002-3Quarantine has ended for many people, but my life doesn’t look much different than it did in April. Although my private practice has ground to a screeching halt, my other work can be done remotely. My husband is a mental health professional, and has moved his practice seamlessly to telehealth. All of which is to say that, while I see a lot of magical thinking that all is back to normal again, my husband and I have withdrawn from the petri dish. We’ve done this both to protect ourselves, as well as deprive the virus of two vectors with which to infect others.  We don’t forget for a second that we’re fortunate to be able to do so.

It’s not that we don’t go out at all, but we’re extremely picky about where and how we spend our allotted risk. We attended a BLM protest in June, masked and distanced from the crowd, with plenty of space between us and others. There we heard a riveting speech from a young woman a few months older than my son, who noted that her grandfather had been part of the lunch counter integration movement, and here she was, today, continuing work everyone had hoped would be finished  by now. This and voting are probably the only crowd-based activities I’ll be willing to undertake in the next several months. They’re equally important to me.

Today we went to our egg lady’s alpaca farm to retrieve another three dozen and meet the brand new cria – a baby alpaca – that was born today. It was raining when we went so I left my camera at home. We pulled the barn door open to find ten or fifteen alpacas gathered in a group, staring at us with their trademark looks of rapt curiosity. When alpacas look at you, it’s impossible not to feel that they are fascinated by you. I felt like a rock star about to take the stage.  In the corner stall was the baby, fur still frizzy from the wetness of birth, standing on wobbly but determined legs. This was her first day of life, and here she was, checking the place out. What an odd thing, to one day be within your mother, and the next day to be standing in front of a group of your curious-looking brethren, trying out your legs.

As I exclaimed over her, I felt a nudge at my elbow. I turned, and there was another alpaca, leaning in at eye level, nudging me as if to say, “cute, isn’t she?” My intrusive friend leaned in some more, and we touched noses.  I remarked that this was the closest I’d been to anyone other than my husband in three months. As far as I know, I would be the first person to get coronavirus from an alpaca, so catching the disease from this encounter would definitely have its compensatory aspects – if nothing else, at least a great story and perhaps a little notoriety.

We got a little closer to our egg lady, who can give us the virus, than I would have preferred, all things considered. But even though the verdict isn’t in yet, I’ll still say it was a risk well taken.

Just like “normal” life, this new hermit life has fallen into routine. I wake up, stumble into the kitchen, and get coffee, absolutely convinced I don’t want to do ten seconds of exercise. After half an hour or so I start to get restless, and my husband and I get on the bikes and ride ten miles or so, up and down a few hills, across the reservoir and back again. We go through a prairie patch next to a golf course, say hi to the goldfinches congregating on the thistle, and proceed into a cool, dense forest, my favorite part of the entire ride. Then down a hill, and down another, wind in my face, opening out onto the hike-and-bike trail across the reservoir. We pass people, but it’s quick, distanced, and outdoors. It’s also the best part of every day. So again, an acceptable risk.

We ride home. He sees clients over video in his office. I spend my work day in our sunroom. One of us takes my son on a practice drive to prepare for his driver’s license test. I may teach him how to cook something if there’s time. My husband works in the vegetable garden between sessions; we make sure our aging dog gets time to yard surf. If the temperature isn’t miserable, there will be a mile or two of walking in the evening.

Tonight I recognized that our lives seem a bit surreal right now, because there are few overt markers to demonstrate the passage of time. The ones that exist are subtle: the cucumbers in the garden are getting bigger; the milkweed is growing taller; the neighborhood owlet looks bigger and her feathers less raggedy each time I see her; my dog slips away a little more every day. Even my own physical condition is a marker; every day it takes us less time to bike our established route, and the hills are easier. That’s how I know time is not standing still.

In this world, everything is present and immediate. All the places I used to hide from anxiety are inaccessible. Going to work and being with my coworkers was an anxiety-reliever. So was burying myself in work. So was my long daily commute. Now I can simultaneously see the future for miles, and not a foot in front of my face. I can see my rapidly fledging child and the end of full-time parenthood. I can see a deteriorating canine companion that’s been the hub of my blended family. I can see my own mortality.  At the same time I have no idea when or how any of this current moment ends, or what comes after.

Like I said, it’s surreal.

I’m determined to get what I can from it. I just don’t know what that is yet — other than the hills getting easier. That’s it for now, I think.

4 thoughts on “Hermit life

  1. The fledging isn’t easy for parents or for their offspring. But it is part of living – the constant moving forward. I love the fact that you have an owlet in the area and can get photos. It seems that time passes and we don’t always notice until enough has passed and things have changed…

    1. The owl family has been one of the best pieces of all this for me. I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have noticed their presence if I hadn’t been walking miles every day to burn off angst very early on. We have TWO families in the neighborhood! I’m shocked at how easy it is to overlook these things that are literally just overhead.

  2. I used to go to this church at about 52nd and Lafayette in Indy. It had been there since 1839 or something. I once read somewhere that in that part of the county, the Lafayette Road was then a narrow dirt path and it took pretty much all day to get to the markets in Indianapolis. When you look at the earliest plat maps, from the 1850s, that area was all large farms.

    What you describe above, minus the tele-work, was these peoples’ lives. A lot of isolation, a lot of one day being much like the next, a lot of seeing only the people you live with every day. I wonder, if you could have gotten one of them to talk, how they would have viewed life — what would their philosophy of it have been?

    1. I’m delighted you said this, because I’ve been thinking it myself. About two weeks into the official lockdown, I started re-reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, which I first read when I was maybe ten years old. The idea of being stuck in a cold house with a family of five for seven months, with dwindling food and fuel put a perspective on the situation and also offered a sense of kinship. My current situation is not a hardship — it’s just a different way of life and there are pieces of it that I’m enjoying quite a lot. The philosophy of it can only be “it is what it is, let’s figure it out.” One thing I have figured out is that ordinary modern life with its traffic and its grocery stores and noise is a firehose of sensory information, and living in a way that quiets a lot of that down is very interesting.

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