The Caldron of Sheltering-in-Place

Sheltering-in-place, five months now, has become a kind of caldron, one in which I contemplate things about my life I had not had time to notice. The pace has slowed, reminding me of my midwestern roots in rural Illinois. Why does time seem larger and longer on those grids of flat farmland? Is it because there is no traffic and the distances are shorter? There seems to be less complexity, but would I feel that way if I lived there now? I don’t know. 

The forest floor announces summer’s end even in July. By the beginning of August, poison oak’s delicate crimson leaves have faded to pink and then moth pale. When this started, the first leaves were just pushing, that stage that it is said you can eat a leaf a day, starting when tiny, and develop immunity. (I don’t do this.) We still thought it would rain more when this began. I thought the sheltering-in-place would last maybe two weeks— or two months. On March 5, we celebrated Donald’s birthday at one of our favorite restaurants. We haven’t eaten out since.  

These five months I have walked the driveway of our ranch, back and forth, back and forth, to get in my four or five miles each morning. The highlights of the day include the piece of rattlesnake the hawk accidentally dropped in front of me when I surprised it while it was lunching in the grass, or the cloud of hatching, tiny winged beings as the sun hit the leaf litter, or the heat of the day at 10 am when I walk a little too late. The meetings I attend, I attend on Zoom. My Prius’ electric 27-mile allowance almost never is reached; I filled the gas tank once since February. Our food is delivered. 

I have more time to notice what else is here, more time for concern about the coastal oak and madrone we are losing to sudden oak death. More time to garden and to preserve the fruit of the orchard we planted 12 years ago, and pick the wild plums planted by birds and deer throughout the years.

Our “bubble” includes my sons’ families: we are in agreement about a rather strict protocol of protection. My youngest son’s family lives on the ranch; the other lives with us half a week while he and his wife work from home (here) on Zoom and we take turns caring for their daughter, born at the beginning of this. This adds so much happiness. It also steeps me in urgency for their future: for our country’s democracy, for our climate.

This is where the caldron comes in: all of this is in the pot together: the sweetness of children and grandchildren and our future generations; the fact our well is more compromised after this year of historic dryness;  the fact that more wineries and vineyards are being permitted while neighbors run out of water; the disproportionate suffering the pandemic has caused non-white populations; the fear that the corruption and hatred in our country, the lying, and self-interest, will prevail. 

We are faced with the worst and the best of ourselves. In alchemy, you hold it all in there together, and with the right attention, God willing, something comes of it that you cannot imagine. You can’t make it happen, you can only tolerate the suspense in the act of witnessing, even if you don’t like what you see. That is the act of caldron. 

My friends report (on Zoom) of depression setting in. I feel that too. In this caldron, things warm up, and it isn’t fun. But it is important we endure anyway. This time is not forever but it requires caring for ourselves and for others by wearing masks, socially distancing,  staying put as much as possible, and witnessing. What we do affects everyone. Perhaps that is the message of this time.  Busyness distracts. One hopes we will come out of this a little more caring and aware of how much we are interconnected.