I can breathe clearly now the masks are gone. (Apologies to the original song for the appropriation.)
Now that the CDC has lifted the ban on masks if you’re double vaxxed, it’s so nice to breathe the fresh sweet air. It’s something I didn’t appreciate before COVID-19. I also never really noticed the seasons changing. But after a year of running almost daily in Riverside Park, I’ve watched them unfold like never before; even as a lifelong Upper West Sider, who grew up across the street.
Sometimes it takes a giant pandemic to make us appreciate the little things in life.
It all started in April 2020, when I decided to take up running to keep from going stir crazy indoors. After a month of sheltering inside, I wanted to get some daily exercise and vitamin D. Besides, I was determined not to gain the COVID-19 pounds from baking endless loaves of sourdough and banana breads.
To stay in shape, I tried doing jumping jacks and squats down the long hallway in my building’s basement. I lifted weights while watching Facebook Live classes. But the outdoors beckoned.
So masked, gloved and Purelled, my husband and I took to the park. It felt extremely brave to venture outdoors willingly, into a world of invisible zombies parading as contagious germs.
At first, we ran past empty streets, padlocked playgrounds, and deserted highways even at rush hour on what used to be bumper-to-bumper Friday nights. The world was on pause. The park palette was gray and depressing.
Before long, however, the first signs of hope arrived. Early snowdrop flowers began to pop up from the dormant ground as winter crossed into spring, pandemic be damned.
Almost overnight, tiny buds began to appear on barren trees. The park turned into heartening shades of green. Thanks to April showers, each day, crocuses, daffodils, and tulips began to appear in a rainbow of colors.
The 91st Street Garden arose from the dead. There were myriad varieties of flowers. Lenten roses, vinca, glory-of-the-snow, Virginia bluebells and forget-me-nots. (I asked an expert gardener to point them all out to me.) Monarch and swallowtail butterflies emerged. The hills came alive with yellow forsythia.
It was like a nature show, watching the park bloom and flourish, even while the city still slept. Mother Nature does her job so well.
By May the cherry and crabapple blossoms, dogwood, and magnolia created an explosion of pink and white. I’d run over a carpet of petals fallen from the abundant blossoms. Trees that I never gave a second glance, welcomed me with their beauty each time I ran by.
In June, people left their homes for socially-distanced picnics and happy hours on the green grass. Lilies, black-eyed Susans, hollyhock and heather flowered. The park was fertile.
July and August brought a wonderland of hydrangea, verbena, sweet alyssum, zinnia, asters and hibiscus. Who knew there were so many different flowers here?
Then came September and October, when leaves turned yellow, orange and red. I’d run on paths, dusted in golden leaves from the honey locust trees.
Sunsets along the Hudson were a nightly show. Sometimes, a painting of pink and purple stripes; other times, filled with cotton candy clouds.
By November and December, my runs slowed, but I persisted, bundling up against the elements on sunny days.
In early January my occasional jog was perfumed by the smell of pine, as the city mulched Christmas trees for fertilizer. February brought blizzards and park walks through knee-high drifts, as kids flew by on sleds and snowmen proliferated.
Then it started all over again. More than a year after the pandemic forever changed our lives, I’m watching the seasonal rebirth once again. It’s amazing how nature renews itself each year, just as we are now doing.
Spring is here in full force. Summer is around the corner. So many are vaccinated. Masks have come off. We can see smiles once again.
Optimism rules, and I keep running.