Paying Your Dues in the COVID Era

In March of 2020 COVID-19 took control. As each day passed, it re-defined our lives. It knocked us off track. It stole from us. And it dared us to defy it, as some did, and many have paid a price. It taught us to think differently about time; COVID would not be a short-term inconvenience. We suspended chunks of our lives, and some moments would come, go, and be lost forever. 

While I refuse to live in fear, I understand risk and consequences. A lot of my 2020 was spent in semi-isolation or confined to my bubble, as they say, wanting to protect my wife, extended family, and friends. COVID stole time from me, and at my age, time is very precious, especially when you measure life by hunting and fishing seasons rather than birthdays.

Last year I skipped my spring trip to the Wisconsin Driftless Area to trout fish. Locals up there want and need your business, but what they didn’t want is for this virus to come crashing down on their communities and the most vulnerable that live there. The local fly shop said stay away and so I did. Fly fishing is all about social distancing, but you still need restrooms, hotels, and restaurants when you’re on the road. It hurt those businesses to wave us off, and it hurt me to not support them because they are part of what I love during these trips.

COVID joined me in the marsh during waterfowl season. Social distancing in duck boats was pretty easy, but it still managed to interrupt duck camp as we all found ourselves spread out and apart during meals and social time. The average age of our group put most of us in that vulnerable risk category, not to mention that several of us were trying to protect our families or elderly parents. No one wanted to be a Typhoid Mary. Fortunately, no one in our crew contracted the virus and most are now well down the vaccine trail.

Beyond personal impacts, COVID found a way to infest conservation across the country. State and federal agencies had to scale back some management and research, affecting some programs, services, and public opportunities. Private organizations were particularly hard hit. The Conservation Federation of Missouri, for example, suddenly found itself trying to figure out how it will do business. How it will pay the bills. How to subsist. In fact, every conservation organization across the country was forced to learn a new dance step or two to survive. This was especially true when it came to engaging with members and raising funds that normally flowed from events and banquets. For some organizations, many staff lost their jobs. Budgets were cut. Living with the new normal became the mantra. This is huge because these organizations work incredibly hard on behalf of the hunting and fishing communities to ensure we have many of the opportunities we enjoy. They funnel money to habitat, support educational programs, and help create state and national policies.

On this point, I need to pause and make an appeal. These organizations, if they are to survive into the future, need our help. So, this year, more than any time before, be sure to re-new your memberships in whatever organization you belong. And by the way, add a little donation when you re-new. It’s not the same as going to the banquets or auctions, but it’ll help. Maybe join another organization or two that you can support or have a lapsed membership, or buy a new membership for a friend or family member. If you can spare an extra coin or two, throw it into their cup. They need it and we need them.

As 2021 unfolds there are signs that the grip of COVID will ease soon, but it isn’t done with us yet. Now that we all have experience with this thing, any prolonged effects should be easier to plan for and tolerate. But we still need to be vigilant. It’s easy to find a place of solitude in the outdoors where we can be safe, but some of the best experiences are still missing. The breakfast at the local diner before fishing, the off-season banquet or auction, or a just hanging out with family and friends in between hunts without wearing masks. The old normal is what I want it back. So be safe and stay healthy. Do your part. And re-new your memberships!

Dan Zekor