Everybody’s fleeing to the outdoors these days — but there’s still plenty of rich solitude to go around
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—
— “Spring and All,” William Carlos Williams
The outdoors has always been an escape, but now it’s our only escape. So it’s different today when you see other escapists on a perfectly glittering spring day at a place like the Clark County Wetlands Park because we know that we’re all getting away from the same thing; the pandemic has recast our parks and recreation areas from places of private renewal into agora for something like wordless public moping. We aren’t exactly drawn to these spaces like before; it’s more as though we’re driven there like exiles. This is the tourism of last resorts.
You could totally burrow into your head about this, as I did on that recent spring day. But the great blessing of the outdoors is that nature doesn’t care about your philosophical maundering. Its surpassing cosmic indifference will startle you into comic zen moments like when you’re stepping too close to a pond to get a better Instagram shot of the birds wheeling and swooping over the water for insects but then the spongy bank heaves inward to muddily consume your shoe and a good portion of your pant leg. Lol nature, good one.
I know, I know. The wetlands park isn’t exactly “nature,” but rather a highly engineered reconstruction of it. There’s an easy metaphor in there somewhere, yours if you want it, for resilience, undying human enterprise, determined imagination. But the gravel trails that stray off the concrete walkways still offer the promise of legit solitude away from the increasing crowds. (I’m still getting used to the twinge of anxiety when I hear feet crunching nearby — a jogger coming my way? Is the path wide enough for social distancing? Should I turn around, dart away?)
Perhaps oddly, my favorite thing to do is wander off on the paths that snake between the tall reeds and spook myself with Children of the Corn vibes — like, wow, it’s just me and all the scary unseen forces. But if I have to be less specific and less juvenile about it, the vibe is that of the old solitude we used to enjoy before the pandemic turned our homes into lonesome hibernation chambers — the free refill, the soul defrag, the walking meditation, the nourishing, voluntary solitude that, like a deep sleep, reintroduces the self to the principle of fresh possibility. Possibility cuts a thousand ways; there are no guarantees of any outcome. Prediction, we’ve learned, is a moribund ritual, but preparedness for what’s next — in the most generous, affirmative sense — is as vital as ever.