It’s easy to enumerate what the pandemic has taken away from us, but I’m trying to reflect on the positive effects of lockdown too. For one, I’ve never been able to spend so many consecutive nights with Molly and Emoji. When Molly and I first met, we lived in different cities, and even when we moved to Pittsburgh we were both traveling constantly. Spending an entire year together has been a silver lining; I can’t imagine going through this without her. Emoji has been very happy that we’re home all the time, and I don’t miss driving out to the doggie boarding place to drop him on the way to the airport. That fuzzy little guy is the best part of working from home.
In terms of activities, the biggest new thing for me has been building a consistent walking and hiking practice. Every day, when I’m done with work, I go for a walk through my neighborhood. Usually I swing through the Allegheny Cemetery, which has enough wooded areas to attract wildlife. I like to have a consistent route because it helps me see subtle shifts in the changing seasons, and identify how my routine intersects with others. I often see the same people in the graveyard: runners, mourners, and that one guy who brings his guitar to serenade the unkindness of ravens (that’s actually what a group of ravens is called!).
There was one man I saw consistently for months. He would park in the same spot and set up his folding chair near a candle covered gravesite nearby. He was there when I arrived, and stayed until sun set. When I saw that Creative Nonfiction had a tweet-length writing contest I fired up the old Small Flock account to write a micro-story about it:
We also started hiking every weekend. I knew I enjoyed hiking, but it always felt like a thing I did infrequently, maybe on a trip, with much planning involved. We started going because it was pandemic friendly, but it was a revelation to realize—wait, we could do this every weekend!
Western Pennsylvania is chock-full of public lands within a 1.5 hour drive of Pittsburgh. National Forests, State Parks, State Game Lands, Wilderness Areas. There are so many options that we’ve never had to hike the same trail twice (unless we wanted to). I love being in the woods, and the landscape here is gorgeous year-round with its rolling hills, massive rock outcroppings, and cozy hemlock groves.
We hiked over 250 miles in the last year, all of them with Emoji on our side—pulling us along as fast as he can. Who knew that such a tiny dog could have the energy to hike up to 12 miles a day? It’s one of his favorite words now; if he hears us say “hiking” he’ll jump up in excitement. It’s definitely one of the things I hope we hold on to as the pandemic fades. It’s good for all of us, physically and mentally, to spend a few hours a week on the trails.