Give Thanks for the Outdoors

Social distancing – Montana style

The charcoal grill is heating up, getting ready to receive its sacrificial offering, a spatchcocked turkey, as I start contemplating this Thanksgiving holiday in this surreal year. 

I’ll note that because of family scheduling, we celebrated, or at least feasted, a week early, also taking advantage of a temporary return to autumn weather for outdoor cooking.

If you’re not familiar with “spatchcocking,” this means that we’ve cut out the backbone of the turkey and splayed the bird out so it’s relatively flat. I was kind of tentative the first time I tried it, but after several chickens during the summer, we decided we were ready to try a turkey.

It goes without saying, but this has been a cockeyed year. As if election years aren’t crazy enough, an election year in the middle of a global pandemic raises the craziness level by some mathematical degree above my understanding.

It seems ages now, but it was just eight months ago that the reality of the global pandemic came to Montana. On the evening of March 13, the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited had its fundraising banquet, right on schedule. TU volunteers had planned for potential risk, with hand sanitizing stations around the area, and various wipes and other hand-cleaning supplies at tables. Still, the news of the first covid-19 cases in Butte and Montana was certainly in the buzz of conversation that evening.

To the best of my knowledge, that TU banquet was the last large indoor social gathering we’ve had in Butte. The next day our local public health people issued cancellation notices for churches, concerts and other groups and we started learning about wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing. Also, it seems clear that we dodged a bullet with that event. If we had a similar banquet this month it would be a super spreader event and in coming weeks we’d be counting the resulting hospitalizations and covid deaths. 

All of this is background for what became one of the surprises of this insane year: people learned to appreciate the outdoors.

For better or worse, with a need for social distancing and shut-downs of so many other activities, people took to the outdoors.

We found public land campgrounds to be full and running over much of the camping season. Other people have reported going to National Forests and finding someone camped in just about every pull-out where it was possible to set up a tent.

There were economic surprises along with this. Angling Trade, an online service to the fly-fishing business community asked readers how business was for 2020, and 44 percent of responders reported having a record year and 17 percent reported one of their better years, if not a record-breaker. This isn’t a scientific poll, of course, but it is an indication that at least one segment of our economy is weathering the pandemic better than might be expected.

While it seemed that a lot of people that headed for the great outdoors came to Montana, we’re not alone, in that respect. 

The Washington Post recently reported on an influx of tourists in the Tahoe Lake area along the California/Nevada border. Tahoe apparently has a lot of bears in the areas that also attract tourists. Regular visitors to the area apparently know better than to leave doors unlocked or ground floor windows open, and seem to get along with only minor difficulties. One Alabama visitor, however, decided every bear sighting was an emergency and called 911. After a number of calls, the police department told him to knock it off and they’d arrest him if he made any more calls to report bear sightings.

So, on this Thanksgiving holiday, let’s give thanks for our great outdoors, and particularly our public lands and waters. In a year of pandemic, politics and unrest, many people found or rediscovered the outdoors as a place that, compared to everything else going on, actually made sense.

As for that spatchcocked grilled turkey, it was delicious, though I felt kind of cheated, not having stuffing and gravy. 

There are always trade-offs.

4 thoughts on “Give Thanks for the Outdoors

  1. That was a great day fishing Montana style! Glad your flat turkey was good. I was able to partake of some duck breasts in Ol’ Virginia. I’m working the ER on Thanksgiving and the hospital has splurged on a catered meal! I’ll be home in time for leftovers and have a Zoom meeting with my extended family planned. I’m grateful for the Wild places of both our homes and friends like you and your lovely bride! Stay well, Friend!

    • Thanks, Eric. All is well here. I had a great pheasant hunt last Friday and a successful deer hunt yesterday. Today’s project was to convert the deer carcass to packages of frozen meat in the freezer, and we got it done. Greetings to your family when you get home for leftovers.

  2. Great piece, Paul. People did seem to rediscover the outdoors…hopefully establishing a connection that will inspire folks to protect our environmental resources long into the future. We had a very good rod year….but feeling guilty since so many others are hurting. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Thanks, Jerry. I hope the renewed interest in the great outdoors continues, though if we get people vaccinated and they can renew their normal routines, I wonder if they’ll still keep coming to the lakes, rivers and forests. Guess we’ll find out.

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