Jasmine D. Lowe is an author and marketing professional who works and lives in Orange County, California. The Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Fullerton alum spends her free time running, writing, and drinking way too much coffee. She is also the author of "The Beginners Guide to Becoming a Vegetarian," http://tinyurl.com/or2erkm
My boarding time had inched close enough to the present that I began to sweat a little. It was only after I had to remove a pair of shoes from my oversized travel bag at the check-in counter that I became nervous.
“See, I told you taking out the boots would help cut enough weight,” my dad said as he grabbed the pair of shoes I removed from the large purple bag. I rolled my now 50-pound bag through that little section of the airport check-in counter. I just kept throwing in extra stuff that I thought I would need during the summer abroad without thinking about the overage charges. Nearly everything in my room was able to fit in that mobile monstrosity. I had just enough time to get rid of a perfectly good water bottle and take a deep breath before stepping into the back of the airport security line.
I wore my mask outside this week for two reasons. One was because of the ongoing global pandemic that has killed more than 905,000 people worldwide. The other was for the billowing smoke from the nearby wildfires in California that killed at least 12. The mask I wore was a coral color that nearly matched the hue of the midday sun sitting high behind the smoggy film of a dingy orange sky. I took my mask off when I got in my car and placed it next to my hiking bag that would never leave the passenger seat. As I drove past my usual hiking spots with closed signs and warnings of mountain lion sightings, I couldn’t stop staring at the apocalyptic landscape.
I couldn’t drive anywhere that day to find a safe place to hike nearby and realized that I would have to drive more than an hour to find a trail that hadn’t been closed off to the public. I continued to drive while occasionally glancing up at the strange blood-soaked sun and decided hiking wasn’t in the cards for me that day. However, I did see a handful of people creating their own hiking trails just outside of the closed ones and briefly thought about doing the same. I confess that I even pulled over once to consider it before I thought about all of the displaced mountain lions in search of land that wasn’t scorched by raging untamed flames.
On a hot sunny day in July, I took my sister into the woods to hike for her birthday. I understood that she probably wouldn’t care for it, but everything was closed due to a global pandemic. I knew she loved seeing beautiful waterfalls and what she referred to as a “crick,” or what the rest of the world called a stream or river. I had chosen a trail well known to have flowing water year-round, and so we packed our hiking bags, grabbed extra water, and headed out in our ball caps and sunglasses. However, the well-intentioned birthday trek went a little different than expected.
About three meters into the hike, we found ourselves surrounded by vibrant poison oak. The leaves from the unwanted sticky oil-covered brush had left us ducking and scooting through the forest like two overzealous participants in a cheap laser maze. Still, we pressed on with our goal set on the beautiful stream–I mean crick that we were promised. I looked back to check on the birthday girl whose expression was contorted into a gnarly game of face Twister. It was then that I knew I was the worst gift giver.
It took literally getting hit by a small boulder in my left leg to check back into the “real” world mentally. You know, the one where people live indoors and are accustomed to interacting in spaces with more than two other people in them. The amount of time I had spent on my own in the outdoors allowed me to nearly escape the pandemic entirely. The hiking buff that covered my face reverted to its intended summer use as a shield between my mouth and nature’s most annoying flying insects (sorry entomologists). However, a recent hike with a friend helped knocked me back to reality.
I saw a post on Tumblr four years ago as I scrolled down my dashboard feed. Decorative text in textured appearance sat before a bright white background. “The 26 LGBTQ terms you should know.” I clicked on the post and followed the blog.
The Tumblr was run by a friend from college who spent her free time educating curious individuals about the queer terms and labels they didn’t understand. Each post took a letter from the alphabet and defined a queer term beginning with that letter. It was a fun project between a small group of friends that eventually evolved into something more.
I grew up in a predominantly white, rural town. Some people identified as Latino or Hispanic, but in every single class that I was in, whether it be dance, school, gymnastics, or karate, I was always the darkest one. There would be another Black person occasionally, and it wouldn’t be until I was able to explore more around town that I finally saw the rest of the community. The ones with darker skin like mine were, quite literally, segregated on the other side of town. None of the people I hung out with even knew about it. My classmates would even freak out when we got another Black boy in class.
How Briefly Getting Lost In The Wilderness Made Me Realize We Should Be More Like Ron Weasley
I heard rustling from the freely growing shrubbery that lined the dirt trail, and then I saw it crash from seemingly nowhere about 20 feet ahead of my trekking poles. The crash sounded like the moment a riding horse shifts from a trot to a full gallop. I could hear the sheer power of the hooves and the weight of the large animal as it slammed onto the narrow ledge of the rock face several thousand feet above the last human I saw. The doe quickly rolled from where it landed on its side and shot up before staring in my direction. I froze. The deer froze, and we made eye contact for what seemed like a full 20 seconds.
“Wait, you have anxiety?” One of the hikers from the group that I was socially distancing with turned to look at me.
“Yeah,” I said, readjusting the supplies in my bag to adjust for the camel pack’s shift in weight. “I actually have terrible anxiety.”
It was true, and if I weren’t so insanely stubborn, my anxiety would be debilitating. I suffered from constant panic attacks that hit full swing at the height of California’s stay at home order. I had been getting by with hiking and camping and doing all sorts of very random things (like that one time I tried Capoeira) for so long that I hadn’t dealt with my anxiety. That was until COVID-19.
The pandemic shook things up and made me face myself. There was literally nowhere else to go but inward to take up a journey of reflection. Stripped of everything else, I got to see who I truly was as a person. My personality isn’t 80 percent anxiety and 20 percent the outdoors. I never realized how much more than that I was.
I was alone for the first time in the woods. I went onto the trail without a sign from anyone around, but on the way back, I saw a pile of fresh bear scat in the middle of the trail. I first heard noises behind the trees off to the distance and then saw the bushes move. “Of course I would get mauled by a bear the very first time I decided to hike by myself,” or so I thought, and so I picked up my hiking pace three-fold and made it out of the heavily-bear-populated mountains with a story. That was a little over a year ago.
A Mountain Woman’s Thoughts On Getting Laid Off During A Pandemic
It happened slowly, and then all at once. One moment I was completely fine hiking with my friends in the woods after weeks of recovering from a bout of actual flu and pneumonia, and then the next I’m stuck in the house again for fear of dying from a new illness—Covid-19. I had started a new job the week of the beginning of the stay at home order in the middle of March in California.
I was completely fine that week, but then something happened when they closed the hiking trails to minimize the spread of the Coronavirus. I couldn’t think or figure anything out until they opened them up again with social distancing guidelines. It all clicked again when I went back out into the woods, this time with a mask on my face. When many offices planned to reopen their doors and end working from home, I was laid off.