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Know the West

On the deep human need to be outside

The isolation of COVID-19 has made the outdoors even more important.


This story was produced in collaboration with Outside Magazine.

Even as states throughout the West relax their stay-at-home orders, this spring will long be remembered as a moment of separation from friends, families, and community. But while the pandemic forced isolation, it helped create new values and connections, including for people aching to get outside.

Photographer and Seattle resident Kiliii Yuyan was one of them. In April, he hit the road — with his protective gear in place and a plan to maintain social distance — in an effort to document how people were getting out there. What he found speaks to this unique moment, creating new ways to think about what being outside really means. Most people were doing their part to control the pandemic: beaches were nearly empty, and playgrounds devoid of raucous children. Sunshine and warm weather tempted some residents to take walks or bike rides, while others hopped on their skateboards, surfboards or windsurfers. Most were conscientious in maintaining social distance.

Yuyan’s work demonstrates a deep human need to be outside, to do things, and it demonstrates why prolonged isolation orders will be challenged in the months ahead. Of the need to get outside, Lila Danielle, a lone dancer on Oregon’s Cannon Beach, told Yuyan: “I can’t not dance. If I sit inside, it’s not the best way to be emotionally and mentally healthy. If I can move what I feel inside through me, I feel much better. The natural beauty here calls me. It brings me peace.” –Roberto (Bear) Guerra

Photographer Kiliii Yuyan uncovers the hidden stories of polar regions, wilderness and Indigenous communities. Informed by ancestry that is both Nanai (Siberian Native) and Chinese-American, he explores the the human relationship to the natural world from different cultural perspectives. Kiliii is an award-winning feature contributor to National Geographic Magazine and other publications. You can find his work at kiliii.com and on Instagram at @kiliiiyuyan.

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