Outdoor spaces provide remedy for the stress, tedium of COVID-19


Amon Gray

The Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile path that follows the Lake Michigan shoreline. Since Ms. Anderson was used to running on the lakefront, she was glad to discover different outdoor locations.

Amon Gray, Assistant Editor

On a rainy evening during the summer of 2020, math teacher Shauna Anderson took her daily run to the Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park. She was alone because of the rain and it reminded her of Kyoto, Japan, a city known for its beautiful outdoor spaces.

During the pandemic and distance learning, teachers have found that outdoor spaces have been a place to develop hobbies and escape from the mundane parts of the city and Zoom.

Chemistry teacher Zachary Hund has enjoyed having a spacious backyard in the suburb of Flossmoor as a space for himself and his family. Dr. Hund said he and his family spent most of their time before the winter out in their backyard and their neighborhood to ensure that his young children got enough time outdoors. 

“There’s nothing, to me, better than sitting out there with a fire pit surrounded by trees and my children’s playground and enjoying the peace of my own space,” Dr. Hund said.

P.E. teacher Tom Piane recommends his students to stay active outside as much as possible. Mr. Piane enjoys walking and biking with his family in Bemis Woods Forest Preserve, part of the Forest Preserves of Cook County in the west suburb of Westchester. 

“When we’re on that bike path, we stop at a bridge to watch and hear the water going over the rocks,” Mr. Piane said. “There’s also woods to explore around there and you can find animal tracks like deer and raccoons.”

Ms. Anderson has found places closer to her home in the Woodlawn neighborhood to run and exercise. Since the lakefront reopened for recreation in late spring, Ms. Anderson has enjoyed the view of the city from Promontory Point, but she said she’s glad to have discovered the other spaces she did during the summer.

“Those places, the Japanese Garden and Washington Park, were the COVID silver lining for me because I was so used to running on the lakefront,” Ms. Anderson said, “so the fact that I had to find someplace else to run, and I could discover those places by necessity, was actually a good thing.”

Outdoor spaces during the pandemic have also opened up opportunities for expanding hobbies. Librarian Susan Augustine has been able to put more time and effort into her backyard garden. Ms. Augustine also enjoys walking at Bobolink Meadow in Jackson Park and in Graceland Cemetery on the North Side.

“I think that nature is the antidote to Zoom,” Ms. Augustine said. “It’s tactile, it’s physical, it’s peaceful. It relaxes me and it brings me joy and it makes me feel like the earth is going to be OK.”

This past year, outdoor spaces have been places where teachers can find things in their lives to counter the stress and tedium of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s really important to get out and get refreshed and do that outside,” Ms. Anderson said. “It just gives me a whole different mindset when I’m outside and I’m wearing my mask, and to get a break from the monotony and the screen time and the Zoom calls is just very refreshing.”