By Kezia Bacon, Correspondent

As the coronavirus pandemic surges here in Massachusetts, and social distancing becomes even more defined and urgent, we’ve been advised to stay close to home. For nature enthusiasts, this might feel confining, especially if daily walks in any of the hundreds of the South Shore’s open spaces have become part of the daily routine. But fear not. There are still places to go and things to do, and NSRWA is here to help you.

FIND A PLACE YOU CAN WALK TO

If you can get there on foot, it’s close to home. Is there a conservation area near you? Consult our website to find out. We are continually working to identify public properties where you can hike, paddle, fish, or just contemplate the natural world. Check out ExploreSouthShore.org to find out where the closest open space is, and all the things you need to know when visiting. Going out in public? Remember to wear a face covering!

USE YOUR MAP

If you have a copy of our Recreation Guide Map (now in its fifth edition), it’s time to unfold it and find out what’s nearby. Use it to locate 97 conservation areas, boat launches, historic sites and other points of interest along the North and South Rivers. If none of them are near enough, you can get started on your To Visit list for when the pandemic officially ends. And yes, it will end! Don’t have a map? If you happen to live near our office at 214 South Street in Norwell (directly across from Silver Brook Lane), stop by for your complimentary copy. We’ve placed a storage bin on our office steps for easy access.

EXPLORE & WIN

We encourage you to enter our 50 Places to Explore Contest. Visit our website to see our list of 50 places to visit in 2020 and the contest rules. Each time you visit a property, post a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #ExploreSouthShore and you’ll be entered to win a monthly prize. The theme for April is “nature close to home,” so this month we’ll be looking for the best photos from your back yard.”

TAKE A CLOSER LOOK

One local family is including the following exercise in their homeschool schedule: Choose a one-foot square patch of earth, and then observe and report daily on what changes are happening there. Do you habitually walk the same route, or gaze out the same window? Could you look more closely to see what’s there? I’ve been monitoring the emerging skunk cabbage at a stream that I cross on my daily hike. Not only is it beautiful, it reminds me that nature’s annual changes continue to happen, regardless of the coronavirus…  and this provides some solace. I’m also trying to learn the species names of all those birds who habituate our backyard feeders. It’s about time I knew the difference between the downy and hairy woodpecker!

USE YOUR SENSES

“Looking” is one way to explore your backyard. But to truly get to know the world around you, try using your other senses too. When you step out your front door, what scents do you notice? What noises do you hear? Standing still, you may be able to detect a range of different smells, and various layers of sound. Use your hands to explore the textures of the trees, the earth, the things growing around you (beware of poison ivy). Notice how warm or cool the air is, and how dry or damp. Roll a stone between your fingers and explore its intricate shape. The possibilities are endless.

CREATE A SCAVENGER HUNT

Especially if you have youngsters in your care, it might be a fun challenge to seek out specific items in your immediate vicinity. A heart-shaped rock, a bird’s feather, a twig shaped like a Y, a rainbow of different-colored stones… or maybe a sign of spring such as a newt, or a tree bud, or a bird building a nest. Look around for ideas about what might be present near your home, and then make a list and start searching! You don’t have to limit it to tangible things, either. Add some sounds, scents and textures to your list. You’ll get to know your immediate environs in a different and deeper way.

SHARE YOUR PHOTOS

While we’re staying close to home, we’d love it if you shared your nature photos with us on Instagram (use the hashtag #ExploreSouthShore). Have you spotted your first tree swallow of the season? Post a picture! Do the herring run through your neighborhood? Please share! Whether it’s buds or blooms, inspiring sunrises or rain-dotted puddles, we could all use an extra dose of beauty in our lives.

GET OUTDOORS!

Rest assured, social distancing is a temporary measure. While we may have to endure it for longer than we’d like, it will eventually draw to a close. And then imagine how wonderful it will feel to get outdoors and truly explore what the South Shore has to offer! In the meantime, even a small dose of nature can help you to feel better, and improve your ability to cope with the anxiety and confusion of these uncertain times.

We can’t wait to see what you find in your own backyard! Please email us at info@nsrwa.org if you have questions.

Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. You will also find 25+ years of Kezia’s Nature columns there.