My new oasis during the dark days of the pandemic

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Dea, my poodle dogster, and I are so fortunate. We live next to the new Riverside Park South addition to the already exiting Riverside Park South on NYC’s Upper West Side. It had been a project in progress for over two years and just a short time ago this new part of the park opened to the public. It is my new oasis, a real refuge from the anxiety of feeling hermetic and bottled up in my apartment. It’s a place to just breathe a sigh and try to relax during these dark days of Covid-19, even if it’s for only a short time.

All during the early days of Covid-19, Dea and I took our daily, and very necessary walks in Riverside Park, trying for four miles a day. We had witnessed construction that never appeared to evolve into anything. There was an abundance of dust, soot, grit and workmen smoking all over the park and then, on one recent day, the gates and blockades suddenly came down and opened. It was like we entered OZ, an entirely new world, but without the wicked witch. Even though we are living with Covid, being in this new park feels magical and surreal.

Nature, for me, has always been my savoir from stress and anxiety and with this new addition to Riverside Park South, there is a feeling of being closer to nature. On the top of the promenade, there are gardens with purple and red flower bushes dispersed throughout, and so many new benches for me and Dea to try out. Some benches are facing the flowers and others are near the  two extra-large wooden picnic tables. For Dea and me, the best ones are facing the river with an unobstructed view.

Walking down towards the Hudson River, there are bushes, grassy areas and new trees planted in abundance. There are bunches of amber and gold colored (what looks like) wheat or hay placed along the multitude of winding paths going down to the sparkling and glorious river. If one prefers stairs, there are additional new staircases that will bring you down as well.

riverside parkThe new park really has something for everyone. Children are joyfully playing in the new extra-large playground or they are riding their bicycles on the path, exhibiting a joy that I had not seen since the pandemic began. Each day, Dea and I must decide which of the new winding paths we will walk down. “Dea, should we walk down by the sandy beach?” I say as my dog understands and pulls straight towards this new large area of enclosed sand, like you are at the beach on a carefree day. Often there are young adults playing volleyball on the sand or parents with their young children frolicking in the sand. It’s superb. It’s blissful.

Down towards the bottom of the path or staircase there is a large swing area with half the swings in bucket seats and the other half just swings with no backs. Next to it is a gazing area with grass for the parents to sit or for a fellow dog owner who wants to watch with her dog by her side, the contented children on the swings. At times, even some adults are swinging and rocking away their anxiety.

In the later afternoon, on the top promenade it is like a doggie cocktail party where the canines meet up with their other canine friends and eagerly sniff each other from nose to butt. Dea has an abundance of canine and human friends and we often spend a lot of time with the children who love petting her and she reciprocates similarly with her loving knee hugs. It is happy making for all.

While Dea is busy knee hugging the children, I have the opportunity to say hello to some of my neighbors from my building whom I rarely see, due to everyone hibernating in their own homes.

Coming back from the river with Dea, I love to walk uphill on one particular path, instead of using the stairs, mostly for Dea’s leg muscles that I swear have become extra robust during all of our walks during the pandemic. Walking uphill permits me to fantasize about my love of hiking, allowing my imagination to return to my favorite hiking spots of the past. At times, I am even able to repress so much of the anxiety we are all going through with Covid.

But every day, after our last walk coming up the long curving path from the river, Dea and I both look forward to finding the perfect bench. Once we do, I place Dea on my lap, facing outwards, with the impeccable vista of the magnificent Hudson River, as we both gaze out. While I tend to anthropomorphize, I believe that Dea meditates. She too needs a feeling of tranquility.

This oasis could not have opened at a more perfect time, with the shorter, darker and colder days ahead. It is a perfect place to escape the isolation and confines due to the pandemic. How lucky are we to have found our oasis?

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