Think Outside the House: A guide to your nature fix

written by: Kelley V Phillips, Outreach Coordinator

Over the last few weeks, bluebird songs have pierced the cool morning air. Squirrels chatter across the canopy and industrious woodpeckers drum inharmoniously. With many schools, offices, and public spaces closed, these signs of spring remind us that the outdoors is a place to turn to for normalcy. Nature can remedy some of the effects of staying home, just think outside the house!

Exploration goes hand-in-hand with virtual education

Nature is a living laboratory. Many environmental organizations have resources for parents and teachers to supplement eLearning: ecological experiments, observation challenges, outdoor games, crafts, and more. Bringing junior naturalist practices home has never been easier with programs like Audubon Adventures, National Wildlife Federation’s Ranger Rick and NASA’s GLOBE project.

With time to venture outdoors, why wait until summer to complete the 11 qualifications to become an official “Hoosier Outdoor Child” with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources? Tasks include climbing a tree, camping under the stars, and playing in a stream or pond.

A benefit of extended time at home is being able to log observations regularly. When do birds visit the feeder? Does that change as the sun rises earlier? Are there different smells before and after it rains? Reddy Red-tail, spokesbird for Red-tail Land Conservancy, has a nature discovery journal to keep the mind curious.

Sometimes you just need good news

You’re in for a guaranteed laugh out loud moment with the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. They are a good reminder that even majestic animals like the lion can look ridiculous. When it comes to capturing an absurd expression, all creatures are fair game.

Hunkering down can feel like you’re cooped up

If you’re looking to stay in the city limits, Minnetrista’s grounds, Craddock Wetlands, the Cardinal Greenway and Red-tail’s Dutro-Ernst Woods are all great places to get a nature fix. Spaces of quiet solitude to see the unfolding of spring are nearby too. McVey Memorial Forest, Stout Memorial Woodland and White River Woods are within a 20 minute drive of Muncie. Red-tail’s public nature preserves and Indiana State Parks remain open.

Before you go, review the CDC’s guidelines for enjoying the outdoors. Stay 6ft apart from other trail-goers, announce yourself if you plan to pass someone, and be prepared for limited restroom facilities. Check each location’s website for updates and closures.

Puttering around can be productive

It can be frustrating when your everyday to-do list goes from a scroll to a sticky note. You can make a visible difference in your surroundings by heading to a natural area and picking up litter. For safety, wear gloves and use durable collection bags.  Other ways to volunteer solo are pulling invasive species (please identify before you pull!) or walking trails and reporting any fallen branches.

Social distancing does not need to be isolating

There’s no better time to join iNaturalist. It’s a social network dedicated to biodiversity where anyone can share observations about their environment. The data collected can be added to national projects and used in global databases. Users interact by asking and answering ecological questions and helping with plant and animal identifications. It comes in an app too, you can record observations as you explore.

Screen-time is skyrocketing

Dig in to a nature-themed reading list. Whether you like memoirs, poetry, DIY or picture books, there is a book or podcast for you. The Muncie Public Library has e-books you can access through their website. We recommend “The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams, “Wild” by Cheryl Stayed, “Bringing Nature Home” by Doug Tallamy and “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald.

But if you must stay indoors…

Get the scoop on wildlife around the world with trail cameras. Critter cams have live feeds of falcons, bears, coral reefs and more. To further explore, the National Park Service offers virtual tours of 5 different parks from Hawai’i Volcanoes to Yellowstone.

These are just a few ideas to help you Think Outside the House. A full list of nature learning resources, links to virtual experiences, trail guides for solo adventures, and more can be found at www.fortheland.org/think-outside-the-house. As the life cycle goes on, look to nature for finding balance and staying entertained.