The virtues of solo walks became crystal clear to me after COVID. With orders to stay in shelter, the only way to go outside is exercising. My only travel consists of getting up extra early to walk to the U.S. Capitol Grounds at sunrise. Our world has been reduced to the safety of four walls where we reside.
“Shelter in place” is our new reality. I know these daily walks help me keep my sanity as well as elevate my mood. “Just a half hour walk four times a week is known to boost heart health and improve mental wellbeing, and walks in the sun help our bodies make Vitamin D to support immune response.
Adopt The Pace of Nature
This weekend I will walk a 7-mile circuit of my city simply for the pure joy of stretching my legs further. If the weather permits, I will venture down to Rock Creek Park where I can lose myself in its dense woods.
“Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Solo exercise, dog walking and shopping at the grocery store are the only activities permitted in Washington DC. We haven’t been quarantined to our homes yet but everything is closed in the city—non-essential businesses, bars, taverns, museums, theaters and sports arenas. Staying well during a pandemic is critical.
“Nature, time and patience are the three great physicians.”—Chinese proverb
The D.C. Metropolitan Police began guarding the Tidal Basin (home of the city’s famous Yoshino cherry trees) last Sunday to prevent people from congregating. There were too many people who willingly ignored the medical experts’ advice to maintain a six feet distance.
For now, I am still permitted to walk which is my greatest joy. I hurt my left foot hiking in the mountains of Madeira in Portugal during my January trip and I had to stop walking for six weeks to let it heal.
Find My Soul
Now that I am recovered, I take renewed delight in my ability to walk unheeded by pain in my arch. Yesterday I rose early and waited for the dark world outside my 10th story condo to announce daybreak. I bundled up in my ski jacket, grabbed my iPhone and earphones and headed out the door. I need to walk amongst the trees.
“And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.”—John Muir
An empty city seemingly devoid of people awaits me at 6:45 am except for the lone person walking a dog. I walk briskly toward Massachusetts Avenue. Normally there would be a heavy stream of commuters waiting for the light to stream into the 3rd Street Tunnel. Now I see one car. I pass one person on 4th Street NW as I navigate through the smaller streets to reach Constitution Avenue. There are only a few security guards.
My heart always swells as I see the U.S. Capitol. It is one of incalculable joys of living in the nation’s capital. I need only walk three miles from my home to gaze on democratic institutions.
DC is a City of Monuments. I feel immensely grateful that our forefathers has the vision to create the National Mall so that we “the people” could look down a stretch of verdant lawn (“America’s front yard”) to see the Washington Monument while standing on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
“Is it doubtful that it does men good to come together in this way, in pure air and under the light of heaven? …The enjoyment of scenery gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration of the whole system.”— Frederick Law Olmsted
Light of Heaven
Walking the loop of the U.S. Capitol Grounds means I start in the parking lot (which is almost empty of vehicles.) I walk under a row of Yoshino cherry trees that are now “molting.” Discarded and shriveled pink blossoms lay on the ground.
The purpose of my exercise is to walk briskly. But I can’t resist stopping to smell a fragrant blossom and stand under the canopy. Closing my eyes, I can pretend to be in Japan celebrating the spring cherry blossom festival.
But this is a work day so I must be back at my home office by 8 am. So I resolve to spend a longer time this weekend at the US Capitol to visit my favorite trees—the firs, sequoias and oaks.
Listen to Poetry
You might wonder what I think about when I walk. Well after a steady diet of reading the daily COVID-19 headlines in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, I prefer to listen to a good novel or poetry on my Audible or Scribd app.
My preference on this Friday walk is an audiobook called “Poets of Nature.” It includes Emily Bronte, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Keats, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. It is described as “a meditation of the human connection with earth.”
So I will share some of my photos below of what on my morning walk spent yesterday at the U.S. Capitol as well as the spring flowers blooming at the U.S. Botanic Gardens and Smithsonian Gardens. And I have chosen some of my favorite poems for meditation as you view.
Importance of Connection
What I know is abundantly clear to all of us now is the importance of connection. We can’t safely see our friends, visit our loved ones or congregate as a group. But we can always connect through FaceTime, Google, telephone or email.
So consider texting or emailing a favorite poem to a friend this weekend. Reach out across the globe to say hello with words that can soothe the loneliness and shorten the distance.
I leave you this weekend with some my favorite poems matched to my recent photos taken during my walk on the U.S. Capitol grounds and the National Mall. Stay safe!
How I go to the woods
Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.”—Mary Oliver
“For oft, when on my couch I lie. In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.” —William Wordsworth
“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”—Henry David Thoreau
“What breaks in daybreak? Is it the night? Is it the sun, cracked in two by the horizon like an egg, spilling out light?”-Margaret Atwood
“The earth laughs in flowers.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last Sunday, my friends were the “jocund company,” the memory which I will carried back home to brighten my thoughts this week. What did you find could comfort you?
I know I experienced short bouts of sadness this week. It is hard to be without the companionship of loved ones. We all feel like we are caged animals who just want to run wild. My extroverted friends are in despair. My introverted friends described the pandemic-imposed cocooning as paradise. What is true is our innate fear about the future. Sometimes it feels like we are walking in darkness. But we also must remember that the sun always rises.
The power to see beauty in our ordinary everyday world despite the uncertainty and fear caused by the pandemic is what will soothe us. Share a poem with someone you know. Brighten their day, just like the spring flowers spread joy.
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