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Monday, March 30, 2020

O, Isolation!

TRUTH TO TELL, there’s not much different going on here. Rural life has a built-in social-distancing factor, although that’s the thing that causes neighbors to crave any manner of get-together. Take the farm-supply store a half-mile down the road from me. It’s a long-established retail outlet that stocks every possible tractor-repair part, along with tools and boots and feed and hardware, and it draws customers from many miles around. But there have been days when you could raise a beard while waiting in line for the next cashier. My theory is that this is the first human contact some of the customers have had in many days, and they’re making the most of it. (You don’t count spouses or farmhands, of course; familiarity is conversation’s worst enemy.)

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Now the store, essential business though it has been deemed, is usually fairly empty and the line, if there is one, moves quickly. We’re getting ready for spring planting and need seeds and mulch, although this is something practiced here in a comparatively compact way. Around us, the farm tractors are disking wide furrows for the feed corn that dominates the late-summer landscape; here, a lone roto-tiller pushes through our unkind clay.

It’s not so rural here as to be without supermarkets and big-box stores, which perch about twenty minutes away in the struggling city of Amsterdam. But the supermarkets here (as have yours, I’m sure) are now limiting their hours and the hardware giants are limiting the number of customers allowed within, asking their overflow customers to wait in a well-spaced line, said spacing demarcated by PVC pipe sculptures reminiscent of a Christo installation.

Yet with the official start of spring have come actual hints of the season itself. The grimy, granular snow, which never reached an oppressive accumulation, is being washed away despite a few weak attempts at revival. Birdsong has increased. And the driveway that leads to our fields shows the surest sign: it has turned into a rutted mudhole.

What’s different is the start-of-spring scheduling. This is a time when it’s easy to get rid of outdoor debris, before the burdock and nettles obscure the view – indeed, it’s a time to try to get rid of burdock and nettles, neither of which I cook with, both of which inflict their seeds and/or pain when I’m among them. Usually my project-driven brain has me psychologically tied to my desk chair as I scramble to finish some cerebral project. Now I have so few of those facing me that it’s a joy to ramble in the chilly outdoors.

So our little paradise remains inviting – a paradise found, I suppose, as those sardined into cities have to grapple more directly with what’s around them. I have long regretted that I bypassed the chance to advance my career, such as it was, as a resident of Manhattan (or, more likely, an adjacent borough), but I’ve already been aging out of that desire as my stumblebum career continues to resist sprouting the wings I’d dreamed would soar me into fortune.

I’m pretty fortunate where I am. Fate? Some manner of divine plan? Not at all. Sheer dumb luck. I’ll take it.

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