When the quarantine began back in March, I began walking in one of the many forest preserves we have near our home. We are 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 my daughters were small and were riding in strollers. But since everything closed up here in quarantine, the preserves were my sanctuaries to get out of the 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 during 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 discover new places, maybe lose a little weight, and get into shape.
But as the weeks turned into months, it became more than that.
It saved my life.
For me, it eventually became a migraine coping tool.
It was a place to pray, to cry alone, to look up at the skies and talk to God, to my relatives who have passed, to 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 our walks. I feel like I have been to a faraway place, far away from every single horrible thing we are going through.
Some days I don’t even want to go for a walk. Some days I think I can’t 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 gelatin.
Trying to get to the next day and the next and the next.
There isn’t enough distraction in our days.
There isn’t enough interaction with our loved ones, with our friends and family.
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 or words we might 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, I see a flower, I hear the birds, the Earth sighing around me.
I hear another person pass by and say good morning. I wonder 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?
I’ve walked over 50 miles since the middle of March when my world became smaller.
I have left the woods feeling like I had hours of therapy without having to pay a 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 muddle through another long day.
That today will be better than 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.