In April of 2020, Michigan had a spring snowstorm. I had been physically distancing since February, and somehow the surprise storm seemed like the last straw (icicle, snowdrift, chilblain?). Of course, there was more to come with COVID-19, but at the time I felt trapped. No adventures, working from home, and far from family and friends. I was miserable.
As a person in recovery, I realize that I am vulnerable during times of loneliness and stress. And COVID-19 was, by everyone’s estimate, the BIG ONE. When isolation was the norm instead of something to forswear. And the very thing I have been rabbiting on about (pun intended) for the past seven years was limited. Recovery adventures were a scary proposition.
But ladies and gentlemen, I am not seven years sober by chance. I am creative when it comes to saving my own life. And so, I chose those nature centers that were close to home. And times to hike when most folks were sleeping or huddled by a fire in their living rooms, assuring six feet of distance between me and anyone else who likes the Michigan woods. As things opened up, I widened my radius and occasionally chose a safe buddy for company.
One of the keys to successful outcomes in recovery is finding something outside of yourself. Try stuff. Identify with something you do that can’t be shaken – even by a relapse. Find an identity as a hiker, artist, spiritual/religious devotee, crocheter, gardener … go out and do something.
Ellen Sork, LLMSW – Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers Clinical Therapist
Benefits of an Adventurer’s Identity
I am an adventurer. And in finding my identity as a hiker, I have so many added benefits to my health and well-being. I can choose solitude or commune with a friend. Hiking improves cardio-respiratory fitness and decreases depression and feelings of hopelessness. And it improves balance (helpful for someone who could not walk a straight line for years), and keeps you young.
But most of all, getting outside for a walk makes you more creative and happier. It impacts brain chemistry in a positive way. And I can attest to the fact I have never felt worse for putting on my hiking boots and hitting the trail.
My 5 Favorite Michigan Nature Centers (during COVID-19 and beyond)
1. Blandford Nature Center, Grand Rapids, MI
Blandford, is my number one choice as it was the closest prospect, and hence the most tested resource during the pandemic lock-down. They were closed, but there is a small parking lot on the outskirts and nature never shuts down. I followed a herd of deer for months. Was startled by a committee of vultures “visiting” a caged comrade, hulking in the trees like mourners in black coats. And when spring came, the center opened and I was reassured by the certainty of birdsong and budding trees.
Recovery benefit: establishing familiarity and community, and finding a childlike joy in being close to animals in their natural surroundings.
2. P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, Muskegon, MI
The “walk a mile” trail is gorgeous. And if you arrive early enough (8 AM) the parking lot is usually empty. Trails end at Lake Michigan with plenty of spots to create a hidey-hole and eat a power bar for the way back.
Recovery Benefit: In the same way art in public places enriches the lives of people in cities, experiencing beauty in nature improves quality of life.
3. Laketown Beach, Holland, MI
I hesitate to tell you about this one, because I do not want you to go there … I love how vast and empty it usually is. It’s probably empty because it requires a lot of climbing in drifted sand. First, you climb/crawl a sand clogged stairway forever up – over the dune to panoramic views of Lake Michigan. There you will find almost 500 rickety steps down to the lake. Which of course means 500 stairs back up. The park is tiny and boundary-lined with “no trespassing” signs, but the view and the beach are beautiful. And you can walk the shore for miles, rain, sleet, snow, gale winds or shine.
Recovery benefit: feeling pride and satisfaction in your achievement, and enhanced brain function with aerobic exercise training!
4. Duck Lake State Park, Whitehall, MI
This adventure gives you a triple whammy of inland lake, sand dune and Great Lake. And if feels very “Up North” for only being an hour from Grand Rapids. If you have a kayak, you can float into Lake Michigan from Duck Lake. It might require lying flat to clear the bridge, or a short portage, but it is a unique experience. Duck Lake gets busy on a sunny weekend, making the boat launch a bit of a traffic jam, but once on the water it’s smooth sailing. No boat? Hike up some easy dunes and take the trail along the lake.
Recovery benefit: getting away from it all is restorative, and floating on a quiet lake is a good time for mindfulness meditation.
5. Reeds Lake, Grand Rapids, MI
Sunrise is my favorite time of day, and the Reeds Lake sunrises are spectacular. The well-tended John Collins Park is always empty at this time. The park has flower beds and pots overflowing with petunias, Canadian geese, swans and mallards aplenty. And the benches are sign-posted with notices as to when they were sterilized. All this and a light show!
Recovery benefit: whether you pray, meditate or nourish your spiritual side, a sunrise inspires a fresh start on a brand-new day.
It’s Been Hard to Feel Grateful …
Let’s be honest, the last few months have been tough. And sometimes I found myself mired in the difficulties – finding little to be grateful for. But the real benefits to life and recovery stand the test of time and circumstance. And when I applied the methods that work for me, even when is was inconvenient, I felt better. I remembered to be thankful for the things that matter. Like my loved ones via Zoom, my meaningful job (often via Zoom), my excellent health, and living in a place where with a little gumption I can experience nature’s curative gifts.