creatures along the paths.
I love that I feel like I have been on a vacation every time I return home from one of our walks. I feel like I have been to a faraway place, far away from every single horrible thing we are going through.
These walks are becoming so much more than just walks even though on some days I don’t even want to go for a walk or even think I can go for a walk. Some days, it takes everything I can to put one foot in front of the other.
I shuffle to the bathroom, I shuffle to the coffee maker, I shuffle to the closet. I shuffle to put my shoes on.
Every single day feels like the one before it.
I feel like I am wading through Jello.
Just muddling through my life.
Trying to get to the next day and the next and the next.
Because we aren’t getting enough distraction in our everyday lives.
We aren’t getting enough interaction with our loved ones, with our friends and family, with the general public.
And the interaction we are getting is behind a mask, following arrows in a store, keeping six feet of distance between us.
Or behind a computer screen or phone screen with visual images that are violent or filled with vitriol and images and words we would never utter in person.
It’s so much to absorb. I can feel it in my shoulders, in my arms, in my head.
Then I get out here.
I smell the pine trees, I see a pretty flower, I hear the birds singing, I hear the cars buzzing by on the highways in the distance, I hear the conversations of the other people on the paths ahead of me. I can almost feel the Earth sighing around me.
I hear another person pass by and say good morning, wondering if I am the first person they’ve said hi to that day. Is that the first time they’ve heard their voice out loud that morning? Are they as glad to see another human being as I am? Are they as scared as I am about the future? Do they too feel like they are just going through the motions?
I’ve walked over 50 miles since the middle of March when our world became smaller. When I wasn’t able to meander the aisles of the local craft stores or sit in the cozy coffee shops with a friend anymore. When I used to take going to the grocery store for granted.
50 miles my feet have crossed all over the Chicago suburbs and southern Wisconsin terrain, searching for myself and more appropriately, my sanity.
In those miles, I have sobbed heaving sobs while trying to make sense of pain that comes from nowhere, I have wondered why we have to be so hateful to each other when we say we all love a God and pray to him or her daily. I have prayed to that same God for peace, and love, and understanding. I have also talked to my grandma, a grandpa I never got to meet, uncles and aunts, asking them to help guide me and my family and friends in this uncertain time. I have talked to birds and squirrels and rabbits. I have taken hundreds of pictures with my phone (and with my mind), I have listened to rivers and streams and waterfalls and I have left the woods feeling like I had hours of therapy without having to pay one single dime out of my pocket except for the gas money it took to get me there.
And I have hope.
That I can get up, and I can muddle through yet another long day.
That I can hope today will be better than it was yesterday.
And even if it isn’t, I know I have that walk to cry, and pray, and feel like I went on a vacation away from my life for a little bit before I do it all over again.