One of the clearest and least confusing pieces of information I’ve heard since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the risk of transmission is lower when you’re outside. This summer brought heightened gratitude to the simple act of stepping outside and taking a deep breath of fresh air. As I’ve walked, pedaled and driven around the area, I’ve witnessed numerous examples of people engaged in a variety of outside activities ranging from small groups visiting in open grassy areas, to outdoor concerts where the audience has been encouraged to maintain physical distance.
Overall, this increased awareness and appreciation for the lushness of our summertime landscape and the stress lowering possibilities of outside activities has been a a positive development and welcome relief. Unfortunately there have been some notable instances of disrespect and abuse in some of the most beautiful places in our state. It was heartbreaking to see park service reports and photos showing live trees that had been cut down and campsites littered with garbage in Voyageurs National Park. Apparently these rude visitors ignored, or didn’t have a clue about a fundamental philosophy that responsible campers follow: Leave a campsite as you found it and take out what you bring in.
The renewed interest in nature the pandemic has inspired also reminded me of a book I received as a gift years ago titled, “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman. The non-fiction thought experiment imagines what would happen if the world as we know it ended and nature took over. Using areas like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and an abandoned part of a city on the island of Cypress as examples, the author illustrates how quickly nature reclaims the earth if humans are taken out of the equation. Without maintenance, most of the creations of human civilization would fall into disrepair and vanish relatively quickly, with the notable exceptions of the pyramids in Egypt, the granite carvings on Mount Rushmore and unfortunately, plastic. Without humans, domesticated animals — with the exception of cats — would soon fall prey to predators in the wild. The fundamental theme I gleaned from the book is distilled in a quote from the author, “Without us, Earth will abide and endure; without her, however, we could not even be.”
When Michael Osterholm, founder and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, was interviewed on the nationally syndicated Fresh Air radio program earlier this summer, he reaffirmed that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower in outside situations saying that, “the virus dissipates quite quickly into the air. If there’s any air movements around, it literally blows the cloud away - in a sense, disintegrates it.” During the interview Osterholm also recognized how extremely divided the country is and said that we “have politicized issues that should never be politicized” during the most severe pandemic since 1918. Emphasizing respect and personal responsibility he said, “We’ve got to figure out how to live with this virus as much as we’ve had to painfully understand how to die with this virus.” In a counterpoint to the mostly sobering information, he also chose to share the message of “we need to start an epidemic of kindness right now,” he promotes in his personal podcast. As the days shorten and we move toward autumn and winter, we’re going to need all the respect, personal responsibility, kindness and fresh air we can possibly get.
Paul Dols is photojournalist/website editor for Press Publications. He can be reached at 651-407-1238 or firstname.lastname@example.org