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A Finnish Mother Navigates Her Hierarchy of Fears 

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In the early summer last year, my husband and I woke up at 5 a.m. to find a black bear visiting our suburban backyard in South Burlington. It was our fault: we had not removed our birdfeeder in March as was recommended. Now the hungry bear was lying three feet away from our back door, eating seeds. That fall, I realized that I had avoided our backyard all summer. I had not done it intentionally. Apparently, I had just been really good at coming up with ideas for activities that did not involve our backyard (and having to think about the bear).

This summer, many spots for kids' indoor play, such as libraries and museums, are closed due to COVID-19. This has made me realize how little time we actually spent outside during summers past.

I am a Finnish mother who is comfortable with taking my child out in the rain and snow, but does not quite know what to do outside when the temperature rises over 85 degrees. I am used to evergreen forests, where the ground is covered with low-growing wild blueberries, moss and lichen. The thought of lush deciduous summer forests, like those found in Vermont, makes me think about ticks. And just as with bears, I do not like to think about ticks, leading us to avoid the woods during the summer months.

There are only so many worries that can fit in my mind simultaneously. In my hierarchy of fears, the fear of coronavirus apparently beats the fear of Vermont summer wildlife. I am still learning how to deal with heat, ticks and the thought of meeting a bear again. But, in contrast to previous summers, those thoughts do not keep us indoors anymore. We go into the woods. And when my daughter asks: "What sound was that?," I answer: "Let's listen. What do you think?"

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