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Nov. 26, 2022

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Déjà Zoom: If Clark County’s COVID spike has you staying home, delve into these remote activities

By , Columbian staff writer
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During past COVID-19 surges, live events and indoor venues pretty much threw in the towel. Not this time. Thanks to vaccines and the apparent mildness of the omicron variant — not to mention general fatigue and confusion over the whole pandemic picture — most live events and venues have been full speed ahead.

They may be feeling speedier than you are. If so, you may be headed for an acute case of déjà Zoom as you return to that darned screen in search of stimulation and interaction that goes beyond just staring at TV shows and movies. I tried to do some of that homework for you, curating a handful of upcoming or ongoing internet offerings that promise greater engagement than sitting like a stump.

If there’s any upside to resorting to live-but-remote activities online, it’s that distance simply disappears. That’s why I’ve included a handful of farther-flung opportunities in this guide to surviving what we sure hope is the last stretch of diving behind screens rather than going in person.

Scheduled sessions

Poetry in performance. Portland poet Emmett Wheatfall is a bold reader with a big voice who has performed and recorded his works backed up by jazz and gospel musicians. His latest poems dig into the meaning of American exceptionalism in light of today’s politics, economics and racism.

Wheatfall is the featured reader during the monthly Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic set for 7 p.m. today. Ghost Town will Zoom live from the Art at the Cave Gallery in downtown Vancouver. Email katecrackernuts@comcast.net no later than 6:30 p.m. today to get the Zoom link. Wheatfall will be preceded by a brief open mic featuring local readers only.

Bone up on birds. Portland Audubon hosts weekly, hourlong digital courses. The next few weeks are all about winter raptors, sparrows, bird songs, LBJs (those hard-to-identify “little brown jobs,” as birders call them) and birding hot spots in the Portland metro area. Each session costs $30 for Audubon nonmembers. Visit audubonportland.org to learn more.

Go dark. Explore the wonders of natural darkness and the ecological consequences of light pollution — not just for migrating birds that use the stars for navigation, but also for mammals, amphibians, fish, plants and even people. Mary Coolidge, Portland Audubon’s BirdSafe campaign coordinator, will speak about preserving dark skies in a program hosted by the East Cascades Audubon Society of Bend, Ore.

“Back to the Night: Why Preserving the Stars is Not Just for the Birds” is set for 7 p.m. Jan. 20. To get the Zoom link, visit ecaudubon.org.

Map your fantasy. Draw your very own imaginary-country map in the second of two sessions hosted by the Camas Public Library.

The class will “coach participants on the various kinds of landmarks you see on maps in fantasy books,” programming coordinator Ellen Miles said by email.

While the Jan. 24 session is described as “advanced” and gets into more detailed mapmaking than the beginner one, Miles said new participants are welcome.

Registration is required at cityofcamas.us/library/page/learn-draw-fantasy-maps. After you register, Miles said, you’re welcome to stop by the library to pick up free supplies (like fancy paper) ahead of time, but that’s not required.

Mind the Gorge. Science has proven that getting outdoors and reconnecting with nature promotes a healthier attitude and a healthier body. But during winter, visiting our greatest outdoor sites, like the Columbia River Gorge, isn’t easy. A Jan. 26 webinar hosted by Friends of the Columbia Gorge will explore how you can nudge your brain in a positive direction by visiting the Gorge, even in winter — either in person or by “critter cam” — and how that helps to protect the precious place.

Social scientist and life coach Ellen Donoghue, Ph.D., a former wilderness guide and sled dog racer now living in Mosier, Ore., will talk about mindfulness in nature. Kevin Gorman, executive director of Friends of the Gorge, will discuss safely getting outside and hiking Gorge trails during winter months, as well as how to stay engaged in conservation efforts. The session will include a moderated Q&A with the audience.

The free webinar is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 26. Register by visiting Gorgefriends.org, clicking on the event calendar and finding “Winter Well-Being Webinar.” Don’t worry if you miss the session; it will be recorded and uploaded to the Friends’ YouTube site in a few days. 

Take a class. Have you ever looked into Clark College’s continuing-education courses for adults with lots of curiosity and experience but zero interest in taking tests? There’s a wealth of fun, learning and skill-building to be had — remotely — for a bargain price. Among the single-session classes are Disaster Preparedness and Cake Baking 101, while multiple-session classes delve into beginning photography, creative writing, language instruction and fascinating historical topics like the rise of modern espionage.

That’s just an overview. Explore Clark’s Continuing Education website, ecd.clark.edu, for the whole catalog. Keep your eye out for “remote teaching.” Also, check out Clark’s selection of video interviews with the instructors on the same page. (They’re labeled “podcasts,” but they are videos.)

Anytime

These are ongoing internet resources, available at your convenience. 

Move it. My main pandemic strategy for mental health has been to keep moving. No screen can replace a walk outdoors, and I’ve recently started listening to audiobooks as I go. A fat novel by Charles Dickens keeps me going for miles and miles, rain or no rain.   

YouTube is absolutely awash in free fitness videos of every type, at every level. Yoga, dance, aerobics, you name it. You may find that prancing around in the privacy of your own home is just what the doctor ordered.

Hungry to try something more exotic? Try online belly dance lessons with daturaonline.com, based in Portland. A monthly $25 subscription gets you access to thousands of videos, lives streams and more.

Pictures of history. Check out the Clark County Historical Museum’s huge digital vault, where you can browse or search for historical photos by keyword; peruse copies of the Vancouver Independent newspaper, published before Washington had achieved statehood; view a curated collection of historical artifacts, yearbooks and photos; and even listen to oral-history recordings by folks recalling their memories of Clark County in earlier times. Visit cchmuseum.org

Explore art. The same goes for the Portland Art Museum. Thousands of items of every description — ancient artifacts, historic portraits, European masters, contemporary abstractions — are all on view, including many that are stored away and not currently on display in the physical museum. Visit portlandartmuseum.org. Click on “surprise me” for random artwork views.

Many great museums around the world provide the same free service, from the Maryhill Museum of Art in the Columbia Gorge (maryhillmuseum.org) to the Louvre in Paris (louvre.fr). The Louvre even provides a virtual walking tour; that is, you arrow your way down the corridors of that immense and intricate building. While you’re stuck at home, why not travel the world of art?

Where in the world? While I’m no video gamer, I must admit that GeoGuessr is quite fascinating. It’s an online geography game that draws on Google’s worldwide street-view photography to drop you absolutely anywhere on the planet, at random. Arrow your way along country lanes and city streets in search of clues to figure out your location. Make your guess and win points depending on how many kilometers, or thousands of kilometers, off target you are. An engrossing time-waster for world travelers or wannabes.

A tip about getting into GeoGuessr: the only way to play the game without signing up for an account is apparently by typing “Geoguessr.com/free” into your browser. (geoguessr.com/free). That gives you a limited, 2D map (which is good enough for me) but if you sign up you’ll get betters views and more complete maps. Pay a small price to get even more access.

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