There's been a lot of confusion about whether it is safe to spend time outdoors during the spread of COVID-19, but many agree that nature is a needed balm when people are going stir-crazy inside their homes.
Isolation is the rule of thumb, but experts have told us it's OK to take a solo jog or a hike in a park as long as people avoid physical contact and do not congregate in large groups.
If you do venture out of your house to enjoy the outdoors, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Any time you stop for gas or for food, your risk of spreading germs is higher. Try to bring your own food, or eat before you go, and make sure your gas tank is full before you leave. If your destination lies in a small community far away from urban centers with access to medical supplies, try not to stop at all. Many communities, such as Moab, Utah, have been overwhelmed by visitors seeking solace in the great outdoors with little awareness of the risk they present to nearby small towns.
Try to use your time outdoors as a solo adventure: avoid gathering in groups.
Don't use public restrooms in the park or in communities along the way; try to take care of business before you go.
Stick to trails and routes that no one else is using and adjust the timing of your outing to avoid peak hours.
Take trash with you when you go; although parks are open, it may be a while before staff are able to empty trash cans in the area.
Follow the general Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and be certain to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you return to your home.
One of the safest ways to enjoy the outdoors is to avoid leaving home in the first place. Even urban and suburban areas are a part of a natural ecosystem, and there are often some unexpected things to be seen from home when you're paying close attention.
Here are a few ideas to help you engage with the natural world in your place of residence:
Start a nature journal
When working from home becomes difficult, art can provide a much-needed break. Self-isolation has brought out the artist in many people in the last few weeks. This can be a fun activity for whole families who are home together. You don't have to have natural artistic talent to begin a nature journal. A guide, such as the free PDF download of "How to Teach Nature Journaling" from johnmuirlaws.com can help you get started. Nature journaling is all about making observations and paying close attention to the details. It can be a good opportunity to hone artistic skill and get your eyes off the screen.
Start a list of yard birds
Birders sometimes keep a "life list" of all the bird species they have seen in their lifetime. Many of them also keep a "yard list" while trying to attract the greatest diversity of birds into their yards with attractive features such as feeders, bird baths and native plantings for perches and shelter. The free app eBird can help you keep track of and report the birds you observe in your yard, or this may be a good opportunity to create a handwritten bird journal of your own design.
You could also work on increasing the diversity of wildlife in your yard by building a birdbath, a birdhouse or creating a brush pile for habitat.
Learn birdsongs by ear
Many people are taking solace in the comfort of birdsong outside their windows as migratory birds begin returning from the south and singing their best tunes to attract mates. Active listening can train your brain to pick out unusual sounds, even if you live in an urban or suburban area. Birds to listen for: sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, red-tailed hawks, Eastern bluebirds, white-throated sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and mourning doves. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds website (allaboutbirds.org) has hundreds of audio records of birdsong anyone can access for free. Apps such as Song Sleuth can record and help identify birdsong.