On Friday, March 13, 2020 – yes, that Friday the 13th – my husband and I headed to the airport for a flight to Denver. Months earlier we had found a small, rustic cabin in the Sangre de Cristo mountains we hoped to use as a writing retreat when we could escape from our jobs in Cincinnati. The cabin was rough but we had big dreams. Spring break would give us a few days to write and continue our repairs. We were aware of Covid-19, but we had no idea how our lives would change.
The check-in line was a winding snake of frustrated people. Security was jammed. We missed our flight. By the time we had rebooked, landed in Denver, and made the long drive to the cabin, it was cold and dark and things were happening fast. Over the next few days, at the university where I teach, spring break was extended and then students were abruptly told to stay home. My classes went online. My husband’s job, which requires travel and interaction with the public, suddenly became risky, particularly as he is a cancer survivor. We’re both in our sixties and the whole world beyond our little cabin felt like a threat.
The four days I intended to stay at the cabin turned into eleven weeks. I could work online but my husband had to return to his job. For three weeks – until he was cleared for a short-term medical leave due to Covid-19 – I was completely alone. At 8,800 feet, in a tiny cabin miles away from the nearest town (one grocery store, with ravaged shelves), I went for days without seeing or talking to anyone. I lived on canned soup and washed my two pairs of jeans in the bathtub. On one of my morning walks I discovered mountain lion scat in our dirt driveway, and later – once the snow began to melt – the scat of a bear. The stars were so near at night I felt I could see every single one. It was beautiful and terrifying.
I was sick with worry. My grown sons – one in Los Angeles, one in Denver – lived in high-density areas. My husband’s texts and emails were alarming. My family was scattered around the country, and our shell-shocked conversations on Zoom seemed surreal.
Yet each day, as I watched the sun rise and set, I realized what lay before me was a spectacular theater of ever-moving clouds that bore as much expression as a human face. One afternoon on the deck, a tiny hummingbird in brilliant red and green neon suddenly whizzed in front of my nose and froze, midflight. He stayed suspended, almost perfectly still, for several long seconds, his tiny eyes locked with mine. I felt spellbound. I must have met his approval, as he then swooped down to my tennis shoe and poked at it a few times, as if it were a flower. Then off he flew.
Weeks later, when we returned to Cincinnati, the city was under curfew. Our busy neighborhood was nearly silent except for an occasional ambulance siren headed to one of the nearby hospitals. Some businesses had boarded-up windows due to the first protest march, although many peaceful protests were to follow.
I am fortunate and blessed to have had this time in nature. Yet I find solace, too, in the masked faces of my friends and neighbors who wave as they pass by, and the signs of peace and love in their yards. I think often of that hummingbird. I’m willing to accept his optimism.