Looking back at 2020, which thankfully is almost over, it turned out to be a banner year for outdoor activities.
You could see it coming in mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic began shutting down travel, movies, concerts, bars, restaurants, athletic events and most other traditional recreational outlets.
Seeking relief from masks and social distancing, Iowans went outdoors in record numbers to fish, hunt, paddle, hike, bike, camp, garden and breathe virus-free air.
In the serenity of nature, most of us also found at least temporary respite from the ever-mounting fear and anxiety engendered by the virus and the seemingly endless barrage of bad news about it.
Iowans’ unanticipated interest in the outdoors outstripped supplies of boats, tackle, guns, ammunition, garden seed, canning supplies and other outdoor gear.
It was further reflected in record sales of hunting and fishing licenses.
In Iowa, sales of resident fishing licenses increased 33 percent from 195,509 in 2019 to 260,050 in 2020, while resident hunting license sales increased 29.7 percent from 240,530 to 312,050.
I spent more time than ever in my 1/3-acre vegetable garden, which rewarded my increased effort with exercise, sunlight, fresh air, solitude and bushels of wholesome food. The extra time allowed me to finally accomplish what has long been a nominal goal — zero weed tolerance (ZWT).
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Yes, a weed detective could occasionally find a lamb’s quarter seedling among my pea vines, but not many survived my daily hoeing and pulling and those few not for long.
Some would call my zeal obsessive, asserting that the costs of ZWT far exceed any weed competition crop losses. But the fact is I enjoy killing weeds and, like the old-time farmers who before the advent of herbicides used to cultivate their crops three times per season, I also enjoy seeing vibrant green plants, invigorated by released nitrogen, surrounded by freshly turned black dirt.
I also spent more time than ever on the Wapsipinicon River. Fishing in 2020 didn’t even have to be good to be enjoyable. But it was.
Unlike in recent years when heavy rains and high water rendered local rivers unfishable for most of the year, 2020 turned arid in midsummer, permitting anglers like me to wear out a pair of wading boots and catch five years’ worth of big bass in a few months.
My cellphone camera served as an ersatz journal, recording most of the highlights of an exceptional outdoor year. They include a spring turkey gobbler, a trophy morel mushroom, a tent full of monarch butterfly hatchlings, a weedless garden, 39 picture-worthy smallmouth bass, some limit stringers of walleyes, and a tailgate laden with rooster pheasants.
Selfies with big bass and full game bags help recall a memorable fishing and hunting year, but they pale beside the few bittersweet photos of grandchildren too seldom seen in 2020.
For me, memories not made will overshadow outdoor highlights and go down as the greatest disappointment in a year so full of them.