At the time that this article went to press, the number of individuals infected by COVID-19 has not diminished. Our streets are quiet, but inside each hospital the scene is reminiscent of a humanitarian crisis, with a shortage of supplies and medical professionals leaving the front line of this health crisis after coming down with the same illness as their patients. The air outdoors feels cleaner, as there are fewer vehicles on the city’s roads. Our streets are quiet enough that one does not hear any honking, cars with loud bass, or screeching tires. The silence is pierced by ambulance sirens, with a frequency that rivals that of airplanes that used to fly above our neighborhoods on any given day.
In the past two weeks, my household adjusted to the pressure of at-home work and schooling with the natural desire to spend at least a few minutes outdoors. The parks are open, and in the more densely populated neighborhoods there seems to be hardly any enforcement in reducing the number of park-goers and dispersing people playing sports in teams. If one is mindful of social distancing and avoiding heavily touched surfaces, then the limits of “stay at home” can be expanded to allow for some breathing space.
My daughter’s first Zoom class each day begins at 9:30 a.m., which is usually three hours after she wakes up. In that timeframe, she had eaten her breakfast and had at least an hour to be outside, with the fresh air giving her the energy to pay attention to three online classes that she will be having that day, in addition to playing nicely with her younger brother, and not disturbing either of her parents who are working on their laptops. I also take them out in the late afternoon so that they would have the appetite for dinner and fall asleep in a good mood.
I take my children out early, before public outdoor spaces receive too many visitors and increase the risk of spreading the virus. We avoid playgrounds and restrooms, where the virus sits on surfaces used by children who inevitably touch each other, their family members, and their faces. Here are our favorite early morning outdoor spaces within ten minutes of Main Street that could work for Chol HaMoed and throughout the duration of this quarantine:
Forest Park: In particular, the Pine Grove at Park Lane South and Myrtle Avenue. In the morning, the surface of the forest is covered with dew, and there’s a fresh smell to the pines in this section of the park. One can imagine the pine barrens of southern New Jersey and eastern Long Island. To me, they’re reminiscent of the thick forests of Latvia, my birthplace.
Cunningham Park: Sizable sports fields along 73rd Avenue, which are ideal for kicking a ball, tossing a Frisbee, or flying a kite. Behind the fields is a forest for some contrast, where we hike for a bit before returning home.
Alley Pond Park: At nearly 650 acres, plenty of room here for social distancing. The hiking trails lead to freshwater wetlands and ponds where one can hear birds and frogs without leaving the city. Unfortunately as more people take to this park’s forest, I look at the parking lot and, if there are too many cars, then forget it. Go back home!
Vanderbilt Motor Parkway: This linear park connects Cunningham and Alley Pond Parks using a bike path that was once the country’s first highway. If you’re asking whether a linear park offers enough space for social distancing, it depends on how many people are using the park. That’s why the High Line in Manhattan was closed out of an “abundance of caution.” But this is eastern Queens, where many residents have their own backyards for outdoor enjoyment. The soaring trees along this route have the look of nature’s cathedral. There are no benches in this park.
I am not sure whether Flushing Meadows Corona Park deserves a place on this list as my recent visits experienced enough bikers, joggers, and other families here to make me turn back at the park’s entrance. If you see more people here than you would like, please stay away.
Your Front Porch: Your children’s interest in crayons, color pencils, and paint may eventually wear out as this quarantine continues. Before they vandalize your living room walls, perhaps a bucket of chalk for the front porch, driveway, or sidewalk is the solution. Make the experience educational, inspiring, and Instagrammable!
With the city’s cultural institutions closed, their online presence offers virtual tours with panoramic camera views and detailed descriptions of the works on display.
Google Arts & Culture is the platform where more than 400 museums have posted images and descriptions of their artworks. Local participants include the Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum, Frick Collection, American Museum of Natural History, and Brooklyn Museum, among others.
Parks at Home: If one cannot go to the nearest park out of an abundance of caution, the media team at the city’s Parks Department brings the outdoor experience to your screen with calm meditation videos of park landscapes, tours of parks given by rangers, and virtual walks through selected parks. Visit www.nycgovparks.org/highlights/parks-at-home.
The Extended Family: For many of our readers, the holiday week is a time to reconnect with extended family either at our homes, their homes, or at a hotel resort. Now more than ever, our older family members need to hear from us. Some of the Pesach hotel musicians and lecturers will be delivering their performances online to uplift our spirits, but if your children can sing to their aunts, uncles, and grandparents using FaceTime or Skype, it would probably be more valuable than the headline entertainer of the canceled Pesach resort.
My 90-year-old aunt cannot have enough photos and videos of my children to cheer her up. Likewise for my 74-year-old uncle in Israel who speaks with us via Skype. As long as the US Postal Service is operating, double your effort with physical mail in the form of letters, drawings, and Pesach recipes.
The entire world is experiencing this virus and we’ve spoken to family members and friends across the country, Canada, Belarus, Russia, Latvia, and Israel. In the midst of despair, not knowing when our normal daily lives will resume, we have each other.
By Sergey Kadinsky