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Outdoors Column | Les Winkeler: Making the best of a pandemic

Outdoors Column | Les Winkeler: Making the best of a pandemic

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We are all dealing with the pandemic in different ways.

The most difficult part for me came during the early weeks, when the State of Illinois shut down its parks. Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area and Saline County Conservation Area are two of my favorite birding haunts, so, essentially, I missed the 2020 spring warbler migration.

Since then, life has settled into a pattern that feels relatively normal.

I set the alarm early once or twice a week to greet the golden early light of sunrise at one of the two aforementioned sites, or Mermet Lake or Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Once you get past the thought of leaving a warm comfortable bed, there is nothing like being in the outdoors while the world is still waking up.

However, despite the pseudo-normalcy, some things have undeniably changed.

This is the first time in decades we haven’t taken an early spring vacation.

Normally, we take advantage of that sliver of the calendar where basketball has ended, but baseball and softball are still on the horizon. Unfortunately, the world as we know it pretty much shut down a few days after the Missouri Valley Conference’s men’s basketball tournament.

So, there was no spring trip to the Everglades, St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge or Gulf Islands National Seashore. Now, nine months later I find my mind wondering to the next adventure we might take when we feel safe to travel.

I’ve long thought about Big Bend National Park in Texas, or The Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Right now, sitting and staring at the same four walls I’ve seen every day for more than a year, both seem as exotic as a trip to Tahiti or Iceland.

However, with ample time on my hands, I’ve also dreamed of scouring the beaches of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida or South Padre Island in Texas. What the heck, maybe I’ll just take an extended vacation and make the circuit.

Of course, not all my time is spent daydreaming these days.

The slower pace of life means we’ve been cleaning out closets and downsizing. That has proven to be a fascinating process.

My wife recently unearthed a storage bin full of items I’d forgotten about.

On one of the recent chilly mornings I found myself lamenting the fact that the gloves I was wearing were both mismatched and nearly worn out. I’d resigned myself to purchasing some new gloves, but no more.

There were at least three pairs of gloves in the bin. A quick search of this lost treasure also produced several cold-weather hats and at least one gun case that had been forgotten. What’s more, there was a sizable shoe box full of fishing lures still encased in plastic.

So much for my Christmas list.

When I think about it, the forced isolation of the pandemic has resulted in another plus. I’ve spent considerably more time enjoying the world right outside my door.

Had we been gallivanting around the country, I may have missed the white-winged dove that spent a day at my feeders. I might have missed the eastern screech owl that haunted my yard for a day. And, I know there wouldn’t have been as much time to appreciate the fall invasion of pine siskins.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is life is what you make of it.

Stay safe.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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