For too long, we’ve been bombarded with things we can’t stop or control. First, political differences often divided our families and harmed or destroyed old friendships. Then along came COVID-19 which resulted in more than a half-million deaths, more division about simple things like masks, isolation, job losses and uncertainties about the future. On top of that are the never-ending, depressing news stories about violence, hatred and political turmoil.
It’s no wonder many Americans, as well as people all over the world, are suffering from anxiety, sadness, depression and irritability. In other words, we’re all in this together. That’s why we need to come together and start healing.
There’s an old saying that can come in handy now, “The best things in life are free.” And those free things can improve and maybe even salvage our mental health.
It costs nothing to admire the sunrise or sunsets, clouds, the shapes and colors of trees, misty hills, animals in pastures and much more. Pets can offer solace, laughter and joy. Cities, towns and states offer free, or inexpensive, parks and recreation areas. Baraboo has its beautiful river walk, and there are nearby state natural areas that are free to visit.
In Prairie du Sac, there’s the Veterans Memorial Park that, according to its website, offers, “Camping, shelters, picnic tables, access to the Wisconsin River for boats and canoes, playground, fishing, mountain bike trails, and the Great Sauk State Trail.” I’ve walked north from there to the Alliant Energy Dam where I’ve seen eagles, cormorants, pelicans and swans vying for the fish that come over the dam. It’s also a favorite place for humans to fish from shore or from their boats.
About four miles east of Prairie du Sac are three lakes: Fish, Mud and Crystal. I used to live on Fish Lake, and it was a paradise, but the last time I was there, all the lakes had flooded, the old shorelines were gone, and the roads between them were covered with water and closed. But if the water recedes and the lovely shorelines restored, people can enjoy them once again.
Although many of our state parks, like Devil’s Lake, aren’t free, they’re usually affordable for a day trip. City parks are free to visit and offer playgrounds, tennis courts and skate parks, all healthy alternatives for children and adults who spend too much time on their electronics and don’t get any exercise. And then there’s plain old walking and exploring different parts of town or the countryside.
Now that the weather is nicer and more people are vaccinated, friends and family can get together outside, or inside if they feel it’s safe for all of them. Indoors, we’ve had time to do artwork, writing or crafts we’ve put off. And we can always go through our book collections, and donate any we don’t want to our local libraries for their sales, or to homeless shelters or thrift stores. Also, there’s volunteer work like delivering meals to home-bound people, picking up and recycling trash along the sidewalks, or helping to maintain city gardens—call first.
For those who are feeling anxious or down in the dumps and have internet access, there’s YouTube where anyone can sing and dance along to songs they’ve always loved. We can also “visit” art galleries online, or sites like singulart.com to see what’s new in the art world or do a search for “famous paintings” to see the old favorites.
For those who love word games, there’s the daily crossword puzzle and an AARP site that offers many kinds of games—not all word games, many of which are free and don’t require membership. I’m hooked on that site’s game called “Outspell” and probably spend way too much time playing it.
A lot of us have been doing a lot more cooking and baking during the pandemic. I even went through my mother’s old cookbook and found many recipes I’d loved but forgotten about. I admit I haven’t done as much baking as I planned to do, but there’s still time.
And best of all we’ve had a chance to catch up with old friends who live far away by writing real letters, emailing or calling. The other day, one of my best friends from college and I laughed all over again at the crazy and hilarious stunts we pulled when we lived in the dorm.
We don’t need an expensive trip to escape the gloom. By using our imaginations, we’ll discover that the best things in life really are free. That includes voting—hint, hint.
Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.