Enjoy Summer In A COVID Kind Of World

Last week set the tone for early summer.

My neighbor invited me over to sit under the shade with a friend of his and have a visit. If there were an award for social distancing, my neighbor would be a contender. He’s rightfully careful about maintaining the recommended six feet of distance from others and he puts his chairs six-feet apart in the yard. He wears his mask when necessary and only makes pertinent trips outside of the house.

I wanted to bring a snack to share with them, so I whipped up some cheese and crackers on a plate, and grabbed three knives, some hand sanitizer and a tub of Lysol wipes.

What planet am I on? I asked no one in particular as I grabbed a mask and headed for the door.

Welcome to our Covid summer-a name I detest, to be honest. I much preferred the “Coronavirus” because it had a double meaning that pointed to some kind of fun. The only Corona I’d ever met was one I’d squeezed a lime into before drinking.

And then my mom asked if my husband and I would drive her to Barcelona one day to buy some smoked fish. She needed an “oka,” which is the Swedish name for a leisurely drive, but we might have made that up. I remember taking my Mom’s grandmother on Sunday okas, when we’d drive the whole way around the lake just to take in the sites. I was barely able to see my great-grandmother’s head above the front seat as I sat in back, winging our way through our oka. Maybe that’s why I never felt like I knew her very well.

So, we set off on our own oka minus the very short great-grandmother, of course, whom we lost many years ago, and it all felt a little foreign in a way. I haven’t been out of my neighborhood much and driving out past Mayville and Westfield felt like a commitment to six weeks on the Spice Route linking the Far East to the West on a camel.

We’d been in our bubble and driving to Barcelona was a bubble popper. There were four of us in the car, including my mom’s good friend, and we all assured one another that we’d been in one another’s presence enough that a car ride wasn’t a risky proposition.

Two of us had been tested for the virus, which had been negative, and two had barely cracked a window open to the free world in months, so we had a low risk assessment — one Dr. Fauci would be proud of.

It was a nice day, if not a bit chilly in the north wind, and once we got past Lakewood, we entered the tundra-those places we hadn’t accessed in a long time. We craned our necks to see what was going on out there, to see what the world looked like without us in it.

It was very quiet, not like any June day at the lake I remembered.

Everything looked the same, minus people. Minus people with their canoes tied to the roof of their cars. Minus people out galavanting around in their knee-length shorts and shades.

It’s so green this June and the rhododendrons are having one of their best years, and the landscape was ever more dramatic without cars and people to block the view. A bank of rhododendrons in front of someone’s house in Westfield was so spectacular that I thought it was more than a shame that no one was there to see them. Flowers are meant to be admired, but I am able to say, with all certainty, that if a rhododendron blooms in Westfield and no one is there to see it, it has still bloomed.

It was quiet in Barcelona. We peered into dark restaurants from the window looking for signs they were ready to spring back to life soon. There was no one at the beach, or taking pictures of the light house, or at the closed Sugar Shack buying syrup.

It was a bit like a dystopian movie, where a few people are walking around an empty world after the zombies have left, or the aliens, or the monster du jour. And, to tell you the truth, it was a bit sad.

Because I want onion rings, boat rides, fireworks, loganberry and hotdogs. I want summer to come marching back in all its glory because summer is a reward for staying alive the rest of the year, and because summer is meant to be loved and eaten like a whole watermelon in one sitting.

And I think it’s okay to mourn it. I think it’s okay to drive to Barcelona on an oka, Lysol wipes in hand and all masked up, and see the world as it is right now and mourn what isn’t ours to hold.

It was good to come home and sit on my porch again. We have built a nest here where we feel safe and comfortable. Somehow, inexplicably, the greater world has lost its importance. Our front porch is where our life is lived.

But when I close my eyes now, I can see those Westfield rhododendrons in my mind’s rear view mirror. It reminds me to keep my heart open to that faraway world just down the street.


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