How The Pandemic Changed The Way We Use The Outdoors: Five Writers Reflect On Nature During A Strange Time

The pandemic made it difficult to go anywhere with ease, so most of us spent a lot of time at home, reconfiguring our lives to adapt to a strange and devastating year. But, for many, it also changed our relationship with the outdoors, one of the few places that provided consistency and safety. Now, the city is starting to reopen, with several events popping up across town and declining rates of the virus, but our staff wanted to take a look at the ways the pandemic reshaped how we got outside and how those changes will stick with us moving forward. Below, five LEO writers reflect on how nature brightened bad times.  

Gardening With Insects 

Sometimes, your psyche makes decisions that prepare you for events that you have no idea you should be prepared for. In 2019, I spent the bulk of my summer working on my deck. I bought new furniture, planned my flower garden and made my outdoor space the sanctuary that I’ve been wanting. My thought was that when I’m a little older, maybe more settled, that I’ll really enjoy being out there more than I already do. One day, I thought, it will be so perfect. Enter 2020, and having my deck intact and cozy certainly made the year more palatable. It likely saved my life in many ways. In the time I spent outside on my deck, I did what I’ve done most years since I began gardening in 2012: I photographed bugs. When I started back then, I was pregnant with my son, and it was a time to convene with the great mother while I was making my transition into motherhood. Then, I almost exclusively used my Canon to shoot, but now I almost always use my cell phone. It’s just easier and the bugs seem to be far less intimidated by the small phone lens as opposed to the larger macro lens moving towards them. Being with insects is an exercise in meditation. You have to be calm, breathing slowly and still to let them trust you. When you are calm, they are calm and will give you unreal access to their tiny little worlds. Try it but first, Breathe. —Erica Rucker 

Female Common Whitetail dragonfly resting on rock. Photo By Erica Rucker.

Dating During COVID

In the pre-vaccine COVID world, outdoor dates were my lifeline. Last year, in the midst of our summer “situationship,” my not-boyfriend and I based our virus precautions on a mix of scrupulosity, CDC guidance and folk wisdom. I wasn’t fully comfortable with some of his suggestions for how to spend our time together (a crowded nightclub, for instance, was totally out of the question), but there was no way that my two-week vacation to his place could be filled solely by watching “90 Day Fiancé” clips inside his apartment. (Not that we didn’t try.) Outdoor dates, then, were the answer — a safe, fun and season-appropriate compromise. We went to the beach, the pool, multiple parks and evening riverfront walks, always making sure to keep our distance from others, who did the same. This wasn’t even in Louisville; this was in Pittsburgh, where I was born but only lived in for a year. Our outdoor dates let me see the natural beauty of the area in a way I could never have appreciated as a baby. I’m not a homebody by any means; my independence is one of the freedoms I enjoy most. Before COVID, when I was living in Manhattan, going on a date meant going to places like a theater, museum or a familiar club — all full of life but all crowded and indoors. Quite honestly, the idea of going somewhere outside besides a beach or a breathtaking mountain hike would have seemed relatively boring. Now, though, I realize what I’d been missing. I’m becoming more comfortable with meeting new dates indoors as long as we’re on the same page about being vaxxed or wearing masks when we have to — something you can actually filter for on certain dating apps! — but I’m just as happy to go somewhere where we can enjoy the best of the natural world around us. —Carolyn Brown 

A New Way To Run

Running uphill is one of the worst parts of running, so I never thought trail running sounded too fun. Pavement only for me, thanks. But, while the pandemic allowed more time for running, it also made my old routes feel repetitive: Wake up early, run up and down the same four streets, then go home. Repeat every other day until exhaustion. So, I let my SO take me on a graded jog in the hills of Cherokee. The scrambles up dirt mounds were more difficult, but it also gave me an excuse to slow down and walk sometimes. The scenery was more engaging, my brain felt challenged by avoiding small rocks and tree branches, and — now that it’s getting warmer — I find that it’s cooler speeding under a green canopy than in a neighborhood with spotty cover. Summer running is the actual worst part of running, after all. And, trail running is pretty much just as low barrier as regular running is. Or, at least, a salesperson at Pacers & Racers in New Albany told me that street running shoes transform into trail running kicks much easier than the other way around. So, strap on a pair of your retired running shoes (this isn’t necessarily salesperson-recommended, but it works for me) and get going. There are plenty of trails in the area that make for a good run: Try Cherokee, the Parklands, the Knobstone or Jefferson Memorial Forest. I also suspect that Waverly Park and Bernheim would be good spots to get in some miles. Sure, it might wreck your Strava stats, but you can call yourself a trail runner now, which sounds much more impressive. ­— Danielle Grady

Down By The River 

Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved being outside. My first love was riding bikes. It didn’t matter where or why. From there, I’ve taken up hiking, walking and the occasional jog. So my relationship with the great outdoors was already cemented well-before COVID struck and understandably shut down the world. While the first few months featured cooler temperatures and high anxiety, as we eased into the new normal, I needed a new outlet. I’m a social person, albeit one that toes the line between introvert and extrovert. Sure, a Zoom date or two was a perfectly reasonable option, but that didn’t quite scratch the itch. Once the summer heat hit, my friends and I found the perfect solution to our shared struggle: the river. The Ohio River is and probably will always be gross as hell, but if you find just the right spot at just the right time of day, you get the perfect breeze. Sitting in a lawn chair, feet posted up, Afrobeat softly issuing from a Bluetooth speaker became the perfect afternoon. The secret: get there and find some shade. Get cozy, bring friends. Sure, you have to look at Indiana, but the end result is a mellow gold paradise of flip-flops and jams, the perfect encapsulation of the Parrothead way of life, but with music that I actually like. —Syd Bishop

Looking For A Bike  

Like almost anyone else with a rudimentary interest in cycling, but had yet to dive deeper into that world, during the pandemic I began a search for a road bike. Stock was wildly low — especially used entry-level bikes in a journalists’ price range — since gyms were closed or people were wary of them. But after the ice retreated, with some patience and a little luck, I stumbled upon exactly what I was looking for — a pretty well taken care of endurance bike that could zip around town for long treks and climb the hills in Cherokee Park. Before COVID, I had a cruiser, which I mostly used for easy Sunday rides and to bar hop, but I could use this new purchase as an exercise and adrenaline machine, pedaling with speed and bombing down hills. That last part, in and of itself, helped the pandemic blues, but I also think there’s something to be said about how the last year and a half made us take the leap — or plan to take the leap — into something we’ve always wanted to do. And I think that trend will continue. Those clubs, groups, sports, events, places you’ve wanted to try but have been putting off for years? The last 15 months probably made you think about them a lot. I know I have. Hopefully we all have the opportunity soon to chase those things. —Scott Recker