The winding road twists around a beautiful lake. A field of elk gaze up at me and blink long eyelashes. The wind blows through the grass and I feel at home.
My children press their faces against the car window. They wave and laugh. We drive around turns slow and careful. There’s no rush here. The air is clear.
“Look over there!” My seven year old points out a deer as if she hasn’t seen them countless times on various roads. It doesn’t matter how many sightings we’ve had, it’s different here. Everyone looks to watch, even my husband.
We pass into the next section. The trees provide a sea of green, and up ahead, the buffalo roam.
These majestic beasts herd together. They stand before young calves as protective as the parents who have taught their children from home, missed work, and agonized over how to keep sane during an uncertain pandemic.
Lone Elk Park is a reprieve from the madness. The fear and concern that has loomed over our area and beyond relaxes its hold for sunshine and resilience. A drive-through nature reserve, it is the perfect place to go right now.
The animals continue their natural rhythm as if nothing has changed. Birds sing and turtles sun themselves. I breath deep and appreciate being alive.
Getting out is a challenge right now. Just going to the grocery store reminds every one of the drastic measures we have all taken to do what we can to look after one another. Roped off playgrounds sit untouched. Eating-out is now a pick-up affair only.
Though Missouri has reopened, St. Louis is still struggling. People are scared but also stir crazy. The closest drive-in movie theater is over an hour away, and car parades are an emotional affair. Having a place to go without worrying about the risks is rare; that’s why this place means so much to me.
As a child it was a wondrous area that helped my parents take time off from each other before their divorce. It showed me the world when I broke my foot and when I had pneumonia but grew restless from being kept at home for weeks.
Sharing it with my children as we emerge into the first phase of reopening gives me hope. It reminds me of our perseverance. It symbolizes everything that matters in the world.
Adults may be better at exercising patience than children, but a lot of us are growing weary. It is difficult to comfort our friends and family when we cannot come together physically. We begin to understand just how much hugs and kisses mean. They are a priceless aspects of life that have dissolved for a time, just as trips to the park had.
Thankfully the parks are once again here for us. For anyone still unsure of public places, Lone Elk Park specifically offers an enclosed outing. There is no charge for admission, just a simple donation box at the entrance for anyone who can give.
The elk are waiting. The buffalo walk slowly. It is as if they have missed us, and being in their presence signifies a new beginning.
This place means so much to me, but many of the friends I’ve spoken with have never heard of it. They’re at their wit’s end working to care for families or keep their own mental health intact. They need somewhere to go where they don’t have to be scared or reminded of how fast things can change.
I can’t recommend it enough.
I wish for everyone to be able to feel safe and stay healthy. I hope the future will bring us all hope and happiness. I long for playground giggles and neighborhood barbecues, but even though we cannot experience those just yet, there is a place for everyone to go without losing their sense of security.
St. Louis County Parks holds a gem just west of the 141 and I-44 crossing. Along the side road, beyond the highway, rests a place where the animals breathe easy and the people can relax.