Shelter In Place

March 25, 2020

I’ve heard stories lately of people struggling to return home as travel grinds to a halt.  I wish them the best, which is easy to do when I’m firmly settled in one place. The house where I’m staying is so familiar that I can find my way around it in pitch darkness.  It’s filled with objects that have shaped my daily life over 26 years.

Most importantly, I am surrounded by people I trust (and one cat; the jury’s still out on that one). My neighborhood is the center of activity in this little village. I could spend hours just watching everyone come and go — and I have. It’s a skill I picked up early in life. I’ve been observing my corner of the world since I lived in my childhood home less than a mile from here. I’ll never forget how it felt to perch in that second-story window seat, safe in the shadow of a wooded bluff.

Of course, most of what I saw back then was new to me. I only hope I’ve managed to retain a sense of wonder from those days. The outlook is positive. I can still marvel, for example, at the fact that we live right at the edge of the Driftless Area. On one side of town is a geologically young landscape, reshaped by glaciers 15,000 years ago. On the other is a row of bluffs leading to the million-year-old Wisconsin River valley. How many other towns can claim to be two places at once?

I have been influenced by these natural forces. My personal history is intertwined with this place, just as it’s intertwined with my human neighbors. Whatever happens in the next few months, I’m glad to know exactly where I am.

This Means You

March 24, 2020

In the wake of a “stay-at-home order” from our governor, I suppose I should be making a to-do list for the long weeks ahead.  It feels more appropriate to make a not-to-do list. Don’t attend a play, don’t meet my circle of friends for coffee, don’t volunteer on a prescribed burn.  Having written that sentence, I’m already fed up with my own complaining; I can’t imagine how you must feel reading it.

On the face of it, I have everything I need to get through: food, espresso, a plethora of podcasts.  But that doesn’t account for all necessities. While the loss of calendar entries can’t compare to the loss of human life, it will take a toll on anyone who likes to see someone else’s face from time to time.  I hope we keep that in mind as we re-shape our interactions. It will be a struggle at first. Still, we have tools at our disposal.

One of these is creativity.  I mentioned the free balloons on Main Street.  We have a chance to inject a little of the extraordinary into our daily life.  The more blogs, virtual concerts, light displays, and hours-long phone calls we can put out there, the more chance we have of (a term recently shared by a friend) “surthriving”.

Humor is another.  The other day, seven police officers convened in the grocery store parking lot near my house.  I watched as they monitored some unknown threat, conferred in a tight circle, then got back in their cars and drove away.  All except one officer, who promptly walked into the store to buy whatever was on his family shopping list. Why not?

I don’t have a suitable word for the time now upon us.  “Vacation” doesn’t cut it, for a number of reasons.  But I hope it bears some good beyond the simple avoidance of disaster.

May you all find some shelter in place this week.

A Creek Runs Through It

March 22, 2020 (2 for 2!)

I took a walk yesterday afternoon.  It was one of the odder experiences I’ve had in a while, going out in the middle of the day and seeing a car in every driveway.  Typically my town at 2 PM is reserved for retired folks, stay-at-home moms, and seasonal employees of historic architectural attractions.  This felt more like Christmas morning. And although the sun was forcing me to shed my jacket, not a single kid played outside on a single lawn.

If you can’t picture my town, just know that it’s too small for its own high school but somehow managed to attract its own self-serve wine bar.  Its social center is an independent coffee shop at the edge of a park. It was in this park, across the creek and down a ways from the coffee shop, that I lay in the grass to contemplate our new reality.

A cloudless sky unfolded above me.  Robins surrounded me at a safe distance, cocking their heads in my direction.  (Yet another reason I’m glad I’m not a worm.) A single turkey vulture enjoyed some air current I was not privy to.  The day had all the ingredients of Spring. Still, I couldn’t help feeling uneasy.

I had seen a note taped on the door of the coffee shop.  Printed on red paper for emphasis, it informs customers that the store is closed until further notice.  No more coffee — and no more social center — for who knows how long. It’s a measure to keep people from harm, and I wouldn’t get in the way of that.  But knowing I couldn’t go inside even if I wanted to suddenly brought these trying times into focus.

I don’t feel qualified (that’s my excuse, anyway) to explain in detail why it’s for the best.  All I can say, post-walk, is that we’ll get through it. My town, and yours too. We’ll make it work.  Case in point: the owners of that wine bar put out a bushel of free cut-your-own balloons yesterday to brighten the lives of families walking by. Still, I await the day when I can stroll in the sunshine by the creek with iced latte in hand.

These, they are my people, and this is all I know: the longer this goes on, my friend, the stronger I will grow. -Capercaillie

COVID-19 in the 608

March 21, 2020

I told myself I wouldn’t write a single word about Social Distancing.  But any kind of writing feels better than guiltily staring at a blank page.  It brings to mind what a sympathetic writing instructor once told me: the most important body part to a writer is the one you sit on.  Just sit and write. It’s harder than it sounds.

More frustrating is the fact that I keep looking over at the clock.  What else could I possibly have going on? As it happens, I’ve been waiting for years to find myself in this situation – nothing to do but tackle a writing project.  Still, having the time to write and actually writing are vastly different beasts.

Not that I can complain.  I realize how privileged I am here in small-town Wisconsin, that I can still leave my house to be alone in the woods or by the creek.  That in order to visit my friends eight miles away, I can just enter my own garage and drive my personal vehicle right up to their front door.  (Nothing “public” about this form of transportation, at least until I run out of gas.) That I have room to breathe in a time when even breathing is not a given.

Be that as it may, I want to sit and write.  Always have. Maybe what has been missing for me is accountability and not free time.  Knowing there’s someone on the other end waiting to receive a finished piece might help me set my thoughts down as text.  It’s also very possible that I’m just fishing for praise. Either way, or maybe with a little of both, here’s my first real stab at a blog.