Update March 16: Under the Emergency “Order of the Health Officer of the City of Berkeley Directing All Individuals Living in the City to Shelter at Their Place of Residence etc.” you are still allowed to go to the park. Section 10 provides that “individuals may leave their residence only to perform any of the following ‘Essential Activities.'” But subsection iii defines one of the Essential Activities as “To engage in outdoor activity, provided the individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, or running.” Since outdoor activity is one of the Essential Activities, transportation to and from the park is also permitted under Paragraph 5 of the Order. In a word, going to the park is an Essential Activity.
Social distancing is an opportunity that parks have always offered. Getting away for a bit from the madding crowd. Breathing air as free of evil particles as you can get on this earth. Letting green and blue touch your face.
The park has not been canceled. Cesar Chavez Park is 90 acres large. Here, with only the slightest effort, thousands of people can each enjoy a six-foot sphere of separation from strangers without crowding. There is no place in Berkeley, short of a sterile bubble, where your chances of catching a virus are as vanishingly small as in the park.
The hermit life can hollow out your mood. Living inside a sealed cube is not the destiny that evolution prepared us for. At a time when almost all indoor assembly spaces are barred or open at your peril, you may despair of escape, a prisoner chained in a dungeon. Not so! There is an assembly space where you can safely saunter without fear. It’s the park.
Just avoid the porta-potties — but you avoid those stinkers anyway, don’t you? And be careful of the drinking fountains, few that they are. Should you worry about the benches? Maybe avoid the arm rests. Apart from that and a few posts and fences, the touchable surfaces in the park are leaves, blossoms, bark, stones, and earth. There’s plenty of microbial life on most of those, but the coronavirus is not known to lurk there. When you touch a stone, you’re more likely to donate microbes from your skin than to pick them up.
Wary of human company? With just a little effort, you can commune antiseptically with dozens of other life forms. You can almost always see ground squirrels and wonder at their activities, or lack of them. Some people call them “Hoovers” because their tails look like the handle of a vacuum cleaner, and they scarf up the vegetation in their path. You can marvel at the sparrows that fly here from the Arctic Circle, 300 miles in a night. Look at the egrets and herons, stalking silently, snatching anchovies or gophers with their visegrip beaks. Do you wonder about the multiamorous mating habits of the Red-winged Blackbirds, and the noisy nursery they defend each spring in the fennel forests? Can you identify with the Burrowing Owls and their battles for survival? Were you aware of the Western Fence Lizard‘s power of fighting Lyme disease? If you resonate with creatures botanical, a cornucopia of more than 150 plant species lies at your feet or over your head. The wonders of nature are all around you, ready to enter your mind and take it for a spin, if you open up to it. In the park you need never be alone.
In a world that seems to have shut down, the park remains open. The park is the antidote to pandemic paranoia and depression. The park is a healing place. The park will not be canceled.