Kinderhook, New York
Body/Soul | Environment | Local living
26 September 2020 04:14PM
Ralph Gardner Jr.

A lot of people I know – make that everyone – are apprehensive as we head into autumn and then winter with coronavirus nipping at our heels and more essential organs. So as a modest public service, I thought I’d offer some of the solutions I’ve come up with for coping with the season’s stresses, psychological as well as physical.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’m not a doctor. I’m also not a psychologist. I’m not even necessarily a good person. I’ve occasionally been described as a garden-variety narcissist by those nearest and dearest to me. But one thing that narcissists have going for us is that we know how to look out for ourselves.

So here are some of the strategies that have helped me navigate the first act of the pandemic and that I hope and pray will help me negotiate act two. Fingers crossed this play has only two acts.

Nature is key and this part of the world has lots of it. One of the benefits of the pandemic is that it’s encouraged us to count our blessings. I was recently scrolling through a joint effort by Pro Publica and the New York Times to predict and map the coming catastrophic effects of climate change on the United States. I was relieved to discover that we’re in something of a sweet spot in terms of heat, sea level rise, farm crop yields, very large fires and economic damage.

That’s no reason to gloat, of course. If the virus has taught us anything, and I’m afraid it hasn’t, it’s that we’re all in this together. We can build gates and moats around ourselves for only so long. What happens on the other side of the world today can find its way to our carefully mowed backyards tomorrow. I always believed that the future success of our species rested on us seeing this gorgeous, miraculous marble floating against the blackness of interstellar space as a joint venture, nation states merely a primitive phase that will eventually be replaced by planetary consciousness.

That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. Except that it is already. Just not in the way we’d intended — with rainbows, lollipops and hugs. Nature is rather ruthlessly raising our consciousness through extreme events such as uncontainable wildfires, droughts and category 5 hurricanes. I’ve heard that if there’s any silver lining to this pandemic it’s that large percentages of us can be persuaded to do things like wear masks for our own and the common good.

Here again, our region constitutes something of a charmed oasis. I take the Northeast’s low infection rate as proof that we might be marginally more enlightened than some other unnamed parts of the country. The prevalence of mask wearing isn’t just because it’s been proven to be effective, but as a manifestation of pride in our common sense and belief in science.

But I stray. This was going to be a service piece offering strategies to stay sane. So here goes: Apple picking. No problem socially distancing there. My favorite local orchard is called Samascott. It’s in Kinderhook. I don’t know if their apples are better or different from anybody else’s, but their vistas are unsurpassed. You can gaze straight across the Hudson Valley to the Catskills while you pick, polish, munch and, obviously, purchase your Macs, Fujis and Galas.

Here’s another one. Ride a bike. In anticipation of the debut of the Empire State Rail Trail, I bought a bike rack. When it’s completed by the end of the year the trail will run continuously from New York City to Lake Champlain and from Albany to Buffalo. Unconnected stretches of it are already open. And since bike vacations in Holland or Ireland are out of the question at the moment, because Americans are persona non grata in most of Europe, thanks to the government’s bungled coronavirus response, this is the next best thing.

One more. Find yourself a project. Preferably something epic. I’m not good at making things with my hands – such as an apartment over our garage – so I’m writing a family memoir. A memoir offers multiple therapeutic benefits. If nothing else, it helps put what we’re all going through at the moment in a larger context.

I was fortunate to inherit thirty-five volumes of my mother’s diaries dating back to the 1930’s as well as thousands of letters, postcards and telegrams she received. Turns out she never threw anything out. Both the diaries and the correspondence are filled with news – from family gossip to the Cuban Missile Crisis – as well as complaints about the weather and affectionate stories about pets long gone.

Most of the correspondents, my mother and father included, are gone too. But their parting gift, among others, is to help put things in perspective. To give you the confidence to believe that one day this dire moment will also fade into history.

Climate change unfortunately won’t. Perhaps that’s my final piece of unsolicited advice. Do something life-affirming. Invest in the future. Phone bank for a candidate whose policies support the planet. Reach out to a friend you’ve lost touch with. Compost. Buy a fire pit and invite the neighbors over for a socially distanced cup of tea or something more mood-altering. There’s lots we can do to reinforce the bonds of affection, outdoors as well as indoors, even while the days grow shorter and temperatures fall.

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