Social Distancing/Quarantine: Days 67-73

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Day 67: Monday, May 18
It rains almost all day.
We record music in the parlor.
My voice hurts and I worry that I’m getting old.
“This must be what happens when you turn 40,” I think. “It hurts to sing.”

Day 68: Tuesday, May 19
One of the casualties of quarantine are my garden pathways. All year long I save cardboard boxes to lay down. I collect boxes from my parents and from my brother’s bar and get a load of burlap coffee bags from my cousin who’s a coffee roaster.
This year my parents have been recycling their boxes immediately, afraid they’re contaminated with virus. My brother isn’t getting shipments of anything with the bar and kitchen closed until at least July. My cousin lives in Connecticut. I’m not going to Connecticut.
This year I use what boxes I have, but cut them apart so they stretch twice as long. I hope this doesn’t mean the weeds will grow twice as fast. It probably does. I reduce the number of pathways in the garden, resolving to plant chamomile and parsley and other herbs that reseed in their wake. It will be a great experiment. Or a great failure. Only time will tell.

We move 1K lbs of cement tile into the shed. Neither one of us hurt our back. We high five.
We record vocals again. My voice doesn’t hurt. Maybe I’m not old after all.

Day 69: Wednesday, May 20
I worry our robin’s been injured when I see her lying on the stone walkway on her side. I don’t see any wounds on her back. She’s breathing. Her heart is beating. After some time she adjusts herself, always so her belly is facing the sun. I realize she’s warming herself on the stones. I check on her eggs now that she’s not on the nest. They’re so much more vibrant before they’re hatched, almost turquoise. She returns to the nest and brings the warmth with her.

The lilacs and wisteria are blooming at the same time. I’ve only ever seen that in Cape Cod, where we’re supposed to be this weekend with friends I’ve known since I was born. Only a pandemic could cancel this trip. But the flowers are bringing a little bit of the Cape here to us.

We eat dinner on the patio. Even though Eric hates Dave Matthews he has an urge to put on Under the Table and Dreaming. I feel like I’m 16 all over again. Just over his head I watch four turkey vultures hovering low, looking for an updraft. “Dancing Nancies” is on, and just as I’m about to tell Eric to look up at the sky, Dave Matthews says it for me. The sun shines like in a dream.

Day 70: Thursday, May 21
I’ve only ever talked to my across-the-street neighbor George twice in my life.
1.) Ten-ish years ago during a blizzard where we got 2 feet of heavy wet snow overnight and the town plowed it all into the end of our driveway. Eric and I were shoveling our way out by hand and we may as well have been using spoons. We were. We were using big spoons. And George had a snowblower and actually, now that I think about it, I didn’t talk to him then either. He just snowblowed across the street and blew out the end of our driveway. I ran inside and packed up some mulberry jam and ran out and handed it to him. That’s when he said “Thank you, my daughter will love this.” It didn’t feel like a fair trade, but it was all I had.
2.) Three-ish years ago just after a snowfall when we told him and his grandkids to please feel free to sled down our hill whenever they wanted. So they all traipsed through the snow to the field, and thank goodness they didn’t drive anywhere to go sledding because the kids got tired and cold after about five minutes but George waited it out another five and then they headed home.

Today while I’m mowing the lawn I see him coming up the driveway holding an envelope. I turn off the mower and take out my ear plugs.
“I found some Christmas cards in my Mom’s scrapbook that Doris painted. I thought you’d like to have them.” In an instant I imagine him spending his quarantine sorting through closets and boxes.
“Thank you. That’s so sweet of you,” is all I say even though I’m so moved that he would make the effort to return a little bit of my grandmother to me on this day.
He waves, and I keep mowing.

Eric goes to the waterfalls without me. It’s hard during the growing season. By the time he’s finished with work and ready to hike I’m too tired from digging or planting or working in the sun. When he gets back he tells me how he watched a hummingbird drink from the face of the falls.
“Of course it did,” I say in amazement. “Add it to the list of reasons why they’re so magical. They drink from waterfalls.”

Day 71: Friday, May 22
I find myself writing less and less about quarantine. Maybe it’s starting to feel more normal. Maybe I can see the end -even if it’s a perceived, made up end. The same kind of fake end as when Eric scheduled a recurring, weekly zoom meeting with my family ending on my birthday, thinking we would never need to use it because we’d all be together drinking wine in the sunshine, and here we are still with no true end in sight. I just found out the the Capital Region reopened in Stage 1 on Wednesday. I had no idea. Things are still being cancelled far into summer. Surely it’s not ending.

Eric talks about when things go back to normal. When there will be shows and parties and practices and dinner parties. But part of both of us wants it to stay this way. The two of us sequestered to this land. Free to explore our deepest psychologies, free to work round the clock. Free from obligation and expectation. I have always been comfortable in solitude.

We are some of the lucky ones, but we all struggle. I could do with less anxiety. This time has forced me to begin to accept this part of myself. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been different and already I feel a nostalgia for this time. As soon as I see myself aching to hang on, I already see it dissolving. I watch it slip through my fingers. Evaporating like hot rain on paving stones. Darting by me like a hummingbird whose wing beats I try to count. But hummingbirds and rain don’t work that way. They come and go as they please. And trying to hang on only forces us to stand in resistance to what is.

“Kenny Rogers DIED during the pandemic,” I say. “I don’t think we’ve focused on this enough.”
“At least Kenny Loggins is still alive,” Eric says. I frown.

For dinner we toast some bread in the oven and open a tomato confit from last season. We pile it on a cutting board with the last of the cheese. But the real star is a fiddlehead and morel salad Eric makes with ferns our friend Matt left on our backporch in the rosemary plant one morning. Eric had been trying to go ramp hunting with him all spring but back then no one knew yet if it was safe to social distance hike (do they really know now?). Eric picked the morels on a tip from our soon to be sister-in-law. He’d just given a morel lecture to the family via zoom using the morels from my parents yard. Cutting them open, describing their insides, explaining the look-alikes. It was such a good lesson that she found some on a walk, but didn’t feel comfortable eating them herself, which is always the right decision.

“How much would this meal cost at a restaurant?” I ask. This is a game we like to play. “One million dollars?” I offer.
“Yup.” Eric agrees. This is the best salad ever.

We watch this video.

Day 72: Saturday, May 23
While digging through recycling (this is a thing I do now) I spot a 50 lb paper oats bag perfect for my walkways. “Oooh, look what I found!” I tug at it, but it’s just a 5 lb potato bag. “OOOAAAwwwwwww….” I vocalize my disappointment.
Eric starts laughing “Ta-maaaaiiiiiaahhh!!!!” he whines.
When we lived in Thailand there was a woman who collected all of the recycling from the village. I don’t know if she was technically a garbage picker, though that’s what she did. She collected anything she knew she could sell to the people who buy up scraps of used metal or plastic. She stored it all in front of our concrete and clay roofed apartment on giant tarps probably because she knew we were farang (foreigners) who wouldn’t (or wouldn’t know how to) complain. She wore a faded, beat up baseball cap, a loose flannel shirt, flip flops, and trousers every day. What teeth she had left were stained with betel nut. She wasn’t very good at selling her recycling. Her pile only grew the entire time we lived there. Still, I always sorted my recycling for her and left it to the side of our trash. She liked us and one day gave us a tiny patch she’d scavenged. I sewed it on to Eric’s Super Funk jacket. We called her Tamai (pronounced Tuh-my) which means ‘why’ in Thai because she could be frequently heard crying these words into a pre-paid mobile. Eric evokes her now.

I go to the shed to grab a shovel. I hear people standing on the bridge at the corner talking about a parade. In quarantine I have become obsessed with parades. Any reason to see people I guess. I can hear sirens in the distance. This means nothing actually, although it could mean a parade. It could also mean someone in the village had a heart attack, or was in a car accident, or there’s a cat stuck up in a tree (although I don’t think they typically use sirens for that. Unless it’s a very important cat). But I go out onto the front porch anyway. There’s a group of people sitting on their front lawn in lawn chairs and I decide this means there must actually be a parade.
“Eric!” I say. “Come watch the parade.”
“Let me use the bathroom first,” he says.
“You’re going to miss it,” I say, but I’m only half joking. This however turns out to be true. The parade consists of two police cars and six motorcycles with big American flags flying. A woman on the back of a Harley spots me on the porch and waves.
“You missed it!” I shout to Eric. I’m laughing so he doesn’t believe me.

I hear sirens again and poke my head out front just to be sure.
“Eric! There’s horses!” I’m actually surprised. There’s an old wagon driven by Clydesdales plus five other neighbors all wearing masks riding horseback. It looks like the Wild West.
“I guess we didn’t miss the parade?”
It’s adorable and ramshackle and the most sincere gesture of humanity. Everyone looks dazed, blinking like they haven’t seen the sun. Milk drunk. Dizzy and stunned with the sights and sounds of humans. All manner of village businesses have decked out their cars and trucks. The Village Pizza shop decorated with cardboard pizza slices and flags. The Yarn Shop car towing a trailer decorated with skeins of yarn. The Altamont Orchards car with their inflatable donut on the back. The parade introduces me to Altamont’s Portable Toilet business. There’s the Altamont Fair car. The CM Fox car. Altamont Beef Jerkey car. It’s a who’s who of local entrepreneurs. A cheap, slow moving, social distancing, earnest advertisement disguised as a memorial. But everyone seems to be memorializing themselves and one another and not with disrespect to the dead but with pure open hearts and genuine surprise and disbelief that we’re all still alive. “These are our livelihoods!” They proclaim. “This is our Village. And we have survived the pandemic!” I’m worried we’ve spoken too soon, but we will enjoy this moment while it lasts.

Eric waves to everyone who passes.
I LOVE IT WHEN YOU PLAY GUITAR!” a woman shouts to him from the Hungerford Market car. And I realize that we’re a part of this Village too, even if we didn’t make a float.

Day 73: Sunday, May 24
I hear a woman shouting at two children, hiding in the woods near the creek. I could hear they were up to something, but it sounded to me like they were hiding from a friend. Although that is still quite cruel. As it turns out, they’re throwing rocks at the cars that drive by. I kept hearing what sounded like a piece of metal that had fallen out of someone’s trailer onto the road (I am consistently amazed at the number of people who have trailers), giving way every time a car drives over it. I never imagined the metallic denting sound was kids throwing rocks at cars.
What the hell is wrong with you!?” the woman shouts at them after they slide down the ravine. Their jeans must be further dirt stained. They must smell the way boys do after playing outside. Sweetly of sweat and soil, and now smelling like trouble. “You’ll ruin these peoples’ cars! Don’t make me call the police!
Ooh, the police. She’d already had them shitting their pants. She scared me to be honest. But now the police…
“Shit!” I hear one of them whisper, high pitched and pre-pubescent. “Shit, shit!” Their voices are moving now, up the creek, flowing with the water.

Eric and I keep saying that the pandemic has made a quick end to helicopter parenting. Parents are tired. “Go outside,” we imagine them saying. “I don’t care what you do or where you go, just don’t die. And don’t come home until dinner.”
Two days ago we saw a pair of brothers riding bikes and scooters on the busy state road that abuts the creek and our property. You never see kids riding bikes on that street. Parents make them stick to the sidewalks. But the kids are free ranging now.
“It’s like the 50s and 60s,” I say.
“It’s like the 80s and 90s,” Eric says “that’s how I grew up.” I nod with the realization that I did too.
“Do you think it will last?” I ask. But Eric doesn’t answer.

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