Out in the open air

Recreating summer recreation in the age of the coronavirus

Summer recreation

Photo: jldeines
This summer, children and families are heading to summer camps, where special precautions are being taken. What could be more relaxing and refreshing than a little house in the woods on the edge of a lake?

Brooklyn, N.Y.

John F. Kennedy once reflected, “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters–one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” And this duality is certainly true in the time of coronavirus, as we reimagine ways to enjoy the summer. Some of these may continue beyond the pandemic—a true recreating of recreation.

Once while being interviewed, I was asked where my favorite place was. I responded, “Outside.” That was before I had heard the Norwegian word, friluftsliv, which literally translated means “free air life,” but derives from a concept. In fact, it is a norm specific to Scandinavian culture. According to Outdoor Journal, “Friluftsliv goes beyond just getting outside for a jog. … It’s rooted in mindfulness, a feeling of being connected to a larger whole, and a sense of communing with nature.”

As the summer weather is quickly or slowly approaching, depending on where you are live and how much the coronavirus has impacted your hometown, Nordic-minded people want to escape, whether within their own area or far away. For many Norwegian Americans, it seems to be in their DNA. But this year, we will need to adjust. Here are some creative ways that people across the country are taking things out in the open air and online, so we can escape within the confines—physical and mental—of COVID-19. 

Photo: Eloi Omella
Many urban areas have large open spaces and parks, where you can get out in the fresh air, get some exercise, and connect with nature.

Reimagining streets 

Most of us in New York City have been carefully obeying the new regulations by wearing masks and social distancing. But inside we are screaming, “Let me out otta here!” Luckily, I live in Bay Ridge, which has miles of parks and waterfront access. Here you can get out for a walk, run, bike, and have fun within the protocols.

But other neighborhoods are not as lucky. To that end, Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested that the city select and open the streets, since traffic has been so reduced. It had a rough start when Mayor Bill de Blasio initially rolled it out, but it is now back on track and has even been expanded

An extension of this idea is to permit restaurants and bars to offer open-air dining. This is driven by both recreational and economic concerns, as many restaurants do not have enough square footage indoors to allow for 6 feet of distance between tables and still make a profit.

Reclaiming ’50s and ’60s throwbacks 

This will be the year of retro summer. In April, when Cuomo was asked if drive-ins could reopen, I think everyone was a little taken aback, as the city’s wreckage, both human and economic, kept escalating. But after I took a quizzical pause, I smiled. Why not?

And others seized the moment thinking about how they could incorporate this prototype to safely reopen their businesses. In May, a diner in Queens decided to open its own drive-in, a brilliant and safe way to increase business by reimagining the use of their large parking lot.

Other establishments got creative and reclaimed the carhop model for food and drink establishments. New Jersey seems to have especially grabbed on to this mode of delivering sustenance, with some servers on roller skates.

The drive-in framework is being adapted to sell cocktails and other alcoholic beverages. But, in this case, you are picking up from a counter or window: you can imagine being a guy or doll à la prohibition style. Batch drinks, wine, or bratwurst and beer to go are available. One place in Brooklyn, Blue Agave, celebrated Cinco de Mayo pairing a gallon of margaritas with Mexican delicacies for four. Cypress Restaurant in Tallahassee, Fla., intrigued me, because they sometimes offer Kronan Swedish Punsch. Tallahassee is a long drive for most of us, but why not ask your local purveyor to carry the exotic Swedish drink to avoid the mileage.

Smores - Summer

Photo: Jessica
Enjoy the perennial summertime favorite, the s’more, made with love around a campfire with your family. You will certainly want some more!

Summer Camps, day and overnight

Many NYC day camps didn’t know when or if they could open for 2020, as they are under Phase IV in New York state’s reopening plan. We had only reached Phase I on June 8. For them to succeed, it takes months to prepare, so I am sure the camp directors were all surprised, as was I—yes, I am in that business—when Cuomo announced on June 2 that day camps could open on June 26. 

It’s great news but leaves little time for preparation. Another concern is the wait for Department of Health protocols and guidelines. And, of course, there is the liability issue. One very respected program, the 92nd Street Y, said they are sticking with their plans to offer programs online. 

So, with all that uncertainty, there are other ways summer day camps and sleep-away camps have adapted, with many going to a virtual experience. Most of us would agree that it is not the same as being present in the moment in a special space surrounded by human beings, but we cannot negate the hard work and interesting programs that have been developed. 

Summer - Dogs

Photo: Rohappy
Summer is the perfect time to spend time with your pets. They know nothing about COVID-19 and are a source of relaxation and support.

One Woof Wag Dogs from the United Kingdom works with children and their dogs. According to their website, “Your child and dog will emerge from this camp with a deeper relationship, and your child will be proud to show you some of the tricks and techniques they have learnt during the week.” 

Closer to home in Oklahoma, Camp DaKaNi at Home is offering “camps in a box” to provide hands-on projects enhanced by virtual instruction. Great for tactile learners, this is a nice medley, as it allows campers to explore, and create, and have a final tangible result. 

Sleep-away camps are even more problematic now. One clever idea comes from Maine’s Camp Kippewa, which is offering a family camp, where you stay in a private residence within your pod (family) to provide peace of mind during the pandemic. Wisely, they offer 14-day sessions, the same amount of quarantine time required for those entering the state of Maine.

Founded in 1957 and boasting its own lake, Camp Kippewa provides an old-school experience, something very comforting at this time. Another plus is that a chef prepares your food. Activities include swimming, canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball, kickball, a climbing wall, high ropes, arts and crafts, and rocketry. And, of course, the day ends with that traditional touchstone: the campfire. Can you hear the ghost stories and taste the s’mores? I can’t imagine a more wonderful way for a family to celebrate summer after the long hibernation of 2020.

Summer is upon us, ready to be embraced. This year will not be a dud, due to the ingenuity of our businesses and organizations throughout the country. 

Wherever you live, and whatever you chose to do, stay safe and well, but most of all: HAVE FUN!

This article originally appeared in the July 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.