It’s one thing to mandate the removal of social and physical contact. We’ve been doing it for nearly a year now. It’s another to inhibit access to nature on top of that. Or, at least, have many of us question how to best go about it during a global health crisis.
While the former strategy makes sense during a pandemic that is all around us, I’ve been surprised at how complicated going for a walk in nature has apparently become. Not for me, per se, but I hear the chatter online and in daily life.
I’m here to remind you that it’s safe, it’s healthy, and it’s not that complicated.
Part of my job, let alone passion, is contemplating how humans are (or aren’t) inspired by the natural world. I am curious about the multiple viewpoints and stakeholders that people bring to the table. How do the old, the young, the urban, and the rural perceive our natural surroundings? What barriers exist to getting people outside, and how can we appropriately make nature more accessible without damaging its integrity?
Lately, I find myself wading through bizarre new waters when it comes to figuring out the vibe out there for hiking.
The hot topic in the cold winter seems to be how people should go about hiking during lockdown measures. I didn’t foresee the day that hiking could become a divisive or opinionated subject. It’s like arguing about yoga, or being mad at a playful puppy. It just doesn’t make sense, and it makes me sad that it has become something people have to second guess.
The ripple effect was so predictable. When the new province-wide lockdown began (and was then strengthened into a state of emergency with a stay-at-home order), I was just waiting for the opinions on hiking to bust out of the gate.
Some comments recommend just putting hiking to the curb altogether until this is over. There is a respectable number of people who are discouraging others travelling a far distance to get outside, with a simmering sense of “please, keep your germs in your town.” Others jump in, stating they believe nature is a human right, and it is legal to access the trails for fresh air and essential exercise. I even once read, “I could just tell they were from Toronto, just the way they were,” as this person complained about a hiking parking lot and the way some young ethnic men were dressed.
Again, this is on a nature community page.
This a sad state of affairs that I hope doesn’t last forever. If I could draw parallels to the conversation tone and certain ecosystems, a few visuals formulate.
Some of the conversations I observe online are like walking through a bog. When you experience such an environment, it’s slow-going and often unpleasant. Sometimes, you find yourself making a lot of effort only to get ahead just a little. This reminds me of the people who are sharing their beliefs on the freedom to hike where they’d like, and then, the effect occurs again when the opposite opinion is offered. One side of the coin believes you shouldn’t leave your own municipality to hit the trails. It’s a puzzling phenomenon, and often ends in a dead end, like bush-whacking through a thick swamp.
Other conversations are like accidentally stepping on a wasp nest. You’re just walking along peacefully, and perhaps just trying to be a part of the conversation in the woods. Although you never asked for it, suddenly, they’re coming at you with stings from all directions. In the past, not even an ounce of anger or divisiveness existed on these hiking, camping, and outdoor community pages.
However, it is in our human nature to be thought provoking and curious when we’re faced with new situations. It sounds like many of us would benefit from a soothing walk on one of NOTL’s many hiking trails.
Don’t feed into the hype, and stop overthinking it. Your skin needs vitamin D, your muscles need a variety of movements, and your lungs and brain thrive on fresh air. We are human beings. We need exercise and mental fusion with wildlife and trees in order to stay mentally and physically healthy.
Physical distancing is easiest when outside and on the trails. Don’t walk in groups of more than five, or whatever number the province has assigned at the time, so you can relax without worrying about conflict. Standing off to the side of the trail for other passing hikers is not only common practice, but a safety measure to maintain distance from others in the great outdoors. It’s an opportunity to see smiles, spark some small talk in public, or, to have the whole forest to yourself when you need it most.
Speaking of distance, perhaps look at your options that are within what your vehicle could safely do with gas. If you’re out-of-town hiking day trip is going to require multiple stops in multiple regions on the way, then maybe it can wait.
Thankfully, as I cite in the majority of my NOTL Local articles, that is an easy thing to do here in Niagara. We are blessed with a full spectrum of easy to challenging trails, spots enjoyed by many, and nooks viewed by few. The Bruce Trail, the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail, Paradise Grove, Two Mile Creek Conservation Area, and Four Mile Creek Conservation Area are just some starters.
It’s essential for humans to get outside, look up to the treetops, and remember their place in nature as it changes all around us.
Besides, if we’re not getting outside and exposing our immune systems to the soil, bacteria, pollen and fresh air, I fear we’re essentially bubble-wrapping ourselves for a much worse disaster down the road. But that’s a whole other discussion.