Normally we would be eating together, Kathy sitting on Wanda’s bench seat while I cook dinner, Bonnie Raitt singing through my Bluetooth speaker, with Riley curled up on the front passenger seat keeping an eye out for potential danger or excitement, and his canine buddy, Viva, snuggled up next to Kathy. I always love cooking for Kathy when we’re on an adventure together. At first we had an agreement that I would cook if she bought the food and washed the dishes. That was when I was unemployed and in the middle of a year-long wandering in Wanda. Then it sort of became a pattern that worked for both of us. We’d meet up somewhere in the wilderness, she in her GMC truck with a pop up camper, and me in Wanda, and we’d check our Engel fridges to see what produce needed to get used up first, then I’d create something yummy for us to share. But now things are different.
“Mom, are you going to practice social distancing?” my daughter, Kira, texts when I tell her I’m meeting Kathy to go on a short camping trip. I detect a tone of reprimand in the words I read. This is a common occurrence in our adult relationship, as if she was the parent and I was the wayward child. Maybe in some ways I still am. Maybe I learned to be like that from my own wayward mother, who solo circumnavigated the world in her 30 foot sailboat…
“Of course, Kira. We’ll keep 6 feet apart from each other, stay in our own vehicles, and not share meals. We won’t even pet each others’ dogs.” I am sure I’m not taking any more risk for my own health than going to get groceries every week or picking up my mail at the Darwin Post Office each day. I am more concerned that I not bring anything from the outside world that could infect Kathy, who has been camping remotely for the past six weeks. She never went home after the shelter in place orders were given. Originally she and I were going to camp together for a couple of weeks in early April to chase spring wildflowers, which has become an annual event we enjoy now that we’re both retired, but she began the trip a couple weeks early so she could look for kit fox pups emerging from their dens in her favorite early spring camping spot.
And then the whole world shifted with the spread of a tiny, invisible-to-the-naked-eye bundle of genetic material. California’s governor ordered us all to stay at home except for essential needs. Kathy’s home is her camper, for now, located in the wilderness of Central California. Her son drives a couple of hours every two weeks from LA to bring her fresh food, dog food, clean clothes, and drinking water. He stays six feet away from her, doesn’t pet Viva, and makes sure everything is cleaned off before leaving it with her, plus he works from home so rarely gets out in the world of potential infection.
This decision was not an easy one for me to make. Was I taking a risk of spreading anything to myself or others? Would my Darwin neighbors feel uncomfortable with me coming back into town after traveling across the state? I knew some would judge me as being reckless in my behavior. How could I justify leaving my home for three days during the pandemic we were all navigating? As I wound along the country roads across California on my five hour drive, I thought of excuses in case I got pulled over and asked what I was doing so far from home. I had to deliver medication for my friend’s dog who’d been stuck in the wilderness (actually it was flea and tic preventative tablets). I had an important doctor’s appointment in Santa Cruz and this seemed like a safer route to take, though longer, so I needed to find a place to sleep and didn’t trust a motel (sort of true—though I cancelled that appointment two weeks ago). I couldn’t think of any other good excuses, so I looked deep inside and asked if I was in integrity with myself. My body answered with a deep sense of peacefulness and a strong longing to be in Nature with Kathy. I knew I was not taking an unreasonable risk, though I also knew that if everyone did what I was doing, the preventive measures being taken would not work.
The truth is that I wanted a break from the endless job of fixing up and moving into the house I’m buying (more on that in the next post…) and I longed for the loving presence of my close friend, Kathy, who always sees the light in me and helps me come back to believing in myself. I needed more than a phone call, and her reception was spotty anyway. She knows me better than anyone because I can share my deepest, darkest, and brightest self with her and know that she will still love me. She’s witnessed me bumble through three major relationships, an ugly divorce and two careers, as well as raise my children, try out different spiritual practices, and attended events where I celebrated myself. We even talk to our dogs in the same way. In the past month my life had been turned upside down and twisted in all directions (more on that in the next post) and I wanted my friend’s presence more than ever. Also, I craved the peace and beauty of being totally immersed in Nature, away from my new home’s never-ending repairs. To me that was essential business.
So I packed up Wanda while Riley watched intently to make sure he didn’t get left behind. I brought ready-made food from home so I would only need to stop to get gas, and I wore a mask to go to the bathroom, used my elbow or a paper towel to open doors, and washed my hands and used sanitizer after pumping gas and before touching my steering wheel. I knew I’d done the right thing when a brilliant orange glow on the right side of the highway caught my attention and I noticed an infinite field of California poppies dancing in the late afternoon breeze. I gasped in delight, pulling over to absorb all the beauty surrounding me. Flower energy infused my soul, reminding me that all of this life was still going on while we humans focused on stopping the pandemic spread of the feared coronavirus.
I’m not one to dwell in fear. It’s not like I push it away or ignore it, but when I become aware that fear is prevailing in my life—or in others I’m talking to—I breathe deeply, move my body in the ways I learned with Hendricks training to melt away any stuck or frozen or fainty qualities, and get curious about what’s really going on. When my son, Shawn, was 13 he wanted to do a fire walking ceremony, which I did with him. We learned that fear is False Expectations Appearing Real, so when we could watch someone walk across glowing coals and not get burned feet, it was our minds that told us it was impossible, sending adrenaline and flight or fight messages through our veins. I’ve heard it called our reptilian brain state. Instead, I breathe in a calm, expansive curiosity, move my body to regain a sense of flow, and then I can respond mindfully, rather than react nonsensibly, to what is happening. That’s how I’m feeling about the coronavirus. None of us can really know where all of this is going or how it will impact our society in the future. I choose to observe, listen to all perspectives, envision the kind of society I’d like to live in, and remain optimistic. There are very few things I really have any control over, and so I focus on the things I can control. That category is pretty small.
When I finally see Kathy’s camper up the road and around a bend, Viva comes racing toward Wanda to greet us. Riley begins whining, so I open the door and let him scramble over my lap to see his old friend. I refrain from hugging Kathy, though the air is thick with our joy in reconnecting. I stop myself just as I begin to give Viva an endearing ear rub. The question in her pleading eyes stabs my heart. We arrange our vehicles to block the prevailing winds and intense sun, but still maintain social distancing protocols, then sit six feet away from each other on a flower-carpeted hillside for three hours, drinking tea and watching the kit fox den she has been photographing for the past month. It’s time for the pups to emerge for their mid-morning pouncing and playing time. No pups appear, but we get to catch up on our lives and feel the warm glow of our deep and long-lasting friendship. I feel myself coming home, settling inside and glowing with aliveness and love. Being a wildlife photographer is one of my lifetime fantasy careers.
We eat separate lunches at opposite ends of my camp table (six feet apart), both take naps in our separate vehicles, then go for a late afternoon meander (six feet apart), so the dogs can exercise their noses in the many rabbit and rodent holes and we can treat our eyes to the lovely variety of flowers blooming. The sweet, heavy scent of pollen intoxicates me, and my boots are coated in yellow powder as I return to Wanda. As the setting sun hovers just above the distant mountains we say good night and go our separate ways to cook our separate dinners and go to bed. I miss the laughter and stories we would normally share while I cook, and how our shared meals taste so much better than the ones I cook and eat alone. I think I put more love in my food when I cook for others, or maybe it’s just her sincere appreciation that makes it taste so much better.
On our second day camping side by side, I finally see a kit fox. We are sitting about 50 feet away, but I can clearly make out its fluffy tail and agile fox body. She leaps in the air and takes off behind an ephedra bush, then crosses back in front of the den a few minutes later and disappears in the vegetation. It is a thrilling, though brief, moment. Adrenalin shoots through my veins, letting me know I am alive and fully present. This is what I came for: sitting next to my dear friend and sharing a magical moment in Nature. I hope Kira gets this about her wayward mother–it’s not that I like to break laws (though sometimes I do, if they don’t make sense to me), but these kinds of moments are what make my life meaningful. They calm my soul and feed my heart. I am part of the whole, and this is how I feel my connection.
What weird times we’re living in. I wonder how long the pandemic will last and how our lives will be forever changed as a result. The most challenging part is living in a time of not knowing the future, not being able to make plans, not knowing how many of us will be able to earn an income, or even how many and who will die from infection. I love how people are offering helpful resources (so many for free or choose your own price) and how I feel more connected to far away friends and family through Zoom calls. I worry some about the economic impacts, though I’m also hopeful that we will create new ways of living more consciously, adapting behaviors that in the big picture will be an improvement from our all-consuming, fast-paced, and disconnected from each other and Nature ways. I wish for all who read this blog some nourishing time in Nature, or whatever helps you come home to yourself. That may be one of the unintended gifts we discover from this experience.