Thursday, March 26. Day 1 of the statewide shelter-in-place order in Colorado. It’s bright and beautiful, and on the recreation paths carving through my Colorado Springs neighborhood, everyone and their dog is out. I don’t mean to say the pathways are congested; they’re not, and everyone is maintaining more than enough distance. I mean only that most of the people I encounter are out with their dog. 

These aren’t the tight-leash power walks of the pre-work dawn or the curt do-your-business walks in the after-dinner gloom. Here in the warm midday sun, the leashes are slack. The pace is a notch below meandering. Around every bend in the path another tethered, ambling, safely distanced pair comes into view.

I expect the dogs are happily bewildered by the sudden bonus walkies time, but today they’re keeping it mellow, perhaps picking up the brooding vibes from their owners, who for once aren’t tugging at the leash and instead are aimlessly kicking at the pine cones. Still, whatever traumas these days may be administering to the humans, surely the doggos are loving it.

It’s quiet. The usual persistent hiss of street traffic is only a whisper. It’s the oceanlike sound of trees — the dark rush of the wind rising in the forest — that dominates now.

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This area of Colorado Springs is Chapter 1 in the Suburban Sprawl 101 textbook; it’s a place built for cars, and that reality, so deep in the marrow that it doesn’t even register during normal times, is revealing itself anew in the sharp, clear relief of the current quiet. 

It’s one thing to have an intellectual understanding of our car dependency. It’s another to stand, as I did on Day 1, at an utterly ordinary, utterly empty neighborhood intersection waiting — goodness knows why — for the walk signal to cross one, two, three . . . nine lanes of road. The sheer expanse of asphalt, revealed in its abandonment, is breathtaking.

(Upside: It’s a great time to ride a bike.)

Looking up from the road, there is a special acuity to the vistas in these quiet days. Springtime in Colorado always brings snow to Pikes Peak, cleansing winds that flush out the air, and the brightest blue skies of the year. The mountains pop like sparkling jewels this time of year; the diminished road traffic and general hush seem to have sharpened the effect. 

In a time of fear and uncertainty, we are provided a glorious backdrop. I dread to think of the mood that would set in if this long-term, mass quarantine had been imposed in November, when we would have to confront weeks of the coldest, shortest days of the year. As it is, at least we have the ability to get out and walk or ride in the gradually improving spring weather, and maybe even revel in the reduced competition with motor vehicles.

Introspection is the order of the day, and I’ve had my share of deep thoughts (What’s with the toilet paper? This is a respiratory disease). Anyway, I am a person of faith, and the sudden confinement and solitude necessary to combat COVID-19 certainly has provided a reason, and the space, to wonder on the purpose God has for this moment. 

As it happens, I’ve been reading Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, and his ebullience during a difficult time offers plenty to reflect upon today. Imprisoned in Rome and uncertain whether he faced liberation or a martyr’s death, he scarcely had a preference. “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content,” he wrote.

Gratitude can seem out of reach during this pandemic. Even before such a brutal fact of nature confronted us, it felt borderline irrational to even seek gratitude in the face of our bad-faith politics, our stacked-deck economy, our imperiled climate, and long list of other injustices. Gratitude for what, exactly?

For the quiet. For the time. For the fresh eyes to see our familiar surroundings in a new way. For those close to us, with whom we are suddenly so desperate to connect.

Or maybe just for a warm spring day and a box of chalk:

After I snapped these photos, a small dog on a long, slack leash trotted by.

Jeff Thomas is a former editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs.