Outside my closed, local gym, there sits a box of oranges and lemons. The sign, scribbled in pen on a flap of the cardboard, says “Virus-free fruit. Help yourself.” There’s a plastic bag containing other plastic bags. Another message that says, “if you are taking the last of them, please throw away the box.”
Do you take some? Do I?
Like many decisions nowadays, this one is more fraught than it might have been last month. What might have been a simple thumbs up or down is now a long-winded, circuitous debate that my brain has with itself. It’s an inner roundtable discussion.
Enabled by the outbreak, nurtured by the ensuring isolation, the inner talks are increasingly frequent, frantic, and freakish. Personal risk management, faith in community, love for humanity, resistance to disease, paranoia, and the taste of fresh squeezed orange juice, among other concerns, are discussed at random and at length. The conversation is a baggage carousel. The viewpoints are bags. Around and around they go.
For the first few weeks of the pandemic, when social distancing was a new thing that officials stood behind podiums to define, I smiled at the implementation and optics of the policy here in southwestern Colorado. In Montezuma County, there are 25,000 people over 2,000 square miles. That’s about a dozen people per square mile. One can be hard-pressed not to be socially distant. I even worked on a pandemic T-shirt.
With about a dozen others, I live on a four-mile, dead-end dirt road. We see each other rarely, mostly when we drive past and wave. Town is nine miles away. Now that the gym and the library are closed, my already limited interactions with fellow humans are at Pete Loyd’s grocery store and the post office.
On the surface, life has not changed dramatically. Alone, I write and edit. I work online. I tend to horses and dogs. I eat and exercise.
But beneath the surface, I’m preoccupied with the health and well-being of family and friends. I noodle over my finances, the future, and the future of my finances. While my hikes used to be silent and welcome reprieves from a day’s busyness, I now fill them with phone conversations.
When I’m with my horses, I’m struggling to be really there. With all my writing and publishing around how now is the perfect time to embrace your horses, to ride, groom, and hug your horses, I’m hyper-aware and self-conscious:
Look at me, spending time with my wonderfully therapeutic horses, my brain says. And around the carousel we go:
— Relax. Focus on your horsemanship. Get softer with your nervous horse, Barry.
— But there’s a veritable pandemic going on! I couldn’t fly to see my kids if I tried. The end is nigh!
— Spring is coming. Look at the grass coming up.
— F*ck the grass. When the horses are turned loose, to roam freely in the post-pandemic apocalypse, the new pasture grass won’t matter.
— Maybe I’ll check my phone again.
— Barry is waiting and watching. He’s bobbing his head lower. He’s relaxing.
— If only I could be more horse and less human.
I get headaches, probably because I spend too much time using my phone, scrolling Instagram, texting, checking emails. It’s bad for posture, eyes, and peace of mind. Screen time has been creeping up to more than three hours a day, the phone tells me.
To shake it off, I dedicate Sunday to carpentry. It would not be a few hours of distraction, chipping away at the long To Do list. It would be a whole day of mud, cold weather, and physical labor dedicated to constructing a custom, homemade chicken coop (Yes, like so many others, I have darling, weeks-old pullets who will soon need a place to live and lay).
Some time ago, as a single mom, I worked in the trades, swinging a hammer and wielding power tools. I learned to dig post holes, build walls, floors, shelves, and rivet a roof. I’m constructing the coop completely with used materials, mostly from a rotting gazebo I disassembled last summer and from old pasture fencing and fixtures.
The pièce de résistance? The hens’ door, complete with smooth-moving hinge and raccoon-proof fastener. The hinge is from an old pasture gate. It is massive, galvanized, triangular, and covers most of the 12-inch door width. I am calling it the Game of Thrones door.
The end of the day comes quickly. As the sun sets, I sit on the porch and drink a beer. I watch my dog, Monty, as he watches the horses. Later, I walk the road in the dark and feel snowflakes on my face. Still later, I sit near the wood stove and make a round of calls to family.
I took some oranges and lemons. The fresh-squeezed juice and tea with lemon and honey were novel and delightful. Tomorrow, I’ll make lemon squares or maybe lemonade.
Maddy Butcher has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and High Country News. She is the author of “Horse Head: Brain Science and Other Insights.” She lives in Mancos.
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