Leaving Le Broc, Tom and I took the bullet train from Nice to Paris on tracks so close to the Mediterranean shoreline, it felt as if we were passengers on a very narrow ship, and in only a matter of time we’d turn toward the open sea. Twenty-four hours later, travelling by taxi, airplane, and Uber, we drove our Subaru home to Angels Camp. I caught the sunset in the rear-view mirror using my cell phone, wondering what it would be like to come home after two months in the south of France.
I wrote about portals at the end of December, 2019, from France. Portale means “a doorway.” Tom and I had been wandering the long-abandoned streets of a medieval village built in the twelfth century. I ventured off on my own to explore the interiors of a few ancient buildings whose crumbling walls and roofs still provided some shelter from the cold winter afternoon.
For the last month, images of those ancient, abandoned streets and dark portals had been lurking in the back of my mind. As we followed news coverage of the spread of COVID-19, and saw empty streets in major cities around the world, we learned what it means to be sheltered in place as it became a necessary part of life in the U.S., and in our small rural county.
The entry to our home is no longer a portal that is open to anyone who knocks, and no one just drops in. Any visit with friends is mutually agreed upon ahead of time. There are only virtual hugs, and we sit six feet apart in our living room, grateful for face to face time together. I have never been so aware of boundaries, while longing to reach out, to touch, to comfort and be comforted by strangers, as well as my beloved family, friends and clients.
The first week of isolation, using the telephone to communicate with my clients, and trying to make sense of the news as it became more frightening with each day, left me feeling sad, helpless and exhausted. The corona virus pandemic also felt very personal…and present. I could be a carrier and harm anyone simply by touching them, and they could harm me, without either of us knowing. How can we care for one another without fear getting in the way?
Then on YouTube, I saw people in Italy making music from balconies, on rooftops, and leaning out of windows, separate physically, but not in spirit. I sobbed as I heard their song. It is possible to transcend this isolation with the music of the human heart. From halfway around the world, I did not feel separate from them. I wondered how, in rural Calaveras County California, strangers could touch each other so lovingly from a safe distance.
Two days later, I had to get out of the house. There was plenty of land to roam on our twenty acres, but I needed more space…and something I couldn’t name. Tom was in the middle of editing his film, so I gave him a quick kiss and told him where I was going. I drove my car to Natural Bridges. It is a magnificent cavern in the Sierra Foothills, open at both ends, with a river running through it. My heart felt lighter with each mile.
When I got to the turnoff, I was surprised to see ten cars parked off the highway, and another dozen in the narrow parking area. But the trail was wide, with places to stop on the way down to the river, so I wasn’t worried. The only person ahead of me was an older woman about my age. She turned and smiled, and continued walking. For a few minutes, I was alone, and then I met a family coming toward me in single file. The mother held an infant close to her body in a snuggie. As we passed, we kept the six-foot distance between us. The father said “Hi…How are you?” with tenderness in his voice.
I responded with “I’m OK. How are you guys doing?”
We had touched one another across a safe distance, and I felt happy to have met them. With each person I encountered, there was a greeting, the sense of seeing and being seen, and simple expressions of loving kindness.
I had gone about three quarters of a mile when three teenage girls seemed to leap out of nowhere onto the trail. I was amazed when they told me they’d climbed up the steep ravine following a deer trail. “You did that? You go girls!” Their appreciative laughter followed me as I descended to the river, and found a place to rest where I could hear the music of the water.
Alone again, I thought about the beauty of what I had just shared with people on the trail. In coming to Natural Bridges, I had crossed a boundary out into the world. When I drove back home, I would cross it again, returning to shelter in place with Tom.
In this time of solitude, my inner world is becoming quieter, more introspective. Tom and I are taking time to talk intimately about what’s coming up in our life together and individually, and about how to live in a world that is struggling to survive, something none of us has experienced before. Through all the very present fear and grief, the chaos and confusion, I am grateful to be alive, and proud to be part of the global family. To the best of our ability, we are mobilizing our resources and working together to save lives, to keep people healthy, and to share information for the good of the human community.
I would love to hear about your experiences making connections with the people in your life, and to connect with you by sharing a short video of the river that flows through Natural Bridges and its music. May you be safe. May you be well.
So good to hear from you, dear friend! You certainly have been on my mind, reentry is always a little tricky, but reentry during a pandemic ??? I feel this is a brutal reminder from mother Nature, running out of patience with our extraordinary destructive arrogance…I have been re reading Jean Giono, a beloved Southern french writer who wrote a luminous novel about the plagues, that use to ravage Europe periodically…Eerily echoing our present time…
And so i live in my blue palace on the hill…I spend most of my time outside, marveling at all the things small and big that i had failed to really KNOW about this land until now…The river is loud in the canyon, observing bird rituals has become a fascinating moment of each day…Burning brush, picking up branches, pending down low and noticing plants and insects, expanding my garden and planting seeds, I feel so privileged to be here…
Calling France daily, only watching European news programs, I try and connect deeply with all my family there, hear what they hear, feel what they feel…Writing letters, lots of them , taking the time to think about and connect with family and friends deeply…I did a 5 day virtual retreat offered by Thich Nhat Than, from Plum Village in France, and the discipline and meditations of it were really helpful. I stay away from screens, I am not really sure what day it is…
Twice a day, my good neighbors and i gather and we walk (safely distant) 4 miles while checking up on everybody on our road. At the end of the week we will be passing the 80 mile marker….
I miss you, would love to have a long walk where we could really catch up…Take good care, love and respect, Catherine
I’m so happy to hear that you and Tom are home, “safe” and sound. Such a strange experience in this current existence of a Pandemic. Thank you for the video of Natural Bridges…so beautiful. I’ve enjoyed your blog and can almost hear your voice as I read.
The new norm for me includes “attempting” to work from home while trying to homeschool 5 kids….even the college kiddo :). Connecting with others feels odd and I can only say that the connections within our own walls have expanded. We bake together, garden, make meals, build skateboard ramps, make “doodle” art and sunbathe together. Los Angeles is so very different than Calaveras County (obviously)…going out in public feels odd. People have been kind and courteous but sometimes I feel people look at me like I have the plague. Human connection is difficult and feels masked with fear. I’ve surrendered to the idea of living one day at a time and trying to embrace gratitude above fear.
Your teachings and wisdom are never forgotten and very much missed. Virtual hugs to you…and please give Tom my best. Stay safe and much love to you!
Thank you for your response. Your life sounds so full of life and family in L.A. I am so happy for you. I also appreciate your wisdom, “surrendering…to living one day at a time and embracing gratitude above fear.” Please stay in touch.
Blessings and love,
This journey has been challenging in so many ways. Feeling of the uncertainty feeling of being afraid feelings of trying to stay grounded. Finding myself and my new path. Sitting idle. Seeing people in passing and knowing they also are on a new
journey. Smiles are such a beauty that makes me happy Hearing laughter on the hill I live on is music in my heart. Hoping we can all recognize life is amazing an we are here on Mother Earth for a short time. This is our world together as a family. Be well. 🙏
Lovely to read and to know we are all still striving on this earth for the same things.
Thank you for your words Sharon – I hear your voice as I read them, and that is comforting. I moved into my new home the day after the shelter in place order happened. It has been the most surreal strange time. But this new home feels so much better to me than the quiet, isolated home I had up the hill now that I am alone. I have neighbors, no steep driveway in the snow to deal with, and can walk wherever I need to go. I don’t think I have ever walked so much every day – and am grateful that I can walk with friends with the necessary physical distance in this community. I am grateful my daughter is safe and has a job and close partner. I am grateful my Mom is safe and happy. I am grateful for Mary Oliver who keeps me grounded. I am grateful for the frogs I hear in the pond behind my house. I am grateful for the friends who showed up and helped me move into this home before the next snowstorm and shelter in place. I do have to work at keeping my mind from spinning too much about what our unknown future is going to be like. But all these things help and I just want to say thank you. I look forward to seeing you at some point in the future… talking and a big hug!
I much appreciate your perspective, and am encouraged to keep my heart and my eyes open, keep noticing the beautiful changes of spring, and enjoying the connection with distant family even as I find my way through the fear, confusion and uncertainty. I, too, enjoy reading your words, and can almost hear your voice as I read.
Ah, homecoming. Welcome back, dear Sharon. It’s strange to think you are here but I have not got to see you yet! I know we’ll reconnect when the time is right.
For Conal and me, being quarantined is not actually much different than not being quarantined. I have in the past frequently joked that our lives are pretty much a quarantine all the time. Coronavirus just amped up the stakes a bit for us. I personally take it very seriously.
The main difference in our lives now of course lies in the freedom of choice to be at home; it certainly feels different, though it’s not materially much different. There is also the drama around getting supplies. Treating the groceries as potentially infected until we’ve sanitized every last thing is a weird new experience! Our kids have been helping us out by picking up a few items at the store and making post office stops. They are hunkering down here, too, at the family place next door, stranded away from their Chicago home. All in all, though they worry about their cats and their apartment, I think they are glad to be here in this beautiful place, gardening, breathing fresh air, with the isolation coming easy. Lockdown would be a different experience, indeed, in a big city.
We are well provisioned and fine here at Murray Creek. I normally have a very deep pantry anyway, but early this year, a prepper friend of mine advised me to deepen it even further, as he assured me the shit was seriously gonna hit the fan this spring. Boy, was he correct. We continue to receive fresh CSA produce, another great, healthful blessing.
My music practice is also deepening, with my study on theory and guitar continuing to light up my heart with joy. It’s my meditation, really. Deeeeeep focus, aaaaahhh. Music has also served as a point of connection, with an endless supply of artists famous and not-so-famous now streaming their art live or posting videos of performances with the charming, intimate backgrounds full of couches, beds, cats and dogs, children, and personal things. People are so talented! It’s wonderful. I’ve even been able to have guitar lessons with Jill, my beloved friend and teacher, via video call. I hope the online sharing continues after the quarantining is done. I love it all completely.
I’ve also had the pleasure of joining some of my gym-mates for online workouts. Hah! The owners of our gym have been wonderful, encouraging healthy movement and eating choices. They’re able to find purpose for themselves as well as support the bunch of us who show up to jump around on Zoom in our living rooms, bedrooms, or backyards.
Also of great joy are the blooming hillsides dotted with poppies, lupine, and a zillion flowers I cannot name. The bees and hummingbirds are on full-time duty, animating the rosemary hedge with endless buzzing and zooming about. Butterflies add still more color. The green, aaaah, the lush green; I never tire of it, Sharon. Soon it will warm up quickly and the plants will harden off and turn to gold to snooze away the summer, but for now the green scents and sights soothe this Pacific Northwest girl’s eyes and heart.
Writing feels good, too. I find myself writing a lot, randomly spending extra time on emails and social media posts, enjoying words and and imagining what others would like to read.
Sharon, I send you (and Tom) my love, hoping you find satisfying ways to exploit the beauty of this weird time. ::hug::