It’s been 28 years since I moved to a cabin at the top of a mountain.
I live alone by circumstance and by choice—divorced since 1995, I never remarried, I never had children, I have no family and, by nature an introvert, I have few friends. Although I’ve always maintained a job in Denver or Colorado Springs, the majority of my time is spent alone on the mountain.
During this pandemic, it’s been said that for those of us who live in rural locations, the basics of life (meaning, emergency supplies of food, water, batteries, and so forth) haven’t really changed. I can attest to that.
By September of each year, my pantry shelves are stocked with paper products (paper towels, paper napkins, plastic utensils, paper plates, and yes, toilet paper) and dried goods, enough to see me through at least a season’s worth of adverse winter weather. The freezer chest is full, as are the water containers. So in that respect, life on the mountain under a pandemic hasn’t changed at all.
Last week when the company I work for instructed us to work from home, rendering me in true isolation, I realized nothing much has changed there either — I have always enjoyed the times I’ve been able to work from home, in the level of productivity that only solitude can truly afford. And alone I’ve always been able to “tough out” whatever seasonal illness makes its rounds.
I have often bragged that the worst bout I’ve ever endured has been a minor case of the flu in the 1980s, and nothing but minor colds since then.
But now during this pandemic, the stakes are higher, hospitals are becoming overwhelmed, people my age and far younger than I am are on ventilators. It hit me this morning as I plowed (manually, with a sleigh shovel) tons of snow that fell during yesterday’s blizzard from the trail leading to my cabin: I am 56 years old.
Not quite, but close enough, to the age range established as marking particular physical vulnerability to COVID-19. And it hit home just how much, in my geographically isolated life, I rely on my physical endurance to get me through my days on the mountain — hiking, chopping wood, carrying supplies on my back if the roads are snowed in.
Stubbornly, ferociously, and even now foolishly self reliant, I know that should I experience any symptoms of COVID-19, I will tough it out myself. This I know to be true. Still, I make some concessions. I send daily email messages to my work supervisor to report my status (“Still alive,” I think, before I type in the subject line, “Checking in”). Always mindful of my physical health and exercise routine, I now pay particular attention to my diet and my body.
I avoid unnecessary physical risk and mental stress: I let slide some routine chores that require ladders; I tune in to social media, then as quickly tune out. Because I know, should I fall ill with this particular brand of sickness, and should I not for some reason be able to seek medical attention, I would never ask anyone to trek up the mountain to assist me–and to expose themselves.
Nor will I ask anyone else who lives on this mountain — the majority, if not all, of whom do not live alone — to expose themselves and their families to potential illness.
Whatever comes, I know I must face it alone. As I continue my self-imposed isolation on the mountain, I focus on what I would normally focus on if bad weather kept me at home: my job, a large stack of books, my writing journal, my daily hikes into the woods, listening to music I enjoy, watching old black and white films, and the companionship of my dog.
I continue on with life as I’ve always known on the mountain, but with two exceptions.
I drafted an email with instructions for rehoming my dog. Then I unearthed a copy of my will, placing it visibly on the kitchen table.
That is, right now, what I choose to do.
Susanne Sener lives near Larkspur.