Coping with COVID: The new normal?
By Eddee Daniel
Everyone is chafing these days. Many who are suffering financially are pressuring governors to open up their states again. A few are fed up enough to defy the social distancing orders and gather in protest, defying reasonable precaution along the way. Some simply ignore the guidelines. It’s less common than earlier in the crisis but I still see the occasional non-family groups of adults together on the trails when I am out in the parks.
Anyone who has gotten sick or lost a loved one to the disease is hurting the most, of course. I count my blessings, visit my grandchildren on Zoom, wear my home-made mask at the grocery store, and swerve six feet around anyone I meet on trails. Hiking, mostly alone, and photographing the people I encounter have been my daily practice—and solace; it’s how I cope with the crisis. But the “new normal” is wearing on me, as it is for nearly everyone by now.
Adapting to this, my wife, Lynn, and I decided it was finally time to get together, so to speak, with friends we hadn’t seen since the shutdown began. Karen and Jim are avid birders and we have long enjoyed their expertise on walks in area parks and preserves. The other day they invited us to join them, from a safe distance, as they made the rounds of the Bluebird nesting boxes that they monitor regularly in Warnimont Park.
We began by replacing a nest box that had been damaged over the winter. Then we proceeded to circumnavigate the Warnimont Golf Course—as yet to reopen—to check on all twelve of the boxes installed there. We found only one Bluebird nest, but other species had also decided to move into the free accommodations. Two boxes contained Tree Swallow nests, which were left intact. Like Bluebirds, Tree Swallows have been protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Not so House Sparrows. Karen removed and discarded empty House Sparrow nests from two boxes. This non-native species has been known to kill native Bluebirds and peck their eggs. In the course of our ramblings we (meaning the birders) identified 17 species of birds in the park, including these migrators: Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Chipping Sparrow and Yellow-Rumped Warbler.
While the birders were busy collecting bird species, I collected a number of photos, most of which featured the human species out enjoying the solace of the park. The only bird I managed to capture was this male Tree Swallow, which waited patiently in a nearby tree while Karen peeked inside the box at its nest.
Most of the humans I spotted were making good use of the Oak Leaf Trail, which runs along the top of the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The archery range was also being well used, with all of the targets claimed and everyone staying at least six feet apart, as far as I could tell.
Aside from the socially distant meeting with our friends, I’ve been opening up a bit more than usual with the strangers I meet in the parks. Nearly everyone I speak to is happy to be photographed (from at least six feet away, of course) and to share a bit about their experience during the shutdown. I myself have visited three parks in the past week that I’d never been to before and in chatting with others I met I learned that I’m hardly the only one discovering new places to go. Not only are people venturing out more often during the crisis, but some are being more adventurous when they do.
In addition to trying out new places, I’ve observed that tree climbing is popular—at least encouraging your children is. I found four separate instances this week of parents helping their children up trees or logs, such as this family of four at Stigler Nature Preserve in New Berlin (above). I also caught this man trying to get his dog to climb a tree with him (below). After a brief and fruitless scramble, the dog refused to budge. “I’m not a cat,” I’m sure it was thinking.
I interrupt this blog post to bring you breaking news: An email from the WI DNR just arrived in my inbox announcing that Wisconsin State Parks will reopen this Friday, May 1. Here is part of the message:
“We are excited to reopen several of our state parks and forests for the public to enjoy. We want to thank everyone for their cooperation with our new operating schedule and procedures,” said DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole. “We must do all that we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When visiting our treasured state parks and forests, remember to stay close to home, practice social distancing and carry hand sanitizer. Please enjoy the outdoors responsibly and be more than safe.”
Another part of the DNR’s message outlines a variety of restrictions intended to reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus. Popular parks like Lapham Peak, for instance, will have visitor capacity limits. Be sure to check Governor Evers’ press release before heading out to a park.
The “new normal,” as we have so frequently learned in the past six weeks, is still shifting. Without further ado, here are a few more of the people I met out on the trails this week.
This is the seventh installment in our “Coping with COVID” series. Here are the previous ones:
Remember, our “Find-a-Park” map is here to help you— yes! —find a park. Please observe safe personal hygiene and social distancing guidelines when you head out for fresh air, exercise and a healthy dose of nature. And, as always, take only pictures and leave only footprints.
To see the complete set of chronological images from 90 different places taken during the COVID-19 shutdown, go to Eddee’s Flickr album.
The featured image at the top is from the Ice Age Trail in Ridge Run Park, West Bend. Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and A Wealth of Nature Project Director. All images in today’s photo essay were shot in the past week.