Stay Well, Stay Sane

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It’s been about three days since all the closures started, and one day since Minnesota declared a state of emergency. Everyone in my household is already feeling cooped up and anxious about how we will spend the next days and weeks. And we’ve already told the kids they’re going to have limited time with friends for a while. So, if we’re going to spend less time in public, avoid movie theaters and restaurants, and otherwise practice hermit life, what can we do?

That is a question millions of people are asking, I’m sure. There don’t seem to be many good answers. One thing I know for sure: time in the outdoors is the original form of social distancing. You literally cannot catch a virus from someone who isn’t there. And even if accompanied by others, observing the 6-foot rule isn’t hard; in fact, it’s much harder to break it than observe it. 

Coronavirus CureOff the top of my head, I can think of several things average folks can do to get outside in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully these things and others will help you get outside, find fresh air and exercise, and fight the urge to join the hordes- and their germs. 

Cut Pussy Willows- I expect the pussy willow catkins to begin emerging here in southern Minnesota sometime in the next week or two. There might already be some now; I haven’t been looking too closely. If you’re not interested in them for yourself, perhaps you know somebody who would appreciate a bundle. 

Go Ice Fishing- Until the ice is fully warm and rotting, there is still ice fishing to be done. Perch, panfish, eelpout, tullibee/whitefish, trout, and rough fish are still legal targets (and that list is not exhaustive). In fact, now can be a downright great time for perch and eelpout. Maybe this would be a good opportunity to add a new fish to your “life list.” 

Try Maple Syruping- Everyone really should try it once. It’s a great way to connect with a food source and spend some time outside on a warm day. I don’t know a kid who doesn’t love syrup, so it’s a great way to involve them, too. All you need is one good-sized maple tree, and not necessarily a sugar maple. Many Minnesota yards have one or more Silver maples in them, which makes this activity more accessible than you might initially think. We tried it last year for the first time, and it won’t be our last. 

Take A Walk In The Woods- It sounds simple enough, but this could take many forms. For instance, if you made a routine of walking in the same place several times over the next 6 or 8 weeks, you would be witness to the waking of the woods, observing all the incremental changes from dormancy to full green-up. If you go out on a still night, owls may be heard hooting this time of year. As the snow recedes from the landscape now, the timing is also excellent to find and collect antlers shed by deer. Use your imagination. The possibilities are endless, especially when you consider how different any two locations can be. 

Not Outside?

If you’re less inclined to get outside due to mobility or seasonal allergies (as I am at this time every year), there are still things you can do at home. Each of these could easily occupy half a day or more. 

Make Jellies and Jams- Remember those bags of fruits you put down in the freezer last summer? Well, now would be a great time to make jellies, jams, and syrups. If by any chance you have chokecherries you don’t know what to do with, check out my recipe page from last February. Chokecherry lemonade remains one of my very best ideas ever…

Try New Fish and Game Recipes- I always have good intentions when it comes to cooking my fish and game, but let’s face it: the best recipes are not well suited for the average busy weeknight. It seems I need a good chunk of time on my hands in order to pull off the best dishes. Well, guess what? We have that time now! Need some new ideas? Hank Shaw’s recipes have never once let me down. A (short) list of my favorites would include Jaegerschnitzel, Steak Diane, Turkey Parmesan, Corned Venison, Venison Barbacoa, and General Tso’s Pheasant. Do yourself a favor and head over to Hank’s website (and sign up for his email list). 

Smoke Those Fish- If you’re like me, you still have 5 or 10 tullibees in the freezer, waiting to get smoked in the next batch. I only have one left from the last batch, so this is good timing. Don’t have any Coregonus to smoke? How about other fish? Or birds? This is a great time to produce some stuff for the freezer. And considering how crazy the grocery store was today, it might come in handy to have some thaw-and-eat meals on hand. 

 

 

 

The Season for Outdoor Savings

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It seems every year I tell myself I’m going to get new hiking boots. And ice fishing boots. And snow bibs. And winter clothing layers. And a new backpacking stove. I’m sure I’ll get around to all those, but most of my procrastination has to do with finding the right items at the right prices. Well, now is the time of year when prices get slashed and I need to be on top of my shopping game. You should too, especially if you need any type of outdoor clothing. 

The average retail shopper is usually thinking in terms of the upcoming season; at least that’s the way retailers act when it comes to their merchandising. But if you’re willing to think about the things you’ll need next year rather than the next season, you can often get clothing and gear for half or less of what you would otherwise pay. 

The Lowdown

Almost 20 years ago I learned that the end of the winter is prime time for snatching up clothing and gear for good (sometimes crazy-good) prices. I was working in fishing retail, watching the clothing and camping employees marking things down, trying to clear the shelves for all the merchandise that was to flood the store in the lead-up to Spring. You see, they do not want to store any more than they have to for the next six to nine months.    

What’s more, things like tents, sleeping bags, outerwear, and all manner of casual clothing are subject to major styling changes- every single year. It stands to reason, then, that the old stuff has to make room for the new stuff. And this is the golden time every year when ice fishing gear is also leaving the showroom floor, which means the fishing department can have steep discounts too. 

The Internet is No Different

Now, the the savings don’t just apply to retail stores; companies with an online presence are doing a lot of the same things. Here are some of my favorites, my go-to sites when I need a deal on new goods. 

REI

Let me say at the outset that if you’re not a member, you should probably consider it. A permanent membership is still only $20 (To me, that is incredible). What does that get you? For starters, you get a percentage of your purchases back every year as a store credit. My dividend- as they call it- has more than paid me back over the years, and my main purchases there are dehydrated food and fuel for my backpacking stove. 

The even-better reason to become a member is that you will be alerted to their big sales and issued coupons several times over the year. Those coupons are usually 20% off a regular price item and 20% off an REI outlet item. One of those big sales is coming up in June- I hope to find my new hiking boots then. 

Regardless of one’s membership status, the REI Outlet is always there. That part of the site features their clearance goods, and is largely clothing. It seems the longer an item waits there, the steeper the discount. And those who shop on the extreme end of the size spectrums will do well. 

Backcountry.com

This website ranks up near REI for my first and favorite place to look for low prices on things I need. If I had to classify it, I’d say it’s “An online store with clothing and gear in current styles, with sometimes extensive selection of sale and clearance merchandise.” Backcountry offers goods from top-shelf companies like The North Face and Patagonia, but also has exclusive brands like Montane and Stoic. I’ve picked up some clothing there as well as my warmest sleeping bag. The Stoic fleece jacket I bought from them last year has become one of my go-to layers (seen in this photo from the About Roy and NAGC page).

EverestGear

Like Backcountry, Everest Gear seems to be a dumping ground for old styles. Sure, they have some regular-priced stuff, but their regular prices are nothing special. I first stumbled on Everest Gear when I was looking for sleeping bags. They have lots of clothing and other gear, but it remains one of the best places I’ve found for discounts on sleeping bags. 

If I had a complaint, it would be that I haven’t found a way to refine/sort the merchandise listings (by brand, price, size, etc.). So if you’re looking at tents, for instance, you have no choice but to scan through all the tents. If you’d like to keep your purchase under a certain price, they don’t make it easy. It can make shopping there a bit more time consuming, but it’s still worth a look. 

Midway USA

The people at Midway USA are pretty much no-nonsense. They offer whatever they offer, and it won’t be everything on the market. But when they want to get rid of something, they’ll put a good price on it until it’s gone. I finally found the price I wanted on a hunting backpack there a couple years ago, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Again, they don’t try to offer everything that’s out there, but it’s one of the best places online to find good discounts on hunting gear. 

Overton’s

When it comes to your ice fishing needs, it can be hard to sniff out the best destinations for deals. Generally speaking, retail stores are trying hard to get rid of everything ice fishing- especially by the middle of March. It seems like you just have to hit the stores you know and hope to get lucky; I have yet to find an online source for ice fishing gear that tries as hard as the aforementioned websites do to get rid of their wares. 

Still, the Overton’s website currently has some good prices on some gear. The selection is by no means comprehensive, but some good deals can be had. I wish now I’d held off on some of my recent lure purchases…

REI Patagonia