The grip of the COVID-19 pandemic on Minnesotans softens at times through the lens of the natural world. People in the outdoors have their attention elsewhere — and good thing, because spring’s awakening is in full bloom. We put out a question recently: What’s happening in the outdoors where you are? Responses are edited for length and clarity. (You can share here)
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Two Harbors: Spring comes slowly to the North Shore. In this regard 2020 is normal. Most of the Superior Hiking Trail remains buried under deep snow and it likely still will have snow and ice for another month. Its sections through Duluth are closed as part of the city’s annual spring initiative to protect fragile trails. For the trail association, April is a month for planning events. This year will prove to be more challenging. Our trail-clearing weekends and other May projects are canceled or postponed. Even once the snow melts and travel restrictions are lifted, it will take time for the trail to be ready for visitors.
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New London, Minn.: Like clockwork, the seasons change. I’ve concluded my annual collection of maple sap. Now the dazzling spring breeding plumage on migrant waterfowl reminds me of the old cliché, “Ignorance is bliss.” The birds do not know, or care, what struggles the human race faces. I’m reminded that I am but one cog in the wheel of life and that nature is truly a constant that can’t be upended. It’s just a duck, but they keep things in perspective. I’ve headed out to the turkey woods to see what those birds can do for me. I have no doubt they will provide equal benefit to my well-being. There is comfort in the assurance that, sure as the sun rises every day, the seasons will change. Similarly, good or troubled times do not last forever. Nature reminds me of this truth.
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Grand Marais: Usually in April when you live Up North, you’re trying to squeeze in the last 100 kilometers of cross-country skiing of the season. During a typical year on Easter, when the snow is good, my wife, my 5-year-old and I would ski down from Bally Creek to Cascade, or Deeryard to Cascade before the snow gets to slushy in the morning sun. Then we’d eat bacon and eggs for brunch at Cascade Lodge.
Not this year.
Even though we have deep snow in the woods and good conditions, the pandemic has us reevaluating activities. We just aren’t risking anything that might have a little risk. Often in March and April, I’m sea kayaking on Lake Superior, but this year if something happened? It would require the Coast Guard flying from Marquette, search planes from the guard unit in Duluth, rescue swimmers and land rescue units. I’m skipping it.
It’s the start of spring in the north. The birds are returning and in contrast to other years when I step outside, I listen for and enjoy the singing. It’s everywhere I stop.
I try to listen to what they say — I could be imagining it, but they are saying it all goes on. We’re here. Nature is here. Despite your stress, relax. There’s nothing you can do about the pandemic other than listen to nature and seek refuge in compassion and the truth.
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Ely, Minn.: Hiking the woods near the Boundary Waters can be a robust workout this time of year. Though patches of bare ground have begun to show, snow still dominates. On a recent trek, I found it’s not reliably firm. Some sections offered smooth walking atop snow crust. But mostly, I haphazardly punched through up to midcalf, stumbling like a drunkard on banana peels.
More than once, the aroma from moist, thawing pines stood me in my tracks. Melted snow pooled so cleanly into pockets of ground that twigs, grass and stones were crystal clear 2 feet below. Rocks circling a hunting-camp fire pit started to emerge. Coyote scat reappeared from beneath snow where it had cupped into lake ice for most of winter.
No doubt, COVID-19 has consumed our attention. I went into the woods to silence the cacophony. It worked. Silence woke me.
The natural world might not be aware of the coronavirus. Minnesota winters reach their end sooner or later. So too, will COVID-19.
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Walker, Minn.: Uram Bay on Leech is fairly open (April 8) and two trumpeter swans are NOT practicing social distancing!
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Clear Lake, Minn.: Palmer Township, Sherburne County ... Kayaking during a dense fog with 10 loons around me, and some began singing. That evening my wife and I watched the full moon rise. Loons sang around the lake. The next day the birds continued north. Amazing!