Confessions of a Covid Captive

I haven’t written in a while because how could I write when I didn’t know who I was? How do any of us live when what we thought was normal suddenly disappears, when routine and certainty is gone? How do we understand anything when our reality is so different and our thoughts and feelings have been jarred and muddled?

I’m a control freak, an “all-the-ducks-in-row” creature. I guess it is the survival tactic I acquired during my chaotic childhood. There was alcoholism in my family. I’m also a news junkie, I watched sick people filling the halls of the Wuhan hospitals and ordered my first masks from Amazon on January 26.

I’m in my 13th week of this thing called “the new normal”. I am getting out more with my masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing. I can write now because I can see myself again. But my image is still a bit blurry around the edges. Sometimes the lost feeling comes back and I have to hold still and stop the uneasy vibrations inside me. But there is hope and the beginnings of wholeness

My points of reference, the present and the future are unstable because of the pandemic but something strange has taken the place of these two life markers. I’m going back to past things that brought me joy. It’s like I’m a tourist leisurely walking through an art gallery seeing pictures of a long ago me who is smiling and doing rewarding things. I’m rich in time now and like a wealthy patron, I take the imagines off the wall and they become a part of me once again.

I started with baking. I used to do it all the time but lost the skill. I feared the chemistry, the failure and the waste. But I’m baking again.

I’m exploring my woods like I used to. Going off the usual trails, I have found new treasures in new places that I’ve never noticed during my decades here.

For many years, I knew I should cut down the small trees and bushes in the understory so I could see through the wood more easily. That goal is being achieved and, as I do, I have been gathering and burning deadfall from winters long forgotten.

I built my firepit last year in hopes of sitting by a fire with coffee and books. I never got around to it but now I have. I have gone back to reading fiction, enjoying the beautiful words of skilled writers. I usually read only nonfiction. But I’ve moved away from my habit of cutting away at information from these books by picking at the table of contents. Alway feeling short on time, I rushed through pertinent chapters without really appreciating all that the authors wanted to teach me.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat still by my big picture window, in silence just to be. Now I’m being rewarded.

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I used to have a huge vegetable garden. This spring I have planted again, just a few things. I’m having fun staging ridiculous things around my young sprouts to scare away my hungry wildlife. It’s working.

Lately, I’ve returned to two old hobbies I used to love, sewing and painting.

And my biggest return to the past is the fact that I’m wearing my long uncut hair in a ponytail, something I haven’t done since elementary school. This amazes me.

For the longest time during the pandemic, I was frozen. I spent hours watching the news and youtube videos about the virus trying to understand it, control it. I was so uncomfortable with this strange catastrophic event, disorientated in the present and totally clueless and scared about the future. There was no choice but to go back to the things in the past that had brought me happiness. I know many of my readers and friends are doing the same. I tell everyone I’m fortunate to talk with to stay safe and healthy. Now, I add another wish, for them to be happy. We have the time now to explore, notice nature, plant seeds, and create beautiful new things. We need to draw from what is around us and within us. This is our new normal but we can make it work.

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70/7000 September 11, 2001

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It was a week and a half after I returned from my 70/7000 trip and I will always remember how sunny that morning was. I walked into the office of my elementary school and saw my colleagues silently huddled around a TV.  The images of the burning World Trade Towers were surreal but our feelings of fear and shock were overwhelmingly real.

I had promised my second grade class we would go to the village park to eat our lunch. My principal told me to keep the day as normal as possible and to go ahead with the plan. I watched these kids, many who were sons and daughters of  The Army soldiers of nearby Fort Drum, laughing and enjoying a glorious fall day. I knew that they would learn the terrible news from their parents and their world, our world, would never be the same again.

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I had started reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen to my class everyday since the first day of school.  It is a story of a boy named Brian who became lost in the Canadian wilderness. It was a book about struggle, resilience, and perseverance and lent itself to wonderful insights and great lessons to discuss and learn.

“He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work. It wasn’t just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that–it didn’t work.”

Brian had “hope in his knowledge. Hope in the fact that he could learn and survive and take care of himself. Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of though hope.”

“Patience, he thought. So much of this was patience – waiting, and thinking and doing things right. So much of all this, so much of all living was patience and thinking.”

You are your most valuable asset. Don’t forget that. You are the best thing you have.”

My students sat on the rug and as I read, the circle seemed to get tighter everyday as we all sat closer and closer to each other.  Brian had learned about courage and hope. It saved him and he survived. It saved us, too.

70/7000 The Mama Grizzly and Her Two Cubs

Day 46   August 10, 2001

Well, I traveled the Trans Canada Highway today  and I’m still alive to tell about it. But soon I had another challenge. As I drove up to the campgrounds at Lake Louise, I saw a sign at the registration booth that said, “No soft sided campers or tents allowed.”  This was not a problem for me since I have slept many times on this trip in the back of the van.  I asked the ranger for the reason behind this rule and he told me that a mother grizzly and her two cubs were seen traveling in the area. Oh, great!

I found my campsite and to my delight found a camp worker raking the dirt into neat patterns.  I took her picture because I’ve never had a housekeeper before.

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I settled in and walked to the restrooms that were down a trail into the woods. Yes, there is a bit of wildlife here in Alberta, bears and all.

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In the evening, I limited my intake of liquids but sure enough my bladder did not cooperate. I was not about to go down the trail to the restroom in the pitch dark with  grizzlies on the prowl. I silently opened the side door of the van and, leaving it open, moved about three and a half feet away, peed, got myself together, and ran the three and a half feet back into the van. It was gross, scary and embarrassing all at the same time but a woman of the woods has to do what she has to do. It’s called survival.