There’s been a lot written about the silver linings of COVID-19: more time to catch up on projects at home; greater opportunities to watch movies and read; the power of Zoom to bring us together globally; deeper appreciation for friends and family; greater attention to life’s simple pleasures, etc. Right up there in the pantheon of silver linings has got to be walking outdoors, with or without a companion.
It goes without saying that in the Northeast, we have a tough climate for outside living for a good part of the year. We are not California, where people enjoy mild weather and the great outdoors for so many months. In the past, it was only the really hardy souls who ventured out in frigid winter weather for a walk. But this year was different: the outdoors beckoned to many of us who remained housebound.
In a normal year, of course, the vast majority of us went somewhere every day, whether it was to a workplace, shopping or errands, and of course dining out and visiting others. But not this year.
If you wanted to escape confinement (and you didn’t own a dog), the daily walk became your salvation as your source of physical exercise and enhanced mental health.
And walking was generally very local. There was no need to drive anywhere; rather, one tended to walk around the neighborhood or perhaps take a short drive to join a friend in close proximity. Lengthier trips were problematic due to COVID restrictions.
Walking made us more observant of our surroundings. Houses I had never paid attention to before in my neighborhood are now on my radar screen. Moreover, I ran into long-lost neighbors who had disappeared from my circle of acquaintances decades ago. We stopped, caught up and chatted behind our masks once we managed to recognize one another.
I myself am a very social person, so mostly I was accompanied by a friend or family member on my walks. But I walked alone as well, usually listening to my favorite podcasts, singing songs to myself or just contemplating the universe.
Even when the temperatures plummeted, the walking never stopped.
Instead, as in Canada and other colder climates, we just added layers. Of late, some of my walks have involved expanded groups of old friends, catching up on our pasts. A necessity borne of COVID restrictions on indoor gatherings, somehow it’s better than merely sitting and talking. The conversations have flowed as we walked and talked, sharing practical tips, reflections, ideas, dreams, memories—the perfect antidote to Zoom fatigue.
We are not yet out of the woods pandemically speaking, though thankfully more and more of us are getting vaccinated. But staying outside still makes a lot of sense for several more months, and fortunately walking will become increasingly pleasant weather-wise.
Perhaps I’m imagining things, but it does seem that the simple act of walking has become the rage. Everybody’s doing it, young and old alike.
My hope is that post-pandemic, our current obsession with walking continues here in chilly New England. The fact that we have become hardier and maybe even a bit healthier is a good thing. So, whether it’s a vehicle for socializing and cooking up creative schemes with friends or an inward journey of reflection, may the rediscovery of the joys of walking continue to enliven us.
In the words of the zen hiker Laurette Mortimer, “Walking brings me back to myself.” Amen to that.
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