Last March I received an email from the university telling faculty there’s a really good chance we would have to extend Spring Break by a week until this mess cleared out. The students who were already home (or in Florida) would simply go about their business and return to campus a week later. It came with attachments about how to adjust the outlines and accommodate changes to material under the tighter timeline of five less days to do things.
That was seven and a half months ago.
Over the course of late winter, all of spring, all of summer, and what is almost all of autumn, I’ve not conducted my normal half dozen conference workshops, not read at a dozen or so readings, not taught at one of the colleges where I worked because it completely shut down for good, not sold books since face to face sales are non-existent, and not sat in a crowded pub and listened to the patrons for inspiration.
throughout my life I have cherished Sundays. It is like the entire world takes a breather—no one calls complaining or asking for anything. Sunday mornings are by nature slower, the hands on the clock laboring to move, the air still. I take my tea on the porch and sit and watch the cardinals or robins or finches lite from branch to rail to feeder and back. Hummingbirds hover nearby, and squirrels quick through the leaves. It’s as if all the traffic stopped, and no one everywhere needs to go anywhere. It’s an extended pause, a held breath, a skipped beat. Life moves at an impossibly slow pace.
I walk to the river as always but now it’s the only time I can go out and not wear a mask; I breathe in the fresh bay breeze and meander for hours, often forgetting about the microscopic menace in the village, down in the city, God knows where, everywhere. I just walk, eat an apple or peel an orange, watch the osprey or eagles or herons, briefly forgetting the ongoing slow erosion of humanity, drift from marsh to pond to river and beyond. It is as it always has been, but that is what is different. While everyone else has had to adjust, my adjustment involved spending more time doing what I was already doing as often as I could anyway while everyone else changes course. I am fortunate, to be sure.
Certainly these days at three am I can wake up in a panic attack thinking about practical matters, understanding how weak the thread can be, but the weight is lifted, even for a brief respite, by walking along a river that has been here long before any ancestors of mine were born, and it will remain long after the line of my DNA is done. That’s what those Sunday walks of mine have always done, or should I say now after seven months of this worldwide pause caused by the pandemic, my daily walks; walks which start with anxiety and worry but which fade into calmness and acceptance, which eventually morphs into a positively fine day, one in which I summon the mindset to hope that something else will come down river and help me through.
I tell my writing students that if they ever use the expression, “Life is too short to..” in anything, I’ll kick them out of class. But after seven months of introspection seven days a week, I have to tell you, life is too short to let worries become a virus that destroys my world. There’s real danger out there; danger which we must respect and protect ourselves against.
Just not here along the river. Here, the view from this wilderness has not changed. It is still possible to believe in miracles when nothing but nature noses its way into my daily routine. With a clear mind and unobstructed view, I can canoe unmasked out toward the bay and leave behind the nuisance of this notorious year.