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A Griller’s Call to Arms During Weird, Scary Times

grilling kabobsThe author with some elk and chukar kabobs, fresh off the grill; photo credit: Sarah Poinski-McCoy
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We’ve given up unprecedented freedoms to protect each other from coronavirus. But one thing COVID-19 hasn’t shut down, at least not yet, is the backyard grill.

It’s spring in North America, ladies and gentlemen. And it’s time to fire up that grill.

Sure, the fun police are out in full force. Things we used to celebrate as healthy — travel, concerts, restaurants, hugging your parents — are suddenly potentially dangerous and weirdly taboo. The list of things that put us at risk of spreading coronavirus is vast.

Traeger Ironwood 885 pellet grill with food

But you know what? It hasn’t stopped many things we love. Winter will still give way to the warm winds of spring. Skeins of geese are still tracking north across the clearing skies.

Soon, fluffy goslings will scamper through sprouting cattails. Redwing blackbirds are already calling loudly while defining their territories, wing epaulets flaring brightly over marshy grasslands.

And as I type those words, I’m smiling. Because as much as our lives are upended as we “stay the F at home,” we can take solace in the simple fact that summer is coming. And with it, there is hope.

Sure, we all hope for the quick return of health and economic prosperity. But right now, today, we can start with the little things.

For me, there’s comfort in the fact that COVID-19, at least for now, has not affected my backyard grill.

Love Is Empty Spaces

The weather over the last week in Denver has been glorious 65 degrees and sunny. But the streets are quiet. The rush of cars up and down I-70 into the mountains is gone. Most of us are isolated in the little islands of our own homes.

It’s easy to look at the empty city streets and see the end of the world. But I read someone else’s great quote today, that the empty streets and shuttered stores are really “love in action.”

To paraphrase, “What you’re seeing in that negative space is how much we do to care for each other, for our grandparents, for our immunocompromised brothers and sisters, for people we have never met. It isn’t the end of the world. It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity that we may ever witness.”

I really love the sentiment behind this, as I understand, anonymous quote. And it got me thinking. What is one thing we can all do together, but apart?

Well, if you’ve ever smelled your neighbor’s grill, you know there are few more uplifting smells than that of a BBQ wafting through the spring air. And I have a freezer full of elk and a lot of time on my hands.

So you know what, COVID? It’s time to make the best of a bad situation. For me, that’s about to mean a whole lot of BBQ action.


Because like so many things, just the act of cleaning off my grill, of vacuuming the dust out of the interior, seems cathartic. Then I’ll feed some fresh pellets into the Traeger and get a good, hot fire going. And then on goes some burger — ground up from my elk harvested last fall.

Because you know what? Coronavirus can’t cool my grill.

The Sweet, Smoky Smell of Freedom

There are a lot of ways we can rediscover the normal in life right now. For you, it might be in planting a garden or starting some seeds in a window box.

I, too, love some gardening, and spent some time last week elbow-deep in the fresh earth, turning soil for this year’s planting. Sure, it’s a little early to fully plant a garden here. But it’s something I look forward to, and you can too.

As I write this, it’s a spring afternoon in Colorado. I know that there is beautiful snow in the mountains. But this weekend I won’t ski it. I know there are vacant campsites all over the state, and for the love of our neighbors, those sites need to remain empty. At this point, it’s crystal clear: We all need to stay home.

But you know what we can do? We can fire up that grill in the backyard or balcony or courtyard. And we can share a sweet aroma of more normal times.

I’ve already smelled it a few times. I’ve picked up the aroma carne asada floating through my neighborhood. And I hear the stereo down the street pumping out that musica ranchera. And I hear other neighbors rocking out to Miranda Lambert while raking their yard. We’re all in this together.

We can even connect through this activity virtually — sharing recipes and photos. Grilling is both a personal and community activity. It’s both dividing us (into our own backyards) and unifying us.

Damn you, coronavirus. You have stolen our vacation plans and the best part of the ski season. You’ve made it impossible to go to a baseball game or visit a climbing gym. And you’ve made many of us literally sick.

So yes, you’ve caused havoc in our world. You’ve taken away a lot of the freedoms that we’ve maybe taken for granted. But there’s one freedom you will not touch — and that’s my grill in my backyard.

So tonight and all next week, when you smell that barbecue drifting through your neighborhood, fire up your grill and crack a cold beverage of your choice. Spring is here, and summer is on its way. Let’s hold on to one another and the few bits of normalcy we have left.

For while we’re isolated right now, it’s not because it’s the end of the world. It’s because we love our families and neighbors and are willing to sacrifice a few moments of freedom for their health.

So raise your spatula and flip those burgers or turn those kabobs. Because while, for a moment, we may have sacrificed our freedoms to protect each other from COVID-19, we will never let it take our grills.

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