Thursday, June 18, 2020

June is for the cottonwoods

Greetings and happy Thursday,

This past weekend, I strapped my kayak to the top of my station wagon's roof rack and printed out a map of Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area. Horicon Marsh, a 33,000-acre freshwater marsh located in the central part of Wisconsin, is a wildlife refuge for migratory birds (like Canadian Geese, Teal, American White Pelicans) co-managed between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin DNR. This place of wilderness is quite special to me, as after moving back from Colorado in 2015, I volunteered for a year or so at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I'm lucky to have learned such a grand amount about managing wildlife and public land usage.

To my delight, Saturday, June 13 was National Get Outdoors Day, so what better way to celebrate than with an evening kayaking trip. My original plan was to depart south into the marsh from the landing on Greenhead road, however, when I arrived and began unlashing my kayak, a pair of paddlers warned about the defensive winds they faced trying to return upstream. I took their advice and steered the nose of Pelican Argo 100X north instead. 

So I've recently started taking up birding as a new-to-me hobby. 

Birds are super cool, and if you take the time to pause and watch their behavior...it's equal parts intriguing and educational. Last week I actually bought a National Geographic birding atlas from our local bookstore in hopes to grow my ornithology background. Peacefully paddling past the homes of muskrats and discarded trunks of dead trees shipwrecked in the middle of the Rock River, I sat in my kayak gazing through binoculars at this safeguarded winged community. The river curved its way past rows of cattails and the furrowed, weathered bark of towering cottonwoods. A striking Eastern Kingbird sat tall and bold on a frail branch, it's pitch black head scanning the water below. A colorful swarm of Sparrows darted across the surface, cannonballing with a splash to catch a bite to eat. My kayak drifted under a Cedar Waxwing, staring up at its yellow chest. Everything about this evening was gratifying.

It's absurd to think that we've been in this pandemic for nearly five months, since early March. 

While the spread is slowing and plateauing in parts of the country including here in Wisconsin, they're straight surging again in others where places have (haphazardly in my opinion) almost fully opened up again. I work in the auto industry, not the healthcare industry, and if you educate yourself by reading the daily influx of data- we're not in the clear yet. We're getting there and we can get there if we remain cautious and slow. We need to be patient. We need to focus on our own safety and the wellbeing of our friends, family, and immediate community as a top priority. Wash your hands, wear a mask, and practice social distancing. It's honestly not, that, hard. Remember, much of COVID-19's transmission moves from person-to-person asymptomatically. Your actions can either save the life of someone or take it from them. 

Thankfully, however, leading epidemiologists, doctors, scientists, and medical professionals have started developing safe guidelines to follow, suggesting that it's really safer to be outside, especially in the distant company of others.

One concept I've been trying to wrangle the logistics for is determining the level of risk when it comes to planning a group backpacking trip. Two of my best friends who backpacked alongside me last fall in Nevada's Great Basin National Park are local, and we've collectively been craving an escape into the wilderness. The hypothetical problem I struggled to see past, is how do we do so while practicing social distancing. In reality, that's easy. Reflecting on past backpacking trips, I realized that we commonly accomplish this already. I gave it some more thought, breaking apart the potential scenarios, and engaged in straightforward dialogue about this with my two adventurous companions. The mutual consensus is that, yes, backpacking can be done properly during this time of COVID-19. We'll stay local, drive our own cars, stay in our own tents, plus keep at least six feet apart on the trail and wherever we establish camp before sundown. With those exact aforementioned modifications, it's a rather low-risk activity. That sounds good to me. 

Pandemic or not, please know that it is critical that we recreate responsibly in nature and leave no trace. Here's a very helpful article from REI worth studying.

Cheers,
Robby