At 6:30am, on day 51 of #ShelterInPlace, I was on Thalia Street beach with my dog, Miró, walking at the water’s edge toward Heisler Park. It was the first day the beaches were re-opened. As I felt the salty, cool air and the warm sun on my pale skin, I quickly realized it wasn’t just the beach I was missing but also people: the sight of a young family with the toddler still in his Santa Claus jammies; surfers old and young, bobbing on the water as they waited for their next ride; and fellow dog owners, dogs on leash, giving a knowing nod, as the dogs tugged to sniff each other while we humans stayed six feet away.

Craig, Pat and Bailey

So it was with deep gratitude that on this wonderful morning, I saw two familiar faces, Pat and Craig, locals with whom, before COVID-19, I frequently joined on our volunteer-led Fitness Hikes. We air-hugged and simply chatted. Remember that? Such a pleasant and unremarkable slice of life just a few weeks ago. Now it makes news.

After catching up on how our families were doing, we discussed the world’s situation, the difficult decisions civic leaders must make and our thoughts about it all. Knowing the struggles many of our volunteers, students and colleagues are facing and within view of a once-bustling Laguna Beach downtown, I voiced my concerns about opening the communities too early, citing my sister undergoing chemotherapy and my elderly parents. Pat spoke of the many people out of work including service, retail and hospitality workers along with the need to protect the vulnerable.

It’s a balance.

Troy Lee Trail Sign

We told each other to be safe and parted ways. I continued down the playa, enjoying once-again familiar sights, smells, and sounds, not wanting the walk to end. I thought of friends who own bars and restaurants, my 30-something niece and nephews having gone through the 2008 financial crisis and now this, and families struggling everywhere to get food and pay rent. Pat’s words continued to play in my mind.

This week, Governor Newsom held a press conference detailing his four-stage plan to modify the Stay-at-Home order and included opening beaches for active movement only from 6:00am – 10:00am Monday through Friday. “Lower risk workplaces with adaptations” such as retail curbside pickup, manufacturing and additional public spaces may open this week as well, provided the necessary protocols are in place.

Perhaps, soon, we can look forward to easier access to the wilderness trails. OC Parks staff may, based on the Governor’s benchmarks, begin to open parking lots. Trails could soon be very crowded with hikers, bikers, photographers, equestrians and birders.

OC Parks posts trail right-of-ways and etiquette with a game-changing first step: Say Hello.

  • Say Hello
  • Leave No Trace
  • Ride on Open Trails Only
  • Don’t Walk Off-trail
  • Don’t Cut Switchbacks
  • Never Spook Animals

When the time comes, I hope we take the trail etiquette up a notch. COVID-19 demands extra layers of politeness, starting with six feet of social distancing. That alone will be something we will each need to be mindful of, especially on single track trails and crowded fire roads.

I will also remind myself to be measured in my comments.

On day 51 with my toes in the sand, it became clear how easy it is these days for one’s thoughts and opinions to be calcified. After all, we’re spending so much time alone and there is little opportunity – especially if there is family agreement on most issues – to hear a different perspective.

I will also remember what we teach our trail volunteers: we are not enforcers. If the opportunity arises, sure, point out a trail rule; have a chat with a fellow human being. Be pleasant and move on. In this COVID-19 world it is easy for me to note who isn’t wearing a mask, who is walking too closely, who is littering their used wipes and gloves, and who has their dog off leash.

Instead, I remain calm and am slow to judge.

Miró on the beach, Cinco de Mayo

If I can safely pick up others’ trash, I will. And I will enjoy being outside with other people knowing we are all in this together. I will acknowledge that each of us is struggling publicly with the changes in social interchange and commerce and each with individual issues all too common, yet so personal and troubling.

Governor Newsom’s four-stage plan details necessary adaptations in order to be successful in our collective fight against COVID and not to backslide. During Laguna Canyon Foundation’s experiential wilderness hikes with elementary students, we discuss animal and plant adaptations a great deal. That, we learn, is how they survive. Eventually, as the experts guide us, we will both keep our social distancing to protect the medically vulnerable and open our commerce to support our community. That will require us all to adapt.

As I circled back to Thalia Street, I saw Pat and Craig again on their return loop and shared with Pat what her earlier words meant to me. She helped me ease back into the social world and I was glad it was Pat because she is such a kind and thoughtful person.

Like two pieces of bread holding together a delicious sandwich, Miro’s and my Cinco de Mayo lap on beach was a perfect amuse-bouche for things to come. I sense I’m beginning to adapt.