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Out, out, get out!

Fred Astaire moved into our neighborhood this spring. His real name is something else, of course, but we have nicknamed him because he is so dapper, so cordial, so light on his feet. And he can sing.

Fred is a catbird. He and Ginger have a place in the evergreens in territory they call theirs and we call the backyard. They have been sheltering near their home all summer, so we see a lot of them. They often persuade other neighbors that it's fine to visit with us — from a safe distance of six feet or more, naturally. When we have coffee on the patio, they hang out nearby. We have enjoyed getting to know them all. They are snowbirds, sure, who don't pay taxes to Connecticut, but we don't hold that against them.

Getting better acquainted with our bird neighbors has been an unforeseen benefit of spending a lot of time outdoors but away from other humans. The highlight was in early summer, when we babysat every day for a young red-shouldered hawk, whose folks dropped him/her off each morning for nearly two weeks to practice hops up to the fence and short flights to lower limbs. And we were out back to watch a huge, low-flying National Guard C-130H on its way to salute healthcare workers over Lawrence & Memorial Hospital when it scared a flock of cedar waxwings out of a crabapple tree. The birds scattered at the loud roar and the menacing shadow, but they settled back in their Airbnb before resuming their travels a day later.

Stepping out the back door began as the handiest remedy for cabin fever during the COVID epidemic. In general, the outdoors has been calling to people. Children and former children have been going back outside to play and ride bikes. Some are discovering dawn. Dogs are better walked than dogs have been since the invention of leash laws. A letter from a reader of The Day this past week testified to what it has meant to be outdoors even vicariously, citing columnist Steve Fagin's series on kayaking the Pawcatuck River from source to sea.

Two seasons into the pandemic we have realized how much respite there is from viral infection and mental stagnation if we just go safely outdoors. The basic science here is that in the great outdoors viruses and bacteria are less transmissible. Air circulates, particles disperse. It is also easier to keep a distance from others than inside, where close quarters confine both germs and those who breathe them.

Thursday morning, as I write this, a chill is in the air. The light is the light of late summer, early fall. Fred and Ginger will soon depart, as many of their allies (what the birding guides call them) already have. We can't fly away, but we can keep going outside to see what and who comes next.

We should all keep this trend going, adapting as we need to for cooler, cold and even freezing weather. The more we go outside, the less we actually have to stay home, as defined as being stuck inside four walls.

The next months will be a waiting game — for a vaccine, for the presidential election results, for life to return to something more familiar. Focusing solely on what's to come is frustrating; waiting is hard. Lighten that load. Suit up and go outside, where there is something to see right now.

Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board. 


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