The hardest part of doing school at home for me is not being able to differentiate when I should be doing schoolwork and when I should be using time for myself. What ends up happening most days is that I spend hours in my bedroom, alternating between lying on the floor or sitting hunched over my desk, and either procrastinate by going on YouTube or half-heartedly read assigned texts. As unhealthy as it sounds, there are days when I feel like I get more light from my laptop screen than from the sun.
But living at home for the semester in suburban southeastern Pennsylvania does have some advantages. One of the best parts is that I live a 10-minute drive away from a nature preserve called the Gwynedd Preserve. Thinking ahead about what the next few months would look like, I vowed at the start of the semester to bring myself out of my room and to the nature preserve at least once a week.
Now, at the midpoint of the semester, I can proudly say that I have mostly honored that vow. Whether by myself or with my mom and older brother, I have been consistent in going to the preserve on the weekends.
My trek at the nature preserve always begins on a grassy incline that loops into a path surrounded by white oak and beech trees. Here I often see small herds of deer, usually fawns with their mama. The fragrance of this part of the trail is absolutely refreshing. It has a sweetness similar to pine but less sharp, and it is the polar opposite of the stale air in my room.
Beyond this path of trees, there is a multitude of other paths to follow on the 279-acre preserve. One path I usually take shoots straight directly out of the tree-covered one, but if I feel like staying longer, I take another one that leads gradually downhill on a right turn.
I actually prefer the downhill path because once I reach the bottom the terrain is flat. This path has fewer trees but more wild grasses along the way, which allows me to better see what’s ahead. At this part I like to listen for any rabbits or wild mice scurrying along the tall grass.
Regardless of the path taken, the trek ends with a loop back into the gravel parking lot. That’s it — a 30-minute or so walk where I might see some deer, observe the orange and yellows of the foliage and take in some fresh air. While being in nature can be over-romanticized at times, coming to this preserve is arguably the best thing about being home for me.
On top of being able to go outside and get exercise, this preserve gives me a needed break from the news headlines, Zoom meetings and upcoming essays. I realized, probably too late in my school years, that it is in fact okay to not be doing something productive at every hour, so I am grateful to have a place to go and take a break during a time when it is quite difficult to go out in public. Coming to this preserve every week is the pick-me-up that I have come to need during the semester.
The walks on the preserve also allow me to spend time with my family, something I was not able to do much of last year while on campus. I feel especially grateful to be able to have conversations along the trail with my brother, who I have spent more time with the last few months than I had in all of the last four years that he was away at college. We’ve probably had one too many arguments about basketball on the trail.
Lastly, I take comfort in knowing that near my house, there’s an effort to rebuild our local ecosystem. According to its website, this preserve seeks to restore the land that’s been worn down by a century of agriculture. In addition to the native grasses and wildflowers, there are different birds that can be seen throughout the year, like the screeching owl and the kestrel. Every time I go, I cannot get over how this pocket of nature can exist within local suburbs.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this semester has not been easy for anyone. The usual stress that comes from being a student has been amplified by a pandemic that looks to be getting worse. I have been fortunate to not be directly affected, but the reality of missing out on college life and never truly being able to make up that time has become much clearer now in the thick of the semester. So, to have the routine of going out for walks at the preserve is something I do not take for granted and an oasis of joy in a time of darkness.