Local View: With pandemic, summer to autumn is about more than seasons
Like a deer which scrambled back to shore, we'll get through this
Sons and daughters urged us to isolate, wary of the virus and aware of the susceptibility that comes with our ages and pre-existing conditions.
So, we headed north to our cabin with the two four-leggeds: several hours up the four-lane until it narrows to two lanes and towns get smaller, then down the quarter mile driveway to the Big Lake, protected — hopefully — from the pandemic. Driven by fear? Perhaps, but also by an acceptance of where we are in life and what we are up against, like so many others.
Here we are, alone on the North Shore for months, waiting for the shadow of the plague to pass by our doorway.
The low-slung sun feebly hangs near the horizon like some shy child, making for gray days. No neighbors’ lights pierce the blackness of lengthening nights. Grocery stores are down the road 30 miles in either direction. Warmth depends upon propane and firewood being delivered by someone. No malls, restaurants, or theaters are nearby to connect and celebrate with friends or family. We rely on Zoom and internet connections to maintain contact with the rest of our world. Time comes to be measured by the level of wood dropping in the box next to the fireplace. This is an experience where we must find and rely on ourselves. And time allows — encourages — introspection.
Extended time on the Shore has provided a privilege to leisurely watch the departure of one season and the emergence of another. The once-deep reds and golds of trees and bushes have been stripped bare and now stand naked against muted skies. Gulls and geese have relocated to Orlando, giving the lawn a respite. Snow buntings have come and gone. Bears, once sighted, have appeared to have gone to ground. The bird-feeder feasters have changed in shapes and colors, and grouse have almost stripped the trees of berries. A solitary wolf wanders occasionally through the property, following the deer trail, trying to secure a dinner reservation. We have time to observe it all up close instead of cramming it into a brief weekend before retreating to the Twin Cities, as we do in normal times.
Life has been simplified, reduced to a focus on staying warm, food, sleep, and general self-care. There was no moving truck, as only essential clothing were needed. Carhartt and flannels have replaced Calvin Klein and dry-clean-only. Medications come by mail. We’ve found a new veterinary service not far away. Regular haircuts and visits to nail salons are on indefinite hold. With little or no restaurant take-out, we’ve rediscovered the “joy” of cooking for two. Highlights of the weeks center around trips to the recycling center and restocking runs for kraut to Zups in Silver Bay or up to Grand Marais, decked out in facemasks and armed with hand sterilizers. Happiest hours do seem to have lengthened along with waistlines.
We are safer here but separated from those we love. A virtual connection can only do so much and is no substitute for the warmth of touch. We can only look into each other’s eyes through the fog of ethernet. We can’t even do the 10-second hug of grandchildren deemed allowable by Dr. Osterholm and the CDC. The beating hearts of the four-leggeds help fill the small space, but it’s hard to have meaningful conversations with them for any length of time.
There is some guilt to this running away, being separated from loved ones. We are not able to directly participate or be of influence in their lives. There is a feeling of loss. Some of such retreating does come with age, regardless, as we know we can’t be there indefinitely for sons and daughters and others close to us. With enforced isolation, we’ve had to accept even more so that their problems are not ours to solve. We can only empathize with them from afar, not resolve or protect, at least to the extent we would when we were close by. Through the threat of COVID-19, we feel more clearly our own shift from summer to autumn and realize our personal winter is looming.
Our morning walks take us across the bridge over the Cross River as it drops sharply from the Sawtooths down to Lake Superior. The runoff from the recent snowfall has made the flow even greater. Looking through the railing one morning we spotted a deer that had fallen into one of the eddies and was struggling against the swirling current, its head barely above water, threatened with a slow death or a plunge over the falls. It may have been chased into the river by a wolf or slipped while drinking at the edge. We watched helplessly. After considerable efforts, the deer slowly, courageously, gained a foothold and pulled itself to the edge where it lay regaining strength. It finally raised itself and found its way back to home in the woods.
We will get through this.
Steven M. Lukas is retired after a career in business and education. He and his extended family divide their time between the Twin Cities and Schroeder.