A cool breeze, amazing lakeside views and a few curious birds greeted my older daughter and me at the Montour Preserve’s Lake Chillisquaque earlier this week.
There were lots of things to see, explore and enjoy during our early morning excursion. Only two things were notably absent – fish, which obviously could care less for the assortment of lures and Power Bait options we threw at them, and people.
In the midst of an unprecedented societal shutdown, we had found the one oasis in a corona-induced desert landscape devoid of school and workplace obligations and missing the typical distractions of libraries, playgrounds, movie theaters and non-essential shopping trips.
In a time of chaos and uncertainty, our outdoor resources offer arguably the safest escape – fresh air, nearly unlimited opportunities for exploration and an ability to completely unplug from the nonstop newsfeed and social media circus that seems to heighten anxiety, sometimes more than awareness.
Pennsylvania’s network of state parks and privately run nature centers have seen some COVID-created changes. Many buildings and other structural resources are closed indefinitely. Events at these venues that typically draw large numbers of people have been cancelled or postponed. However, most of the outdoor-based amenities are still available for a family that yearns for more than binging Netflix and never-ending games of Monopoly.
Nearly a decade ago, Richard Louv challenged our society’s growing dependence on electronics and indoor isolation, publishing the national bestselling “Last Child in the Woods” and coining a condition that too many of our young people share – nature-deficit disorder. This isn’t a medical diagnosis as much a cultural trend – something that has long-ranging ripple effects not only for health and well-being of our children, but also the environment.
As more and more young people fail to engage with the therapeutic aspects of our natural resources, the less invested the next generation will be when threats surface within the greater ecosystem.
As if you needed another reason to get the family outdoors, a recent study has shown that taking at least 20 minutes outdoors connecting with nature can significantly lower your stress -- who couldn't benefit from that right now? Check out the study here.
The coronavirus situation is scary. It has disrupted everyday life in unprecedented ways. However, it has also cleared many of the distractions – and excuses – away from really connecting our kids with the plentiful natural resources right in our backyards.
Take your family hiking, fishing, bird watching, nature journaling and exploring creeks. If you run into others enjoying the outdoors, you can still practice social distancing practices without putting yourself at risk.
If more public outdoor venues still make you nervous, you may be surprised at the nature-based opportunities in your own backyard. You may not live next to a forest or creek, but even in-town spaces offer critters such as squirrels and pigeons. Bugs and worms are starting to emerge from their winter slumbers. Trees are producing buds, maple sap is flowing and a slew of early spring flowers are starting to bloom.
In an effort to catalyze your family’s reconnection with nature, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is offering an outdoors photo and poetry content.
Through Easter (April 12), we are accepting entries in three different age groups (12 and under, 13-17 and 18-through adult) of your best outdoor-based photographs taken specifically during this time of shutdowns and cancellations. We are also accepting poems inspired by your family’s nature-based exploration over the next several weeks – again separated into the three age groups.
We will share our favorite entries throughout the next month as an additional inspiration to get outdoors – and by Friday, April 17, announce winners in each age category. We have an assortment of prizes planned for this contest and are excited to see what cool things you find in our greater watershed.
Photos and poetry experiences must be taken from the Middle Susquehanna watershed, starting from where the Penns Creek enters into the Susquehanna River and extending up through the West and North branches of the river and the tributaries that feed into it. Here is a map that shows all the counties within our region (colored in tan):
Please send your entries, clearly marked with name, age, hometown and caption information to firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail to John Zaktansky, Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper, 112 Market Street, Sunbury, PA 17801. We reserve the right to use images and poems on our website, social media platforms and other potential promotional items.
If you have any questions, contact John Zaktansky at email@example.com or 570-768-6300.
Good luck, stay safe and enjoy the therapeutic adventures that can only be found outdoors throughout our extended watershed.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.