Into the woods with you

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

John Muir

Turns out the social distancing thing is easy to do at Sweetwater Wetlands Preserve.

On Monday my daughter and I must have walked a couple of miles around Gainesville’s wastewater purification facility disguised as a city park…and still didn’t cover all of its vast acreage.

It looked like there were maybe a hundred others present, but the sheer size of the preserve is such that nobody seemed in danger of passing within, um, catching distance.

Keeping six feet between humans? Easy.

But 20 feet from the gators, please. Because this virus is bad enough, losing a few fingers will really ruin your day.

Listen, if you’ve got kids at home, I can’t recommend Sweetwater strongly enough. You’ll walk the energy right out of ‘em.

Only instead of just saying “keep away from the gators, children” throw in “and the people too.”

On Tuesday we practiced our social distancing skills at O’Leno State Park. Crossing the swinging bridge freaked out the dog, but he loved the trail that follows the Santa Fe River through dense woods and palmetto scrubs to that place where the river vanishes underground.

Florida’s state parks have cancelled special events, camping, pavilion rentals and such, but as of this writing they remain open for…let’s just call it wilderness therapy. Likewise some city parks are still open for day use.

Suddenly the way most of us live our daily lives has been seriously disrupted. My son, in San Francisco, is under virtual lockdown, with parole granted only for brief trips to the grocery store.

But keeping our social distance around here doesn’t have to mean 24/7 house arrest. And as it happens, we live a community that has long invested generously in wide open spaces.

If nothing else take frequent walks around your neighborhood to avoid cabin fever.

But go a bit farther afield and you can walk for miles in the San Felasco Hammock without brushing up against another human being. Ditto the Newnans Lake Loop, near Windsor. And the Susan Wright Trail stretches for nearly 5 miles through the Prairie Creek Preserve.

To name just a few local walk-in-the-woods options.

Just remember to take water and wear good shoes.

Oh, and for you gym rats suffering from withdrawal symptoms? Try doing your spinning on a real bicycle for a change.

Gainesville is a bikable city. You can get almost anywhere via mostly neighborhood streets.

And as a side benefit, research shows that cycling can help strengthen your immune system.

I hear you, you’re afraid to share the road with cars. No problem.

The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail is a world-class, car-free recreational treasure, and it’s more than a 30-mile round trip. If you’ve never been on it you’ve cheated yourself.

Look, we don’t know how long all of this social upending is going to last. And sticking as close to home as much as possible is our best recourse. That is especially true, of course, if you haven’t been feeling well or are starting to show symptoms. Stay home!

But these troubling times also present the opportunity to acquaint yourself with the best our region has to offer – wild spaces and bikable neighborhoods – without breaking the social distancing taboo.

Hey, Alachua County is where nature and culture meet, right? And while our culture may be under some stress right now, our nature beckons still.

Signs are everywhere

Of late I have taken to spending my afternoons wandering aimlessly around Gainesville on my bicycle. It’s just the way I practice my social distancing in the time of Coronavirus. This is my town and I like to keep a eye on it.

Of course these are not normal times. Not even close. So I’ve been stopping on my solitary sojourns to take photographs.

This is the Thomas Center. A previous city manager had this entryway redesigned and called it Gainesville’s “front door.” Which was kind of weird because it’s located in the back. Anyway, the idea was to present a friendly welcoming face to city residents.

But these are not welcoming times.

I stopped by the Duck Pond and learned that the neighborhood’s swans have been faring little better than us humans in this time of calamity. The female died last winter and the male has just come down with bumblefoot and has been taken away for treatment. We are all in this together.

Roper Park is a delightful pocket of green, pastels and primary colors. A place where Duck Pond residents can sit in the shade and watch their kids play. Closed now. But I saw a boy skateboarding in the parking lot of the church across the street.

It’s true. You can’t fight city hall. You can’t even get into it.

A reminder that we have already endured yellow fever epidemics. We can beat this.

On the plus side, we can hang on to those overdue library books as long as we want

Free stuff at Bo Diddley Plaza. But there’s a catch…

We will skip the obvious cliches about death and taxes.

Reminders of better times than these.

The way we were.

The way we are.

As life goes on.

My last stop of the journey: They closed our neighborhood park. Did they put up this sign to keep people out or keep Mother Nature in?