What do you do when the world changes overnight and your magazine content suddenly looks wrong, so very wrong for the times?
We could shrug and just put a sticker on the May issue: “Sorry, we didn’t see this situation coming, so we’re writing about a bunch of stuff you can’t do.”
No way. That’s not the kind of attitude that started Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine in the midst of World War II. That’s not the kind of attitude that our loyal readers need or deserve.
So, we gathered up on Friday, March 13 (eek!), copied files, made hasty plans and headed to our homes. Like you, our small team had no idea what was coming next. (Still don’t, in many ways.)
By Monday morning, the technologically savvy among us began to figure out how to hold virtual meetings, share files more efficiently and change our physical proofing system to digital. Those who deal with the business of our publication began analyzing impact and how best to respond to the fallout. Our kitchen tables and home desks became our new workstations 40 hours a week.
Editorially, we had only a few weeks remaining before we sent the May issue to the press. That’s usually a time spent selecting photography and creating beautiful layouts, reviewing and perfecting the minor details of a product that’s already been in the planning stages for more than a year.
You may recall last summer’s premier edition of GOSH, our Great Outdoor Scavenger Hunt. We offered up a selection of fascinating sites across Texas and asked you to go find them and take a selfie. We hoped a few folks would enjoy the challenge and feel inspired to participate, but were pleasantly surprised by how many of you jumped right in.
Of course, we were excited for Year Two, and had all kinds of new fun and adventure dreamed up for you. The illustrations were gorgeous, the destinations more enticing, the plan even better than before. A big chunk of the issue was ready to roll.
We tried to hang on to that dream for a week or so before realizing that there was little chance of “normal” summer travel, and our readers definitely needed help in other ways. (Don’t worry, we put GOSH in the safe and will unlock it for you next summer.)
One sobering morning, we assessed the damage to our editorial schedule from COVID-19 fallout. Luckily, we had Pam LeBlanc’s great Solo Camping feature in the hopper, so that was perfectly timed. Longtime contributor Sheryl Smith-Rodgers was scheduled to provide a feature on her wonderful, wild thing-filled yard later this year, and — as she has done in the past — happily agreed to stomp the gas pedal and get it done for us.
“What’s my new deadline?” “Pretty much yesterday….” “Oh. OK!”
We knew nobody would be wandering, so all our usual Wanderlist topics were out the window. Creative thinking brought us an array of coffee table books so we can all dream about future wandering. Short pieces on nature events were discarded, replaced by wildlife articles. We happily announced our new partnership with the TPWD podcast Under the Texas Sky: two new Wanderlist podcasts every month, but for now talking about roadtrip music instead of roadtrips.
During those days of plotting and planning, we also listened to what was going on around us. Busy people’s lives screeched to a halt. Sure, there were days of shell-shocked tv binging on the sofa in yesterday’s pajamas, but folks were getting restless and their kids needed schooling of some sort. They were searching for answers in the only place available beyond house and screen: the yard (or maybe the empty wild space down the street).
They saw a cardinal outside the window and opened the door to follow. The natural world opened up with a warm, springtime-y invitation that was just too alluring to ignore. Their minds started to wander down old paths they’d once traveled in less busy times, back as far as their own childhoods.
“Maybe there’s a nest in that tree.”
“Wow, what are those flowers? Are they always there?”
“Whoa, fireflies! Or are they lightning bugs?”
“Can I catch that?”
And always: “What in the world is that thing?”
Even in the midst of extremely hard times, nature offered us an opportunity to share. We were excited to realize that we were the ones who could provide some great answers, because these very questions form the basis of just about any story we feature in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Need inspiration, information and education, all packaged up in pretty photos? Hand up, it’s us!
In no time at all, we had called up several great articles from past issues, such as 50 Ways to Get Kids Outdoors and compiled a huge list of activities — games, crafts, contests, science — and included them here on the blog. Traci Anderson, our business manager, took note of all the new virtual offerings sprouting up, from wildlife cams to zoo outreach to museum tours, and posted a week of curated links by topic here on our blog.
The May issue in your hands today may not feel radically different than the one you held last year or last decade, but it’s been carefully crafted with love for all of you. We spent nights and evenings making it work because we know there are better days ahead. Let’s dream about them together, and spend some time planning them before we venture carefully back out.
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