By Sophie Kellam, Communications Intern
During the pandemic, I have needed help finding fulfilling activities that were available during quarantine. I realize that there are a lot of resources in New Hampshire that could provide assistance for others with similar struggles. Going back to normal is hard enough but having to manage a disability while this change is happening can get overwhelming. I want to give you some examples of places I found helpful in the hopes that they may help support you as you reenter the physical community this summer.
Something that I have introduced into my life during the pandemic has been taking a walk every day. The fresh air and exercise do a great job regulating my mental health and allowing me to get out of my own head. During this difficult time, my parents and I found a wonderful place to walk. It is called Burley Farms. It is land that is maintained by the Southeastern Land Trust (SELT). It used to be a farm and currently they are in the process of making it into a community center as well as a working farm. I like this place because it is far enough away from my house to feel like a new environment. It is also close enough to make the decision-making process easier. I tend to talk myself out of going to places because my brain shuts down whenever I feel overwhelmed, and I find it easier to just not go. It used to really ruin my day and make me feel like everything was too much for me. With Burley Farms, I usually know what is going to happen, how long it will take, and how many decisions I will have to make in order to go there. I find that the more I go to a place, the easier it gets for me to continue going there.
However, there are some barriers to entry when walking on these kinds of trails. There are a lot of roots and uneven ground on most walking trails. It could be unsafe or physically inaccessible for someone with a physical disability. For an alternative, New Hampshire has the longest accessible trails in a mountainside environment in the United States. The trails are located at Crotched Mountain in Greenfield. Although I have not visited these trails yet, I did see on their website that the trails are open but the mountain may be temporarily closed for mud season. I would confirm by calling before going there. Please check the websites below for updates and information on these wonderful walking spaces.
For those who are able to visit Burley Farms, it is an amazing place that consistently changes. I love to see the everchanging wildlife there including a Heron rookery. It is nice to see how they adapt from day to day and what springs up as the seasons change. I always know that there is something new to see whenever I go. This is the motivation I need to get out of my comfort zone and experience this wonderful place.
Burley Farms is currently adding the Mathey Center for People and Nature as SELT Headquarters. I am so excited to see what opportunities and benefits there will be for the community, and I hope I will be able to connect with more people who share my passion for land conservation and increasing accessible outdoor recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. I am happy to be connected to such an amazing place.
During the pandemic, I got into bird watching which has become an activity that my whole family participates in. We usually watch birds either in our yard or at a walking spot. It is incredible to see birds that come to our bird feeder every day and mom keeps a log of the birds that we see.
I find that my strengths due to my disabilities naturally go along with birdwatching. Due to my ADHD, my attention is easily drawn to things in my environment. This can be a problem when I am at an event or talking with someone, but it is perfect for birdwatching. I can pick up on slight movements from far away and zero in on the bird to identify it. It also helps that I can get lost in looking for birds. I don’t have to be paying close attention to the environment. I just need to see where my attention leads me. It is a very meditative like experience that also works to ease my anxiety.
However, sometimes my Nonverbal Learning Disability can cause me to miss out on moments that others catch before me. The most difficult part for me is my spacial issues and slow processing speed. It takes me a long time to fully take in what I am looking at and by the time I understand it, the bird has left. This has also caused problems when I have been describing where a bird is to other people such as my family. I tend to judge distance poorly and find it difficult to be accurate when I try to convey that information quickly. I worry that once I get more involved with the birding community, these differences will become more noticeable. However, from the very few interactions I have had on trails with other birders, I feel as though they are a welcoming group. I get better at spotting things every time I that I do it. I find that it is a great way for me and my family to experience nature in a safe way while still being part of a larger community. Although inspired by the pandemic, this hobby is one that I will look to in order to find a sense of stability for the rest of my life.
In response to community input, the town of Exeter closed the Swayze Parkway off to vehicular traffic to ensure that social distancing could be practiced there during the pandemic. This has resulted in a wide-flat paved road that is perfect for wheelchairs and welcoming those who want to be in the community and exercise but who may be overstimulated in crowds or just not ready to rejoin a gym or other exercise class.
Swayze Park doesn’t get too crowded and the Exeter River, which runs along the park, is a wonderful grounding presence. When I had a temporary disability that affected my mobility my senior year of high school, I was able to use the park as a way to measure my progress. I would use the multiple benches throughout the park as pitstops as I worked to gain more mobility before starting college. I did find it difficult to walk at the park during the winter months due to the ice and snow that accumulates on the sidewalk. I found myself walking on the grass in order to not slip. However, the beautiful location and benches along the way gave me motivation to continue my rehab.
Even though I often walk in Swayze Park on my own, I also find that I end up sharing the most beautiful moments with other park visitors. Whenever there are sightings of ducks, snapping turtles, and even bald eagles (once), people have gone out of their way to share these experiences with me and the other people around us.
I can also get involved with the community through the events held at Swayze Park. There is a Farmers Market that is held on Thursdays and events at the Pavilion. As I venture back out after months of isolation, I find I am comfortable going to events in familiar outdoor venues because I tend to feel more relaxed and have more places to center myself when I do get overwhelmed. Swayze Park is a place where I find myself inviting friends to walk with me and talk. It is my favorite way of hanging out with others because it feels so open, and I don’t have to worry about how I come across. I truly can be myself there and invite other people to share that comfortability.
A New ‘Normal’
All of these activities can provide people with a sense of community and structure in a very uncertain time. As things start returning to ‘normal’, it is important to utilize the tools and environment around you to keep yourself grounded and feeling safe. You do not have to take on the challenge of reentering your community alone. Ask people in your support network to help you find places where you can be included while still feeling safe. The places I mention above are ones that other people recommended or brought me to.
Another important thing to remember is that a post-pandemic ‘normal’ is going to be a different ‘normal’ than we knew before and we will all need to go at our own pace. If there is one thing those of us with disabilities understand better than anybody it is that the idea of ‘normal’ is overrated. Don’t forget, you are not alone. We are all going through this reemergence together. I am just grateful that New Hampshire has lots of fun environments to explore.
Disability Rights Center – New Hampshire is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to
eliminating barriers for people with disabilities across New Hampshire.
DRC is the federally designated protection and advocacy agency for New Hampshire
and has authority under federal law to conduct investigations in cases of probable abuse or neglect.