BY TYLER FRANTZ
If there’s one thing everyone in the world can agree on, it’s that 2020 was a pretty rough year. It will forever be marked in history as the year of COVID-19 illness, face coverings, social distancing, remote learning, closed businesses, self-isolation, toilet paper shortages and excessive hand washing. None of these make you feel especially warm and fuzzy inside.
To be truthful, the entire situation really put a damper on things, forcing the masses to change their routines and refocus on the preservation of their own physical health, while testing their mental and emotional well-being in the process. Let’s face it, the year was just brutal.
Amid such challenging times, however, it has made me all the more grateful for the rich opportunities the great outdoors provides as an outlet for fresh air, exercise and recreation, as well as a simple distraction of diverted attention toward something other than the coronavirus. Time and time again throughout this pandemic, I have been blessed to find normalcy in the outdoor pursuits I love — each time renewing my spirit and frame of mind, while reenergizing me to tackle the next hurdle.
For example, way back on March 13, when I first heard the school at which I teach would be “temporarily closing” in a preventative measure, I spent the following day walking my parents’ farm looking for shed antlers with my son. I vividly recall the kiss of crisp air on my cheek, the rush of blood pumping through my veins as I climbed the steep hillside with Foster on my back, and the precious time spent with my boy that morning — all of which helped me wrap my brain around the uncertainty of what was yet to come.
In April and May, while somewhat overwhelmed by all the technological troubleshooting obstacles that came along with supporting fellow teachers through virtual instruction, I found escape in occasional fishing trips to nearby creeks with Foster, daily walks around the neighborhood with Erin and the kids, or my ongoing quest to bag a spring gobbler. One morning in particular, a vibrantly red scarlet tanager landed right between my boots while traversing a remote mountain path.
I remember briefly thinking even the wildlife was losing it, but then came to the conclusion that nature always holds surprises — sometimes revealing the best ones only when they’ll be cherished the most. In June, a camping excursion in the mountains and a carefully timed family visit to the ocean provided overdue relaxation and stress relief.
With most businesses shut down and wanting to celebrate safely, my wife and I chose to kayak Swatara State Park for our anniversary on July 9. In late July, we kept alive the tradition of spending a week at our cabin in Lycoming County — marking the first time I saw my brother and his family in four months.
During August, much attention was placed on maintaining our raised vegetable garden, which yielded abundant produce for family meals — several of which were enjoyed outside on the patio, while listening to evening birdsongs, which always seemed to mesmerize our 1-year-old daughter, Fynlee. On cool September evenings, I gazed upward while coaching on the soccer field to marvel at flocks of Canada geese gravitating to freshly cut cornfields.
Knowing fall was in the air, I was inspired by yet new opportunities on the horizon. October brought archery season, and while teaching and coaching limited my chances to hunt, it made me appreciate my quiet solo outings in a tree stand so much more.
Even less-than-quiet outings in a ground blind with Foster were refreshing. Despite not harvesting a deer, just being out there was a reward in itself, as it provided a sense of clarity — kind of like pressing a mental reset button.
The calendar flipped to November, and I found more time to hunt, putting countless hours in to achieve my goals. Eventually, pheasants, geese and a fine 7-point buck all fell from well-placed shots, filling the freezer for the winter and giving me a unique sense of fulfillment through self-provision.
It is always gratifying to find success afield, but even more so when it serves as a little victory despite external adversities during a time when providing for one’s family takes on a new meaning. As December brought increased COVID-19 case counts, leading to additional school closures and travel restrictions, all was right with the world while pursuing antlerless deer in the whitetail woods.
When I was hunting, the focus shifted to hunting, and all other cares and worries melted away, if only for a few hours. With a new year bringing additional uncertainty, I still will no doubt be looking to the outdoors to help maintain my sanity, as it helped me survive 2020, I’m sure getting outside will be just as impactful in 2021.
I’m a firm believer in the healing powers of nature, and I encourage all to take a walk, go hunting or fishing, immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of a nearby woodlot. After all, you’re still alive — so celebrate by truly living.
I promise, you’ll be better off by embracing the outdoors.
Frantz is board chairman for the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org