A new appreciation for home: how quarantine and a local park changed my perspective

Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 1:38pm

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Illustration by Hibah Mirza

Lockdown encouraged me to attempt an activity I’ve fervently hated for my entire life: running. I laced up my decade-old Nikes and curated a Spotify playlist titled “chill run,” replacing my usual dance-pop workout songs with tracks from Frank Ocean and SZA. At the very least I wanted to enjoy the music. Then, I set off into my Metro Detroit subdivision.

Each house was a clone of its neighbor — with the exception of the siding and brick color, which ranged between dull neutral tones. They were meticulously placed equidistant from each other, allowing identical plots of land for residence. As I passed by each home, I felt like I was dashing through a rat maze with uniform walls and indistinguishable turns.

As a kid, I tried to find pleasure in the monotony by comparing it to a campground. Both have flat patches of land, tightly packed together. They each resemble a community — kind of. However, the biggest difference between the two rests in their surroundings. Campgrounds are cocooned in nature, while my subdivision is covered in cement. Once I got older, this ambitious analogy vanished, and I embraced a new outlook on my vicinity. 

I wanted to leave it.

My favorite memories from my youth are rooted in the outdoors. My dad is an avid adventurist and outdoorsman, and I grew up admiring his passion for the earth. I’m grateful to have a dad who not only introduced me to outdoor activities but encouraged me to forge my own love for nature. I’ve accompanied him on countless camping outings and hiking treks — our preferred choice of bonding. And to do that, we had to escape my home town’s seemingly natureless, flat topography. 

My dad didn’t seem to mind returning to our level home base after one of our adventures, but I did. Our experiences in the outdoors were some of the highlights of my life, and I was always looking forward to the next one. I felt completely at peace when I was enveloped in nature, and I constantly craved that sensation. 

I specifically desired this comfort in high school, when I began feeling unhappy and detached. As the college search began, I fantasized about what adulthood would be like along the coast of northern California or in the rolling forested mountains of the Northeast. I wanted to completely abandon Michigan, the only home I’ve ever known. I felt like my internal struggles would disappear in an unfamiliar place that felt more like ‘me.’ Frankly, I didn’t appreciate my home state. I stupidly felt that being from a nondescript suburban town didn’t align with who I was or what I wanted to be. It felt like a stop along the way instead of a destination. 

However, for the standard reasons students stay in-state, I wound up at the University of Michigan. But instead of shying away from my Midwestern roots, I fell in love with being a Michigan kid — a title I unquestionably took for granted in my adolescent years. In an overwhelming, strange new place, I cherished the comfort of connecting with fellow Michiganders over Meijer and using our hand as a state map. Additionally, I loved Ann Arbor. The tree-covered streets were a well-appreciated adjustment from my subdivision, and I was a stroll away from Nichols Arboretum — total environmental bliss. Thus, I can’t say I was thrilled to leave campus and return to my hometown.

After a few weeks of quarantine passed, I felt further from the outdoors than I ever have before. Initially, I took up running as a workout I could do outside in order to take advantage of the anticipated spring weather. However, I knew running through my city’s repetitive scenery would eventually lead me to abandon my main form of exercise, so I decided to switch up my route. I realized I needed to connect my quarantine workout with my longing love for the outdoors. 

My parents recently picked up long-distance bike riding as their stay-at-home hobby, and their go-to trail is in Kensington Metropark — a public park only a 15 minute drive from my house. I vaguely remember Kensington from my childhood. I had been once for my dad’s office picnic and another time for a 5k for a local animal shelter. I also had used the woods during high school as a makeshift spot for my senior pictures. They all turned out bad.

Despite these associations, Kensington seemed like a perfect substitute for my repetitive loop through suburbia. I mapped out a five-mile out and back run along Kent Lake, Kensington’s main attraction, and accompanied my parents on their ride over to the park. Once we arrived, I promised them I’d be done in an hour and we’d meet back in the parking lot. 

As I drifted down the paved path, I absorbed the draping trees scattered on either side of me. Though mostly barren, the newborn buds were delicately speckled throughout the wooded landscape. I followed the winding trail up and down modest hills, much smaller than what I’m used to, but I didn’t mind. I emerged from the trees and found myself right next to the lake — which was much more expansive than I gave it credit for years ago. I floated past families fishing and observing the calm water, and eventually turned around at the nature center. I made a mental note to check out the wildlife trail next weekend. 

I started going to Kensington a couple of times a week. Whether it was for relaxing walks with my mom or a run by myself, I absolutely loved it. I finally discovered a place in my hometown that evokes the feeling nature always seems to bring me — reverence and tranquility. One evening after a solo run, I plopped down on the edge of Kent Lake to watch the sunset. I laid back on the uncut grass, ignoring the itches that teased my legs. The sky was overcast and a colorful performance was unlikely, but I sat there for an hour anyway. At that moment, I didn’t wish to be on a mountain peak or a backpacking trail. I didn’t want to be anywhere else but home. And for one of the first times in quarantine, my world felt at peace. In a time where everything feels unfamiliar, I was able to seek comfort in my perpetual connection to nature — a bond that brings me complete happiness.

Quarantine has forced so many of us to rediscover home, which, depending on the circumstances, can be a well-needed reflection. For Kerry Neville, a writer for Lonely Planet, the unexpected downtime has inspired her to track wildlife with her dog in middling Georgia, instead of working on her usual: an outdoor exploration in Ireland. In a piece for Cosmopolitan, Anne Smith revealed how isolation has made her hyper-aware of how much she loves her parents, and how she couldn’t wait to leave NYC (her sixteen-year-old dream city) to return to her small town. 

And for me, like most of us, the stay-at-home order forced me to return to where I grew up. But returning to my hometown is different this time around: instead of yearning to escape, I’m finding appreciation for it. I’m learning to value every corner of my home — especially in the places I ignored before. Rather than emphasize the imperfections in my hometown, I’ve embraced its pivotal role in my upbringing — good and bad. I wouldn’t be who I am without it. 

This unprecedented time period, if nothing else, allows those of us in quarantine one thing: the opportunity to explore what is right in front of us. I encourage you to search around a little bit, wherever you may be located. In doing so, you might discover a newfound appreciation for home, just as I did.