I’ve been canoeing since before I could walk. My parents – both avid outdoors enthusiasts – used to strap a playpen inside their canoe to take my siblings and I out on the water. They were both experienced whitewater rapids canoers and much of my childhood was spent outdoors. My parents cultivated in us a love of nature, and I’ve never been more thankful for outdoor hobbies than I am during COVID-19.

Growing up, my family camped a lot. Nearly every summer, we took camping trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area – the sprawling, million-acre wilderness along the border between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. The Boundary Waters have more than 1,200 miles of canoeing routes that are arguably among the best on the planet. As a teenager, my first job was working at a canoe and kayak rental along the St. Croix River. And after graduating from college, my dad and I took a 75-mile canoe trip down the Namekagon and St. Croix National Scenic Riverway – which was an especially practical post-college trip since all camping along the National Scenic Riverway is free. I’ve canoed and kayaked all over Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin. I’ve even taken my passion to Mexico and Vietnam’s Halong Bay.

No matter where I’ve lived in Minnesota – or the world – I always make sure to find an outdoor space I can walk to. There are countless studies about the benefits of spending time in nature, but for me, the evidence is completely anecdotal and experiential. I just feel best when I’m outside.

As COVID-19 has kept us all at home, I’ve been reflecting on the value of the outdoors in my life. Spring has bloomed in Minnesota, and the ability to go outside and find beauty and peace in Minnesota’s prairie savannahs, oak forests and 10,000 lakes is absolutely invaluable to me.

The canoe that my husband and I own is something of a family heirloom: It belonged to his mother, and her mother, and her parents, making us fourth-generation owners of our aluminum watercraft. During Governor Walz’s Stay at Home and Safer at Home orders, we’ve found new joy in exploring the lakes in our area as spring is blooming, wildlife is resurfacing and everywhere we look, things are turning green.

Paddling over water is the closest I’ve ever felt to flying and I’m so thankful to have a hobby like canoeing during this pandemic. It keeps us occupied, allows us to be socially distanced from the world and surrounds us with beauty. We’ll keep paddling as long as we’re able to do so.

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In a newfound era of social distancing, two longtime friends got together to play a game of disc golf as a way to feel normal when everything else is anything but. Keeping a minimum six-foot distance, Twin Cities Producer Luke Heikkila tagged along to learn how others are finding creative ways to be social together – and spaced far apart at the same time.

Like so many Minnesotans, Twin Cities PBS Producer Luke Heikkila found himself suddenly camped out at his dining-room-table-turned-desk after a work-from-home mandate. But then he realized something: His neighbors were spending a lot of time outside. So he decided to check in with them to see how they’re faring in this time of COVID-19.

Sally Hassan founded the organization Bloom to encourage Muslim sisters to relish the outdoors, build sisterhood and, most importantly, have fun. Her story will inspire you to embrace your own inner nature lover.