Posted: March 26, 2020


Not too long ago, I wrote an essay that was all about how getting outside can be a great way to feel better—physically, mentally, and emotionally—even if you have to deal with muddy boot-prints and muck-covered dogs this time of year.

That was before. Before our schools, restaurants, and workplaces closed. Before local stores began selling out of disinfecting products and our hospitals began running out of facemasks. Before we were told to maintain a 6-foot (at least!) buffer between individual people.

Life right now is surreal. Simultaneously, everything seems to change daily and constantly repeat itself, so much and so little happening all at once.

We don’t know what tomorrow, or next week, or next month will bring. Will we get to host kids on field trips to Lake Meyer this spring? When will we be able to share our programs at residential facilities again? What will the summer camping season be like? The uncertainty is sending me, and I assume many others, reeling.

So, we try to find our anchors, those things that can pull us back to center and help us keep steady. We need our little bits of certainty in uncertain times.

There are, of course, as many different ways of “finding certainty” as there are individual people, because we all have our own unique needs and emotions. But, since this article is written by an employee of Winneshiek County Conservation, you probably already assumed where I was going: outside.

Whenever I am asked how things are going at my house right now, my response invariably includes “at least it’s spring.” But I don’t mean that just because it’s warmer out and easier to be outside than it is in winter. In fact, sometimes it’s harder; I certainly don’t like to be outside long when it’s 38 degrees and raining!

Right now, I’m grateful for spring not so much because it’s warmer, but because it’s, ultimately, certain. There may be a 65-degree day followed by a 4-inch snowfall, but spring’s changes will eventually arrive.

Knowing that the signs of spring are on their way gives me something to look for in each day, a little scavenger hunt with the same prizes each year. The bluebirds are back! The woolly bears are out! The hepatica is blooming! Despite all the chaos around us, these are still here, steady and certain.

Searching for those arriving signs of spring also gives me—and my two young boys that I am now spending a lot of time with—a reason to go out tromping through woods and along trails, an excuse to flex our muscles, get some sunshine on our cheeks, and burn some energy.

And this return of spring is just so beautiful. There is immense beauty in the human world right now as our communities find creative and humbling ways of supporting each other, but there is also incredible sadness, confusion, and loss. Admiring the perfect symmetry of a snow trillium or listening to the chirpy call of spring peepers doesn’t change that, but they do give me a brief reprieve, and that’s enough to keep me going.

So, invariably, I have returned to the same idea from my last article: getting outside can be a great way to feel better—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Just like it was it was before, and just like it will be after.


Our office has put together a checklist and field guide for some “Signs of Spring” to look for. Access them here.

Finding most of them will require going out in parks or other natural areas, so please be mindful of appropriate social distancing and respect public areas that have been closed for public safety.