Days when the world changes

Today, I was supposed to be in Washington State with my parents and siblings, remembering a man who meant so very much to me. There were going to be hundreds of scouts – old and young. I was going to play my trumpet. The former governor of Washington was rumored to be planned to attend – he was one of Del’s scouts.

I still dressed up for Pi Day

Instead, I’m in my attic, brushing off a dusty blog. I have not run an errand, bought a taco, or hung out with a neighbor today – and it may be some time before I do. A few weeks ago, my parents were here and we planned to see each other soon. Now, we will not. It’s time for some serious social distancing.

Thursday, I took the day off work and went for a winter hike. The snowpack on the trails was still favorable and firm, but the bright March light and warmer March air made it a pleasure to hike up and down the various mountains. But just as we left cell service, I got a text from my husband. “I kept Thane home from school. He has a fever and cough.”

This art counts as social distancing – there was a bunch of new stuff today

That night, still sore and stinky from the hike, wondering if I should send Grey in for the last half-day of school to pick up their things and his brother’s chromebook, I paged Thane’s pediatrician to see what the recommendation was. Dry cough and fever. Now. Surely there was some list I should add him to, some registration. Maybe testing. His doctor called back right away, sounding deeply unhappy. Did he have contact with someone from Biogen? If not, there is no testing. No lists. No records. Nothing to do but treat symptoms and be smart. So we have no idea if Thane has a cold, or something much more dire. Shortly after the call with the doctor, we learned there was a presumptive positive case for a kid in our town schools. We have to assume the worst, for the sake of everyone. So we’re even more isolated than the standard isolation – wondering if we’re going to get sick next. Two weeks is a very, very long time to wait. THERE IS NO TESTING for people who have all the symptoms and live in a community where the virus is.

This time is giving us a chance to catch up on little chores

So far, Thane is fine. His fever mostly broke last night. The cough is painful, and he has a sore throat, but it hasn’t slowed him down very much. So far, the rest of us are also fine. I went on a great run today. We went for a hike – the Middlesex Fells were PACKED – I’ve never seen so many cars – but there was plenty of room for all of us in the gracious, greening forest.

It’s such an odd thing, to watch the world change in twinkling. I’ve been watching Coronavirus very closely (slightly obsessively) since it escaped from the first rings of quarantine. I actually called the “work from home” instructions to the day – two weeks ago. Just watching the litany of cancellations – one after the other – flooding through my email is astonishing. Our 20th anniversary trip to Italy this April vacation is not happening. Del’s funeral will likely be in the fall (if at all). I had to move Piemas (to the Saturday closest to 6-28, Tau Day!). Church will be empty tomorrow – we will worship digitally. Everything is shutting down, shuttering. But the sidewalks are vibrant with people out and about on a beautiful day, seeing each other from a safe distance, enjoying exercise and health and sunlight from suddenly luxuriously (dauntingly?) empty schedules.

I met this handsome guy on my run today

I’ve now exceeded my prediction powers. School will definitely resume in the fall. But how much of the spring do we lose? The planned 2 weeks? Six, like in Washington State? All to year? College tours are cancelled. Proms are cancelled. We face this long, quiet uncertain period of being only with family, and going only to places disinfected by sunlight. There’s a hope to that – a slowing and quieting that our society is so deficient in. But there is also fear. Am I ready to nurse my family and friends, if needed? Who will nurse me? Just how crazy will we all go locked in a house together? What about those who are locked in much worse situations than we are?

I take comfort in this: we are kinder to each other than anyone expected. We are resourceful, and thoughtful. And we will come through this wiser than we went in. I only hope the wisdom is not too hard-earned.

Measureless Mountain Days

Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. -John Muir

I spent about 12 hours over the last week or so going through the pictures I took in 2019. I believe the tally is about 10,000 pictures, give or take. I’m deeply lamenting that Google stopped automatically syncing drive and photos, since now backing up my collection requires actual effort. But at the end of each year, I create a “Best of” album that I use for creating calendars, making physical prints (so that some hacker can’t erase my children’s childhoods), and as the background scenes for my screensaver at work.

I’m always struck at how the photographs work. In the moment, my kids start groaning when I take my camera out. There’s a fake-feeling when you arrange them artistically and cajole them to smile. When it’s just me, sometimes I wonder if I’m really seeing things when I have my phone out, or if I’m just postponing the seeing to some later date which may or may not ever come. The moments that surround those pictures have all sorts of feelings: annoyance, exhaustion, aggravation, anger, humor, relaxation, exasperation. But by the time I’ve picked my favorite photos, the entire year looks beautiful, joyful, peaceful and full of familial bonding.

This transformation of life from banal aggravation to beautiful memories is a miracle of modern alchemy. The best part is that, as you pull out your memories along with these pictures, they start to conform to what the photos say. It was a great day. We all had fun. We get along wonderfully. We spend most of our time doing meaningful things together as a family. Memories are not the truth of what happened, or of what we felt at that time. They are changed by, and even created by, what we do with them after they are first born. I work hard to make those memories largely lovely (although I do save a few less beautiful ones for authenticity’s sake, and because given enough time they usually become funny).

Presidential Traverse, near Eisenhower

During this marathon session of photographic goodness, I couldn’t help noticing something about my year. There were a LOT more mountain scenes than in past years. My memories of those moments don’t include aching knee-muscles (impossible to photograph) or the pounding heat on Chocorua. But they instead evoke moments of peace, majesty, and a bigger and more lovely world. I’ve recently begun hiking a lot with an old friend who is the same kind of crazy I am about hiking mountains. On grim, cold days we sometimes text each other pictures of where we wish we were. With his not-so-great example, I was recently talked into doing my first ever winter hike, which required a massive re-kitting for appropriate gear. (OK, by talked into, I mean I said “Hey, want to go hiking on Wednesday?” and he said, “Sure!”.)

New pants, new gaiters, new boots, new microspikes.

It was a beautifully soul-clearing hike, starting in the dark of the morning before dawn. We climbed to beat the weather, due in at some uncertain time of the afternoon (the forecasts were wildly inconsistent). The skies at times darkened ominously and scarves of white clouds wrapped themselves tightly around the necks of Lafayette and Lincoln, across the valley. But there were glorious moments, too. A perfect boulder, covered in pebbly ice. A southern exposure with bright moss shining through the white snow. The expanse of Lonesome Lake perfect below us. The sound of bitter winds whipping above our heads, with short summit-pines protecting us from the greatest heat-stealing wrath of winter’s icy breath.

The ice was fascinating
The moss was shockingly vibrant amid all the monochrome of snow and sky

As Boston braces for our first real snow of the winter on Monday, the experienced yankee might feel a mild claustrophobia setting in, as the world begins its process of shrinking to the size of the shoveled path. But perhaps this year will be different. Perhaps this year, I’ll be able to brave snow and ice, and meet my mountains again before spring.

So little colored, so much yet to hike!