Odd, isn’t it — this self-imposed pulling away from each other?
Fat-biking solo along a Duluth trail the other day, I met a hiker at a trail intersection. I veered off to my right. He eased to the other side of the junction. We were like two cats warily circling each other a good 10 feet apart.
“This is safe,” the walker said.
“I agree,” I said.
And we were off on our separate trail vectors.
That’s what matters in this viral time — as much as possible, wherever we meet, giving each other space. Under different circumstances, we might have briefly chatted, maybe remarked about the beauty of the day. But not now.
It feels odd and unMinnesotan to act in this new way. But it’s essential, one of our most effective weapons against the insidious COVID-19 pandemic.
I’ve got a good friend, just back from Alaska by plane. We would typically hit the trails together a couple days a week. Not now. Because of his exposure to others flying, he’s mostly out hiking or skiing alone for the next couple of weeks. Good for him. Good for all of us.
Another friend and I canceled a winter camping trip into an Ontario park a few days ago — the day before Canada banned all non-essential travel into the country. Hardly anything is less essential than winter camping, but I will miss that time in the woods.
Until a few days ago, our offspring living in Scotland and Switzerland would text or FaceTime us daily, urging us to be even more restrictive in our movements. Europe is farther along on the deadly curve of this virus.
My daughter sent along a Twitter post by an Australian journalist that seemed to sum up her feelings: “In an unsettling reversal of my teenage years, I am now yelling at my parents for going out.”
In touching ways, this virus has brought people together despite their physical separation. You’ve no doubt seen television coverage of Italians singing from their balconies in the evenings. And every night at 9 p.m. in Switzerland, our kids tell us, people go to their balconies to clap, whistle and cheer in support of medical personnel dealing with the crisis.
It is heartwarming to see Northland residents finding ways to help their neighbors — offering free lunches to school kids, setting up online networks to assist those who are out of work. When something is bigger than all of us, the human spirit often inspires creative solutions.
Make no mistake, though. Watching the nightly news and reading the nation’s best newspapers is a sobering endeavor. Social distancing, awkward and isolating as it feels, is here for the foreseeable future. We owe that much to the doctors and nurses on the front lines of this pandemic. We owe it to each other.
One afternoon this past week, Phyllis and I took a short hike along a semi-frozen river outside of town. We were the only people in the woods, crunching along the snowy path, listening to the stream burble along. We stopped under a spruce at the river’s edge. Above us, two chickadees flitted about in a spruce tree, one of them singing its spring mating call.
For just a moment along the whispering river, beneath the flirting chickadees, it seemed as if all was right in the world.
But we knew better.