Being an outdoorsman, social distancing has never been an issue for me. I want to be as far away from people as I can get and the more remote my location the better. I’m probably one of the few that was slightly jealous of Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. During the steelhead run this year I did finally have a viable excuse to keep people from fishing right on top of me. I didn’t have to say a word, I’d simply sneeze and they would scatter like ducks. Sure they scared the fish, but I had my solitude.
In my remote experiences in the backcountry I have the common fears many have. The untimely bad experience with bears, wolves or mountain lions always crosses my mind. But with my rod in one hand and camera in the other, I always have to remind myself that close encounters with bears, wolves and mountain lions is part of my pursuit. Keeping a distance from people is also part of the plan so this six feet thing is a piece of cake.
What I mostly fear are the little things. The things we don’t see can ultimately cause as much damage as an attacking bear. Things like fleas, which can cause spotted fever, typhus, cat scratch fever and the plague, not to mention massive infections. We are well aware that ticks can pass Lyme disease on to us but they also can pass along at least eight other diseases we definitely don’t want.
Mosquitoes are well known for malaria and the West Nile virus but they are also carriers of a multitude of other nasty things. A bite from the tiny brown recluse spider can be fatal, as can bee stings if you’re allergic. Multiple wasp stings can do you in, and if you’ve ever stumbled on a nest accidently, you know how quickly that can happen. With new invasive species coming past our borders each year, let’s hope we don’t get the deadly hornets too or you can add another little thing to my list. I’ll never forget the time I thought I was going to die when I accidently sat on a burrow of fire ants. I now know first hand why they call them fire ants, and they have killed people.
The COVID-19 virus is technically one of those little things that I fear. The threat of Lyme disease and West Nile virus has changed the way I approach my love of the outdoors but the COVID-19 virus has changed the way I approach life. As the death toll was rising in New York and Detroit, the beaches were full in Florida, but look at Florida now. Florida went from having very little signs of the virus to skyrocketing to the fifth most infected state in the country. If that’s not a clue to the outdoor person to stay inside a while, I’m not sure what is.
That’s why I fear the little things. You can’t see the virus, but you know it’s out there, and you know it can be deadly. In fact, it will be more deadly than all bear, wolf and cougar attacks combined. By the time this column hits the newsstand, this virus in some way, shape or form, will directly impact most of us.
This pandemic is more than just missing a fishing trip. Major cities have come to a quiet halt. On a weekday at 3:00 in the afternoon, standing less than a quarter mile from the State Capitol, it was deadly silent. So silent, I could have easily been in a remote forest, but I wasn’t, I was in the middle of downtown Lansing. The sidewalks were empty and there were no cars on the road and that is when the reality of this virus first hit me.
Parks and public boat launches have closed. Bait stores are deemed nonessential and many of them are also closed. There are senior students who are missing their senior year. Sport teams at all levels, high school, college and pro have had their seasons canceled, as this becomes the year without champions. Millions of people are out of work and millions more that are working, are working from home. Restaurants and public gathering places have closed signs in their windows. While grocery store workers, doctors, hospital workers, gas station clerks, fire and rescue, law enforcement and truck drivers are risking their lives to keep us going, schools are shut down and funerals are on hold.
I’ve seen this virus bring out the best and the worst of people. I recently witnessed a parent yell at his four-year-old son because the child wasn’t practicing social distancing. “BRANDON!!! You are not practicing social distancing!!! What did I tell you?”
Now those are words I would have never thought I’d hear come out of a parent’s mouth while yelling at their child. Of course, the yelling father had stopped his golf cart in front of someone’s house, got out, and began socializing, not really setting a good example.
I’m confident that our scientists will discover a cure long before we figure out how this pandemic caused a toilet paper, bread and pudding shortage. Soon, we’ll go back to not washing our hands again, but for now, we are in strange times indeed.
How do you tell an outdoors person to stay inside? Well, for me it’s pretty simple. I could be selfish and keep going on with life as usual, but the fact is, if I do that, I could possibly pick this virus up. If I were to be infected and harm myself, then I guess I asked for it, but if I were to pass it on to one of my loved ones and I lost one of them because of my own selfish behavior, well, you might as well cover me in fire ants and feed me to the bear. I’m not venturing out to keep myself safe, I’m staying put to keep those I love safe.
So, stay safe my fishing friends, and please, leave a note for your postal delivery person and thank them for delivering your magazine. But make sure the note is well sanitized.