Outdoors

Trail etiquette in the time of COVID

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OLYMPIA –– I have only lived in Olympia for a few months.  Most of that time has been during social distancing, face masks and hand washing in the COVID era. Very early I discovered two parks –– Watershed and Priest Point –– among the many that are part of the outstanding city park system. They have become my favorite places. Never more than three days go by without a personal visit to at least one, and often, both parks. I am a serious amateur photographer –– I love photography and always carry my camera. Mostly, I am looking for new plant growth, flowers, mushrooms, natural patterns, and the occasional panorama.

On rare occasions I have these natural wonders to myself. These times are rare because other people love these parks, too. Thus far, interpersonal interaction in the parks has gone through some COVID-driven behavior changes which can result in greater or lesser COVID risk. I’ve come up with a series of acronyms to describe this pandemic-driven behavior. Below are some I have observed.  

[Note: In the interest of acronym dexterity, one element of this classification system has not been included. Hence, each of these could be (WD) With Dog(s) or not (ND). Dogs do impact human behavior, largely depending on how maneuverable the pet is and/or how the leash holder manages (LHM) or is managed by the canine (CM) companion.

  1. S-O-S-O: Same Old, Same Old

This is the guy (or gal) who is not FMR (face mask ready) and actually doesn’t believe in wearing a mask and behaves as though no one else does or should be. They don’t ease over to one side of the trail as you pass and they are as likely as not to say “Good morning” or “Hello” or “Great day to be out.” Just to illustrate how much more cumbersome this is with dog related additions, I met a SOSO WD (same old, same old, without dog) and we passed closely on the trail because our SD (social distancing) was CM (canine-managed) not LHM (leash holder-managed. Friendly dogs, especially those of that size –– like Golden Retrievers pull their LH (leash holder) closer into the personal space of others, because they want to check out strangers and get a pat, and a friendly word. 

  1. F-SA (Friendly-Space Aware) walkers do their best to maintain SD and on a narrow path, may find a wider spot in the trail and wait for you to pass. Most FSAs pass with some form of acknowledgement. From my experience, most Olympians I have encountered are of the Friendly and Space Aware (F-SA) classification. F-SAs usually offer some form of acknowledgement to others they meet: a verbal greeting (VG) might be a “Hi,” “Morning,” or “How’s the day?”  

A non-verbal greeting (NVG) might mean a nod (NVG-N) or a smile (NVG-S) or a hand gesture (NVG-HG).  A few make eye contact only (ECO). Some avoid eye contact. Even fewer pass with no acknowledgement (NA), you know they see you, but they don’t acknowledge your presence. So, in keeping with the COVID trail etiquette formulas, how might one represent an encounter with a friendly space-aware person or pair or more, who, smile, nod to you, and softly say “hi” or “hello” as they pass?

  1. ITAGAs are the people who immediately turn aside and gaze away. They may have FM or no FM. They may be WD (with dog) or ND (no dog). You can spot them most easily when they see you first. On catching sight of you they look for the nearest wide spot in the trail and turn away as if one of the wonders of nature is just over there. I hypothesized that this behavior might be what happens if one were the boyfriend of both of the girls coming toward him and (he thinks) neither of the girls knows he has hooked up with the other. He catches a glimpse of them first. The last thing he wants is for them to recognize him. He immediately went into ITAGA mode. However, what he thinks they didn’t know…they know. He is hooking up with each of them. In fact, the main reason they are taking this walk in Watershed Park is to compare notes about him. They see him coming, and watch him quickly find a step aside and begin practicing recognition avoidance (RA). He stands, gazing away, with his arm draped over his head. They, each with an arm over the shoulder of the other and their heads close together, whisper and giggle as they walk by as close as the trail allows.  He begins to breathe again when they are several steps down the trail and believes he escaped recognition. Some ITAGAs may surreptitiously glance your way as you pass but, there is usually NG. Some, also, seem to appreciate a “Thank you” as you walk buy as an acknowledgement of their “sacrifice.” In this case, there was NG.
  2. On occasion one might encounter an EFI, a person who walks past with eyes forward ignoring anyone on the trail. The other modern day adaptation of EFI is the persons we see everywhere who are walking while viewing their phone screen (WWVPS). These are the people one may be most surprised to see in a beautiful place like Priest Point. They seem completely oblivious to the natural beauty they are surrounded by and to any other human beings in the space. I saw one of each of these on the same day. The EFI was serious about her walking exercise –– long strides, arms swinging, hands curled into fists. The WWVPSs were fortunately and/or on purpose on the wide main trail that comes south from the north parking lot. I saw him coming and then immediately saw her behind him. Each was as totally absorbed with their screen as they might be in their living room. I marveled at their dual tasking abilities. Then, I looked more closely at the trailing female and saw that she was truly multi-tasking. She was walking, viewing and chewing gum at the same time. While neither of them looked up, I had the feeling that some form of sensory perception may have been at work. Or was it me giving them room? In both cases we passed each other without incident. 
  3. On the downside, one may occasionally encounter a “natural” hard ass (NHA). One recent experience I had went like this. One, the Watershed Loop Trail has had a COVID-induced one-way traffic pattern, and two, I always carry my camera. I was on a stretch of the north side of Watershed Loop Trail where there is a relatively long straight-ish stretch along the creek. There are two pole fence-enclosed spots that give one a closer view of the creek. It rained the night before and I noticed in one of these step-aside view areas, three or four skunk cabbage plants had captured some rain water. The water beaded up and the beads were shining like jewels in the sun. I took a few pictures and decided I was going to check the other creek view point I passed two or three hundred feet back up the trail (wrong way on a one way). Had I missed some jewels there? Just as I was nearing the place, I met a couple coming toward me. The man was in front. He was a short, paunchy guy with a thin beard and close cropped hair. He didn’t bother to say hello. He immediately launched into a behavior that reminded me of a drill sergeant I had when I was in the Marine Corps. He had been maybe 5’6, like this guy, and the other thing they had in common was a pit bull complex. He announced, “Hey buddy, this is a one way trail and you are going the wrong way. Turn around right now and go the right way!” I knew that any effort to explain what I was doing would not penetrate his current mindset.  So, I responded by saying, “How about this. I will go where I want to go and you go where you want to go. We won’t see each other again.”

He puffed himself up like a rooster. The trail is quite narrow there and bushes grow right to the edge of the trail, but I stepped off the trail and waved my arm like I was showing a guest the way to a buffet table. He scowled and huffed his way past. His female partner followed. She looked at me, and behind his back, gestured toward him with her thumb and rolled her eyes. I smiled and nodded and went the twenty steps to the other step out. I found two more “jewel-enhanced” leaves.

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