I recently tried this new thing called the outdoors, and let me tell you, it is not the horrifying world cinema has fooled us into believing. Plain and simple: the Teletubbies lied to us. The sun doesn’t actually have a demonic baby face. That Seinfeld episode where Kramer burns into a Colonel Sanders-level tan is not an accurate depiction either. And Edward attempting to commit suicide by stepping into the Italian sunlight is not something that is likely to happen to us mere mortals (no offense). For too long, the media has profited off their never-ending campaign to besmirch the outside world. Together we must say: enough is enough! Whether you’re a Birkenstocks gal or a normal f*cking person, Earth has something for everyone—even my Shih Tzu who cries every time I force her to go on a walk. (No, Shih Tzu is not a euphemism for my inner child.) As Queen Quarantine is hopefully sliding into her season finale, I have very few nice things to say about her. I dream of the day when I can sip endless iced teas in an air-conditioned restaurant. But, oddly the new “outside me” is someone I hope to bring into the post-pandemic world too.
If you’re not familiar with open air, there are a few terms you should familiarize yourself with before continuing. First, the sun. The sensation of sunlight is a sister wife to that warm and fuzzy feeling you get from a weighted blanket or that first perfect sip of hot chocolate. Suddenly, your body is a bit cozier than it was before. That’s sunlight! Secondly, you’ll need to understand the concept of grass. Grass is basically a wet, cool-to-the-touch, poorly made shag rug… with a crunch. There are all kinds of grass, but March in Los Angeles brings what professionals call “green grass.” Brown, Tan, Olive, Shamrock, and Chartreuse are some other species you should be aware of. Lastly, before you Dora The Explorer it, you must protect yourself against mosquitos who, similar to Fox News correspondents, come out of nowhere and never seem to die. Trust me on this one: invest in a perfume called Bug Spray—it’s the only way you’ll make it out alive.
Now that you’re caught up on essential R.E.I. lingo, you’re ready to figure out which outdoor activity is right for you. Luckily, as a clearly weathered expert, I have rated some options to guide you in the right direction while you wait for all your friends, frenemies, and lovers to get vaccinated.
What They Call “Hiking”: 3/5 Stars
Granola Patagonia people have tricked the rest of us into thinking that hiking is an extreme sport for which you need professional training, a golden retriever, and a Go-pro in order to partake. If you’re like me and you bribed the P.E. teacher into driving you around in a golf cart, you might feel like you don’t have what it takes to trail it. This is a lie. Hiking is literally just walking with sunscreen. Walking. With. Sunscreen! Imagine! And if you wear sunglasses, it almost feels like window-shopping, but for foliage. You don’t need Cheryl Strayed’s boots—you can Reese it with tennis shoes and a “Vote Y’all” water bottle. Honestly, if you hike like most Los Angelenos you don’t even need water. The worst that can happen is you spot a snake, trip the other direction, and then tumbleweed down the Hollywood Hills until a sad shrub not-so-gently breaks your fall. To echo Gwyneth Paltrow’s infuriatingly titled cookbook, “It’s All Easy!’
Walk-N-Talks: 5/5 Stars
The outside version of “bring over two bottles of wine” is none other than the latest and greatest Quarantine Walk-N-Talk. Sure, there’s no SZA playing in the background or the scent of candles lingering in that sweet, sweet way only a 14-hour burn can bring. But walking for hours with your friend while you diagnose the latest sociopath in your life is a new joy only the outdoors can bring. If you’re feeling intermediate or arrogantly advanced, you can even do a beach path or walk hillside. Whatever journey you choose, the main ingredients are deodorant, chapstick, and your most insightful confidant (bring extra water with Geminis, they can’t shut the f*ck up, and that’s coming from a Gemini). With nothing to do but point out the cacti, there’s something about these outdoor walk-n-talks that feels more profound and healing than the regular ol’ get-together. It took wandering seven miles for my friend to finally figure out the root of her cyclical self-sabotage. Are we licensed psychologists? Yes! (Paperwork pending.) Twelve months of chatting into the horizon and you can bet your quarantine buddy can fix you faster than seven seasons of Veep. Trust the science!
Backyard Hangs: 3/5 Stars
I have nothing insightful to say about sitting in someone’s backyard, other than that it’s free and easy and depending on their quarantine rules, and there’s a bathroom available in case of emergencies. Keep your friends close, but your friends with backyards closer.
Looking At Water: 2/5 Stars
Remember that feeling at the aquarium, watching dolphins glide effortlessly in that teeny, tiny tank? Now imagine that feeling without their high-pitched squeals screaming at you for trapping them inside. That’s what looking at water is! Whether you live near the piers or a lake or your neighbor has a bird bath, I highly suggest you take some time to stare at it. Bring snacks if you want! You can really mix and match the experience with whatever other comforts you enjoy. The point is, all you have to do is sit and stare. Unlike spending your sad lunch break gazing at the bouncing screensaver while holding back tears, looking at real-life water can reignite a will to live. You can even reenact some of your favorite movies. Pretend you’re Sandy singing down at a less controversial 1970s John Travolta. Or maybe you’re a Troy Bolton at the country club looking down at the golf course pond version of yourself. The water is what you make of it. And unlike staring at the ceiling, going outside and snapping a pic of yourself by a body of water counts as an activity! Now you’re “fun!”
Park Picnics: 4/5 Stars
If you’re going to host a multi-friend shindig, I highly recommend packing up your pantry and heading to whatever they call a park in your area. I get it: there’s something about eating outside that just feels off. You’re hunched over and the wind keeps pulling that same single strand of hair into your mouth. And yet, all your friends seem to suddenly love the Trader Joe’s crackers and 3-dollar block of cheese you scrounged together. Outside, they call this a charcuterie board, hold the board! Anyone can be a chef when the bar is set low enough—preferably on the ground and with the beach towel your mom bought for emergencies. A sarcastic “Wow, you really went all out,” under the not-so-Tuscan sun transforms into an enthusiastic cheer of “Wow, you really went all out!” This, my chickadees, is the genius of the park picnic. Leftover Chipotle napkins and some gummy bears? You’ve got yourself a semi-decent soiree! As I write this in a large grassy knoll that Google labeled a park, there is a little boy crying because a hero dog stole his remote-control Monster truck, which he was previously Tokyo Drifting into other people’s picnic blankets. What more could you want? And for mood music, the park is serving a dance mix of children yelling, dogs barking, helicopters chopping, bees buzzing, and a group of moms loudly comparing gluten-free recipes. Still, bask in the glory of the park picnic and let your therapist know you’re playing around with the idea of becoming an adult! You’re a host now!
When I told my friend I would be writing about “the outside,” she asked if it was on HBO Max. Suffice to say, I am not the woodsy Stevie Nicks my crystal collection would lead you to believe. Thankfully, whether you’re a hike-to-the-top-of-Everest or a sit-and-watch-bros-sail kind of kid, it’s important to remember no one cares. The last of this Covid-enforced-outside time is for you—make of it what you can muster. Like my sad bible study teacher once said, “God made this Earth for you!” While I am obviously certain the Earth was not made for me as there are way too many Chinese Cresteds for my taste, quarantine has taught me that outside is for even the most vampirish of indoor people. Don’t be afraid to leave the house during these grueling times. It’s easy to stay inside and keep letting Netflix shuffle, but you never know when stepping out and spotting a single monarch butterfly will remind you that you have a heart after all. Damn, that’s deep.