How is this only week four? It feels like four years since all of the moorings of normal came loose and we slipped into stay-at-home COVID19 pan-awareness. A text exchange with a friend yesterday brought back memories of the last moments of pre-pandemic celebratory socializing — a small gathering in an idyllic farmhouse with fabulous food and lots of wine to mark a big birthday in late February. Then there was the scramble to get mom moved here as the virus extended its reach down the East Coast. Tom and I took a night off that week to see the Banff Film Festival. Looking around at our local outdoor community — the hikers, conservationists, climbers, kayakers, trail runners….I remember thinking this might be the last public gathering I would attend for a while, and feeling like this was good way to go out. Now the memories of the conversation in February and the mountain adventure films of mid-March are both reassuring and remote. My human relationships are intact and everyone is healthy so far. But the world in which we gathered to celebrate decades of friendship or nature’s majesty feels very much like a thing of the past.
I am also having a hard time keeping my priorities from re-arranging themselves. Two weeks ago, a couple days before the Appalachian Trail was closed, we hiked to Kelly’s Knob with Nairo. The handful of people we encountered over several hours all maintained a healthy distance. The dog was hot, even with the breeze along the ridge line. As I topped off his water dish for the umpteenth time (thank you Tom for always carrying LOTS of water) I realized I was more worried about maintaining social distance in the middle of nowhere than I was about the fact that it shouldn’t be 80 degrees in the mountains in mid-March. And then I longed for the time when climate change took up a large chunk of my headspace. Was it really just a few weeks ago?
The warming Earth and the pandemic are connected, of course. Both are stark reminders of how central human activity and consumption are to the ecosystem which sustains us. While the disruption of the global travel shut down has brought so much suffering, it has also had at least two positive impacts: cleaner air in normally polluted cities, and a global decline in carbon emissions. Wouldn’t it be awesome if humanity could use the COVID19 crisis to get itself on better footing to deal with the climate crisis? What if we took this as a sign to quit shoring up fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction and instead invested in the clean technologies and power sources that could keep us from having a leading role in the climate-crisis sequel to this year’s global tragedy? I know it seems unlikely. So far, we’re seeing more characters from the nightmare of Naomi Klein’s Disaster Capitalism come to the fore than Meehan Crist’s proposals for a sustainable, equitable future. And it is hard to stay focused on the monster coming over the hill when there’s another one at the door.
Its knocking becomes ever more insistent. Today the US became the world leader both in confirmed cases of the coronavirus and deaths attributable to it. Virginia’s case count has topped 5,000, with 130 deaths. We have community transmission and very limited testing here, so we’re all being as careful as we can. I suspect the US will consolidate and extend its lead in this frightful race for the next several weeks at least. Stay at home. Just stay at home. Be grateful that you can stay at home. Do what you can to help people who are more vulnerable than you are or who don’t have the luxury of staying at home.
Our happy news is that Claire has adopted a new kitty. “Richie” — named for pro cyclist, Richie Porte — because I’ve got dibs on Rigo (Uran) Egan (Bernal) and Esteban (Chavez), comes from the same shelter where we found Betty 17 years ago. Adopting a cat in the midst of a pandemic involves a lot of planning to keep everyone safe, but the shelter staff had a good procedure in place. Richie is an extroverted, sweet little guy, who purrs like a monster truck. Nairo is eager to meet him, and we’ll make those introductions in a few days. But he will probably do the kitty version of self-isolation from Griffin, who has never met a cat she likes. When Claire heads back to the big city, Richie will go with her. Until then, it’s great to have both of them around.