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Thursday, May 7, 2020

Sheltering Far From Home

No, we are not open!
The only home we own is an old farmhouse in Leelanau County, Michigan. The Artist and I are 83 and 72 and still self-employed in side-by-side seasonal businesses in Northport, my bookstore and his studio/gallery. We came out to the Southwest in December, for a few months of “seasonal retirement” in a rented ghost town cabin, expecting to return home in the spring. Now spring is here, but for the present we are sheltering in place in Cochise County, Arizona, far from our Up North home. 

Family members and some friends urge us to stay where we are, understanding that we feel safe here and dread travel and that there is no real urgency calling for our immediate return. Other friends (a mix of the encouraging and the impatient) tell us that travel is no big deal and we should get right on the road and come home now. They say that -- although still others back home write letters to the editor of the county newspaper saying that “summer people” should not come north! 

Are “snowbirds” and “summer people” one and the same? I don’t think so. We are not “summer people”! But does the virus care? I doubt it. The way I’m pretty sure the virus sees it, travel is travel.

When we peruse the road atlas and read advice about where to find food and restrooms and overnight accommodations, we look up at each other nervously and ask, “What do you think?” Our car is old, our dog is old, and we are old. The decision to stay or go – that is, when to go – seems overwhelming.

Cochise County morning
Setting that troublesome question aside, our life here is peaceful. Yes, the days have heated up, but it is the famous “dry heat” we’ve heard about forever, and in the shade, with a gentle mountain breeze stirring the air, the hottest days are quite tolerable. At night, the high desert cools down quickly, and we welcome the onset of cool darkness. 

Never birders before, we have taken to putting out water and feeders and watching the passing parade at all hours of the day. On a regular basis we see finches and sparrows, cardinal and pyrrhuloxia, hummingbirds and ladderback woodpecker, the curved-bill thrasher, canyon towhee, and cactus wren. It’s big excitement when Mr. and Mrs. Quail come to visit or when Pete the Roadrunner hurries through the yard, as if late for some important engagement.

Gambel's quail


The Artist paints. I write. We both read. Now and then we must screw up our courage, don our masks, and make a run to the grocery store, hardware store, or (yikes!) laundromat. Otherwise, every day is pretty much the same, one “month of Sundays” now having segued into another. 

Back home in Michigan, it is the time of wildflowers in the woods, the lovely spring ephemerals. We are missing the gone-wild daffodils planted long ago by someone who lived in our old house way back when. Soon the grass will be ready to mow, and front porch season will be underway. I think of that porch with longing.

Porch shadows, Michigan

At the same time, we are enjoying more desert greenery than we have ever been here to see before, and a short evening drive only a few miles down the road gives us the opportunity to watch colors in the sky – the sky stretching above the grasslands, pressing against the mountains -- change gradually, imperceptibly, seamlessly from blue through all the warm colors of sunset and beyond, to star-pierced black of night. Next morning, we are wakened by a neighbor’s rooster and the lowing of cattle as close as our windows. Yes, there is a cow with a couple of little calves, right by our gate! I cannot express what joy and contentment the cattle bring, especially now, against the current social background of anxiety and existential dread.

We have been here another moon already
If we left the ghost town today and were home by the end of the week, we would face a 14-day quarantine, but I doubt I would feel comfortable opening my bookstore to the public after those 14 days – or that many of the public will be strolling up and down the streets of our little northern village and in and out of shops. I miss my bookstore and am anxious for its future. I don’t see myself going in the direction of online sales. It isn’t me. Then what? Right now, I have no clue

Here and now, anyway, far from home and bookshop, I can still read and write and share books with readers of my blog.  Because connecting readers to books and authors has always been the core of my mission as a bookseller, posting book reviews is my #1 mission at present. It’s something I can do that feels worth doing.

And so, day after day, we postpone our travel decision. The default is doing nothing, staying put. Deciding not to decide brings us relief from anxiety, temporary though that relief must be.

Dos Cabezas, AZ


Susan Och said...

There is certainly something to be said for sitting still and watching.

Mr G said...

Thanks for this, Pamela
Obviously it's totally up to you when to come back. You are comfortable there in beautiful surroundings. Susan and Lee are hanging tight enjoying the blooming desert sharing pictures. I'm sure that it's hotter where they are. All of my music has been canceled. Our quintet may just play for fun in a barn and distanced. We can kick it out. You'll know when it's time to head out. If I can do anything for you, let me know.

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Mr. G. Good to have news of Lee and Susan, also. And Susan O., thanks for the visit and comment. You were one of my early blogging inspirations, back in 2007.

BB-Idaho said...

With the caveat that my wife says my help is more of a hindrance, I checked with an old college acquaintance, who traveled by car from
Eloy AZ up to Seattle and enquired for any information. She replied
"Thanks for the letter. Yes, I am back in Sequim. I arrived two weeks ago. It took me three days and 1600 miles. My route was Highway 10 from Eloy to the AZ - CA border. At Blythe CA I went north to Needles and then West to Bakersfield in order to avoid going into Los Angeles. After an overnight at a nearly deserted Holiday Inn in Bakersfield, I started north on Interstate I-5 to Redding the second day. After another night at a nearly deserted Holiday Inn, I continued up I-5 to Tacoma. I turned west on Highway WA16 and arrived on Sequim at 6:15 PM. This is the best time I have ever made. This result is primarily due to the low traffic, mostly trucks, travelling the route. No slowdowns in Portland, Sacramento, or Tacoma.

Of course, things are now opening up and I am not aware of how the traffic is on the way to the Midwest. I know that the heat is pretty high in AZ, in Eloy - over 100F for the last few days. I talked with the man who cleans my yard at noon yesterday and he was ready for a siesta. I have no idea of the temperature where your correspondents are. The one thing I would suggest is that they carry their food and bottled water with them so they don't have to look for carry-out restaurants. It will limit exposure. I never stopped for any food."
There you have it: help or hindrance. Since only 6% of scientists are Republican, I was amused when she added.
"With a president who does not understand science and in particular, virology, and is generally incompetent, it is not too safe at this age to be wandering around outside." Now, you can help or hinder me
as a wordsmith: why is the town of Sequim pronounced "squim"?

P. J. Grath said...

BB, I've never heard of Sequim before. Why is Pierre (SD) pronounced PEER?

I don't feel much helped but am not at all hindered, either, so you have, as usual, contributed to my day's entertainment. Thanks!

And by the way, when temperature the other day was 101 in Tucson, it was 93 in Willcox and 87 here in our ghost town. Yesterday, the week's hottest day, it was up to 91 both here and in Willcox. -- But remember, it's a DRY HEAT! Really!

Dawn said...

I'm sure someone in Northport or the vicinity would be happy to mow your grass at the farmhouse. Other than that there doesn't seem to be a reason to hurry back. I'd be worried about finding bathrooms and husband is worried about the cleanliness of hotel rooms. I was thinking about going to Alabama but it doesn't look sensible right now. Even if I camped there'd be gas to buy, public restrooms to use. No use putting ourselves through that risk. But on the other hand...this could go on right into fall.

BB-Idaho said...

Dry Heat: true enough, having become accustomed to 100 plus Summers
in an arid part of the country, the dryness offers a couple of added benefits- cooler nights...and absence of mosquitos. This pandemic
thing isn't over by a long shot IMO, and its effect is significant
in many ways. The Dos Cabos area seems a good place to ride it out.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, you have hit on the big travel worries in our minds. I was thinking of expressways (which I normally hate) for rest areas but am now told the rest areas are all closed. Hotel rooms! I know, I know -- precautions, etc.

BB, we will probably stay here until "it's over," as that could be -- well, I won't even speculate. But for now, being here, we feel as calm and safe s we would be anywhere. Mosquitoes, no. Flies, though -- yes! :(

Walt said...

I think you've made a good decision (or non-decision), Pamela. Neither Marjorie nor I would want to make a trip like that at the moment, and we have a much newer car :)

The uncertainties of what is open, even if we were to ignore the uncertainties of the virus, keep us quite close to home. We only rarely go out to the local Tom's market, or risk picking up take-out food, and that's in the environment we know here in the Northport area.

re: Sequim (pronounced "squim"): It's certainly a good test to let a local know whether someone is a tourist or not. Much like Puyallup. However, as a former resident of WA for about 6 years, my guess for an actual answer is that both words are Native American. The common pronunciation is probably close to the original pronunciation, but not identical. And if I were to apply my scant knowledge of Indonesian to this question, I would guess that the "e" probably is pronounced by the Native Americans, but in an almost "swallowed" form that a non-native who is not a linguist would find hard to hear at all.

P. J. Grath said...

Walt, it's good to know you and Marjorie are keeping well and sane in Northport. That new, big studio space Marjorie has must be very welcome now! I like your speculation about the pronunciation of Sequim, too.

You can tell I am very old-fashioned in my preference for blogging and e-mail over tweeting and zooming. (Does one even use zoom as a verb, or is that incorrect? And should it be capitalized?) Sometimes, though, when I publish a blog post or send a letter out in an envelope bearing a U.S. postage stamp, it feels almost as if I'm tossing a note in a bottle from a deserted island after being shipwrecked, and I'm reminded of a little unpaid gig a friend and I had in high school, taking evening phone requests for pop songs at a local radio station. Sometimes no one called, and we just had to make things up. So much fun to have responses and know that you are all "out there"!

Stay safe!