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Environment

Going for a Walk in a Pandemic Is Great, Except for...

The droplet spewers, the prolific poopers and other risks of the great and terrible outdoors.

Dorothy Woodend 14 Sep 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

Go for a walk, they said. You’ll feel better, they said. Walks are relaxing, a tonic for the mind and heart, they said. Never listen to they — don’t you know that by now?

In theory, walking around your neighbourhood is one of the safest activities you can do in pandemic times. Some fresh air, a bit of sunshine, flowers, birds, etc.

But there are hidden dangers too, stuff that can send your blood pressure skyrocketing into the stratosphere, as well as more minor irritants. These things probably won’t kill you, but then again, they just might.

To get the most out of a peaceful walk, there are some things that are best avoided if you want to get any kind of stress relief. Skirt a wide berth around the following:

Hipsters

Normally I find hipsters vaguely amusing with their watch caps, beards and innovative hairstyles. But when a hipster family is walking four-abreast on the sidewalk — skinny mother, behatted father, dog approximately the size and demeanour of The Hound of the Baskervilles, stroller on the scale of a Humvee, and everyone needing extra room for their venti coffee cups, it’s a bit much. Being forced off the sidewalk into the path of oncoming traffic is awkward enough, but it’s the obliviousness that is most galling.

In good Canadian fashion you can send a death stare over the top of your mask or make a pointed display of stepping off the path into the verge, but passive-aggressive measures don’t really cut it with the clueless and the deeply self-absorbed. It’s best to offer an object lesson for the sake of others. Swallow your natural reticence and ask in a clear calm voice, “Could you please give me some room?” If that doesn’t work, snatch off their watch caps and run away, screaming, “I’ve got your hat!” See how quickly they give chase, running after you in single file.

Runners

Speed and fluids — separately these two things are OK, but in combination they’re horrific. Every time a runner blows past me in the park, huffing and panting like a tea kettle on full boil, I tend to hold my breath. I have no idea if this actually does anything, but it feels like the right thing to do in the moment, as invisible respiratory clouds fill the air.

The other issue with going for a walk in some parks is that this experience will happen in a loop, as runners make their way around a track. Not just one but, depending on the time of day, multiple runners circling multiple times. It’s exponential math in the flesh. The sweaty, fluid-emitting variety. Worse than algebra! This experience is the opposite of calming, as each time it happens you feel your vertebrae seize with anxiety.

There’s always the option of walking on the grass, but then you may bump into some other park dwellers. Which brings me to the geese.

Psychopathic geese

From a distance, Canada geese are strikingly attractive with their sleek black heads and grey plumage. But up close and personal it’s another story. These noble-looking creatures are actually savage furies in feathers. In addition to creating massive amounts of poop, they are insanely territorial. If you accidentally stray too close, be prepared to be chased by a flock of hissing, beaked, winged psychopaths.

The geese population has seemingly exploded of late. Maybe the birds were getting busy while the humans were all in hardcore lockdown. (Add in horny to that earlier list of goose characteristics). Thuggish avian species are common in Vancouver, but unlike crows and finches that are too small to do much damage, geese are big enough to knock over a small child or a particularly feeble hipster. If you see these Canuck birds coming, head in the opposite direction as fast as you can, taking extra care not to slip and fall in their excrement.

Drum circles

Drum circles in the park are the worst, but there are also bluegrass players, would-be acrobats, yoga classes, fitness bros and general partiers. Every public park in Vancouver was packed to the gills this summer. It was kind of sweet and endearing and also mildly irritating.

It’s curious to witness new social habits developing, almost in real time, as people try to negotiate and navigate in order to have enough space for themselves and their respective activities. As more and more people have descended on green spaces in the city, a certain amount of jostling ensued. Add in the noise factor of competing musical forms, like drum dudes squaring off against a jazz trio, and you have the modern-day equivalent of a rumble in the jungle. An epic battle of honking and tooting versus bongo thunder. Walking by this cacophonic conflagration is enough to leave longing for the peace and silence of a tomb.

Your own thoughts

Walking is an excellent way to work through issues. As a great many big thinkers — from Bruce Chatwin to Aristotle have pointed out, the act is conducive to problem solving and creativity. But sometimes it gives your brain too much time and space to perform loop-de-loops of anxiety and introspection, with nothing to distract from the tumult of your thoughts except for killer geese, mad cyclists, droplet-laden runners, hipster hordes and drum circles.

Shuffling in slow circles around the living room rug might not sound super thrilling and, to be blunt, it’s not. There’s always the option of walking at odd hours, like 5 a.m. when only people with dogs and CBC radio announcers are up, but for most people who keep human/humane hours, this isn’t a realistic option.

So, what to do?

The one good thing about Vancouver’s empty house crisis is that there are certain neighbourhoods where you can walk for ages and never see another living soul.

Dipsy doodling in a circuitous path around the city can provide all manner of new sights and experiences — weird architecture, public art, pocket parks and random places to get new and interesting snacks. Diverting from your usual route can have other unexpected benefits.

The best of these? Topiary! There are some epic examples of the art of bushwhacking in the city. Some examples aren’t that impressive, such as what looks to be a large rabbit with double-D breasts. But sometimes you turn a corner and see magnificence in someone’s front yard.

On one nondescript street in East Vancouver stands a mighty topiary llama. It is a regal creature, several metres tall, facing the future with an implacable green gaze. Looking upon its glory, I feel better about the world and rejuvenated enough to trudge my way home.  [Tyee]

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