How I broke out of the Los angeles quarantine and formed a brand-new relationship with my childhood hometown
By Carrie Daniel
Illustration by Patti Shreeve
From the June 2021 issue
On Sept. 5, 2020, just a few minutes before midnight, I found myself at the end of Olive Avenue in Rehoboth Beach sprinting across the sand and into the Atlantic Ocean with tears of joy in my eyes.
My mother laughed at me from the boardwalk as I, a fully grown woman, frolicked around in the sand and the waves like a 7-year-old.
“I’m free!” I shouted. “Everything is so beautiful!” I’d just stepped out of the car after the long drive from BWI airport to Rehoboth. For six months, I’d been quarantined inside of my apartment in Los Angeles and had not seen a single friend, nor a single sunset over the ocean. You would think that, in a place like LA, it would be easy to access such beauty during a lockdown. But the beach-adjacent walkways, when they were even open to the public, had been shockingly crowded. Every time I tried to go for a walk basically anywhere, I felt like I was stuck in a bad video game, in which I had to dodge deathly obstacles — potential carriers of the plague — at every turn. Nothing about attempting a beach outing, or a walk in a public park, felt relaxing. Plus, it was fire season. The last day I’d been in LA (Burbank specifically), it had been 111 degrees outside, and the day I left, there had been massive forest fires encroaching on nearby Pasadena. The forecast on my iPhone, rather than reading “Sunny” or “Extreme Heat,” simply read: “Smoke.”
Thankfully, I’d escaped. I was, finally, home. To breathe in the fresh and salty air, feel the cool ocean crashing over my feet, and actually see the stars in the sky again — I felt like I was discovering the beauty of Earth for the very first time. I was experiencing my childhood home through brand-new eyes.
My two-week family visit turned into six weeks … and then four and a half months. I was staying in a family friend’s vacant condo in Rehoboth; I was steps from the beach, and I was committed to exploring every ounce of beauty that I could.
Amazed and comforted by the town’s commitment to COVID safety protocols, I began to go on daily walks, each of which I viewed as a novel and privileged adventure. First, I’d go up and down the beach and boardwalk, completely unable to take my eyes off of the Atlantic. I would stop and stare out into the great beyond, mesmerized by its expansiveness, and hypnotized by the sounds of the crashing waves. And of course, every chance I got, I immersed myself in the ocean. There was something about the saltwater that felt very healing; I slowly began to erase the lethargy that I’d accumulated from sitting inside for so long.
I also ventured back into the gorgeous wooded areas of Henlopen Acres, where I had the closest encounter with a deer that I’d ever experienced. Having essentially lived in the desert for the past seven years, I could not stop touching the trees and studying their roots and branches. Marveling at the wonder of their age and fortitude. Staring up through the kaleidoscope of leaves and twigs at the small patches of sky above, feeling totally at peace.
And then finally, for the very first time in my life, I ventured into the Gordons Pond area of Cape Henlopen State Park.
Why, in my 25 years of coming to and from Delaware, I’d never, ever, taken a walk around Gordons Pond is completely beyond me. Having traveled to more than 20 countries, I’ve been on hikes and walks in some of the most beautiful places in the world. I’ve been to hundreds of scenic outlooks and witnessed all manner of gorgeous sunsets.
The view from the lookout deck over Gordons Pond took my breath away.
I could not get over how magnificent this sight truly was: the calm, expansive saltwater lagoon meeting the beach towers behind it, and the ocean beyond those. The angelic seagulls resting on the still water, and the patches of marsh framing the panorama, like a perfect watercolor painting. The silence. The water capturing the pink, orange, peach, and lavender tones of the sunset sky. I felt totally at peace, and it was one of the most majestic moments that I’ve experienced to date.
Where have I been my whole life? I thought to myself. How have I never seen and appreciated this wondrous sight? This trail became my favorite walk — I simply could not shut up about it — and, one afternoon, I dragged a high school friend on it with me. It turns out she also had never been to Gordons Pond State Park — and she has actually lived in Rehoboth year-round for most of her life.
This was unbelievable to me. What else had I been missing? Why had we, as kids growing up here, never taken the time to stop and appreciate this beauty?
I decided to kick into full tourist mode, renting a bike at the Rehoboth boardwalk, and, for the first time ever, I cycled all the way around Gordons Pond and through Cape Henlopen State Park, up through Lewes, to my brother’s house near the high school.
On the Gordons Pond path, I was almost immediately in heaven. I could not get enough of the salt marsh, the ocean, the fresh air, the pine trees, and the sunshine. The ride was invigorating, and actually fairly easy; it really only got complicated for about five minutes when I had to pedal over the Freeman Highway bridge to Gills Neck Road. I arrived at my brother’s house feeling energized, and excited to do it all again.
The ride back to Rehoboth was, surprisingly, even better. I took the Junction & Breakwater trail, which is totally different from the Gordons Pond trail, and doubly enchanting. The wide, flat crushed stone path is enveloped by a tall forest of trees and graced with intermittent views of wetlands and cornfields — and, of course, geese, squirrels, and the like. Where was I? Was I at the beach anymore? Was I journeying through the rural countryside? Or perhaps en route to Narnia, or some other fantastical realm? I was definitely in a special place, that has been pristinely preserved, and I was grateful.
A few mornings later, I woke up when it was still dark and ventured down to the beach, and, for the very first time in my life, watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. With tears of appreciation in my eyes, I awakened with the day, witnessing what I am now convinced is Mother Nature’s finest hour — and also her best-kept secret, for so many of us are now so accustomed to staying up past midnight and waking after the sun is in the sky.
This moment of total peace and silence, as the source of life on Earth breaks over the horizon to give us another day, is a moment that will stay imprinted in my memory for the rest of my life.
And of course, there were the many, many nights that I ventured down tothe beach to visit the moon. To see the reflection over the water, the seagulls scuttling across the sand, and the wondrous night sky, full of stars that had, for so long, been obscured from my view by Los Angeles’s fire-smoke haze. Sky gazing became one of my favorite evening rituals; I started to track the moon phases and study the locations of the different planets and constellations, amazed by the vastness that lies beyond the trapped existence that I so often get caught up in.
Last, but most definitely not least, my explorations took me inland. Perhaps the most surprising adventure of my stay was an impromptu trip to Hopkins dairy farm. A high school friend’s parents run the operations there, and I was granted a full behind-the-scenes tour of the livestock quarters, the fully renovated barn, and the acres and acres of verdant farmland. As my friend’s mother and I zoomed across a giant field in her golf cart, I felt the breeze through my hair and was so taken by the expansive blue sky above, dotted with perfect fluffy clouds, as though painted by a master painter just so the two of us could relish in the moment.
“I can’t believe this is your life,” I said to her. “How beautiful!”
“I know,” she said.
What I discovered when I visited Rehoboth and Lewes during the pandemic was far deeper than a connection to natural beauty — it was the experience of, for the first time in a long time, being fully present. Of being in the moment, and being connected to something that is far greater than me and the minutiae of my daily problems. Of course, the gorgeous scenery of the Delaware beaches provides an easy conduit to mental respite; it’s difficult not to stop and admire a slice of natural scenery for a brief moment, at least once a day.
Having been deprived of something I’d formerly taken for granted — the visceral feeling of being at one with Mother Nature — for so many months, I approached every nanosecond outdoors with a profound sense of gratitude for my health, for my life, and for the world that surrounds me.
I’ve always loved coming home to visit, but now, having traveled the world and lived in nearly a dozen different towns and cities, I am fully convinced that my hometown is one of the best places on Earth.
Carrie Daniel is a Los Angeles-based actress, writer and educator who spent her formative years in Lewes.