Note: I thought it was a year ago that we closed our doors to the world. But it was actually March 14th, 2020, that this post was written and I take that as the anniversary of our year in (mostly) isolation. The other day I began an essay titled “The Year” and am struck by how much happened and how little happened. I was kind of surprised to read the bit about how we’d swum that day and that our pool would remain open. March 14th was in fact the last day it was open until September when under strict protocols, swimmers were able to book a 45 minute swim, with a few others, and I am so grateful for the luxury of my thrice-weekly swim. In the blue water, by the big window, the world seems almost normal.
The house is quiet. For the past week I’ve listened to the news almost constantly, feeling a little pulse of anxiety or fear each time there were updates of Covid-19 cases, both on the west coast where I live or in any of the cities where loved ones live. Entire countries are locked down. I know the world has experienced pandemics in the past and I have no doubt they were just as frightening and serious. (On my desk, I have copies of death certificates for my relatives who died in 1918 in the Spanish flu epidemic…) Somehow our immediate access to news, to events as they unfold, makes us, or me at least, feel that this one is worse. It certainly occupies a huge space in the collective consciousness.
A younger friend called earlier today to ask if we needed him to buy groceries for us. He wasn’t sure how isolated we were, or wanted to be. I thanked him, his kindness very welcome, but said we were fine. I think we are. We live about 15 minutes from a village with two grocery stores and a pharmacy; there’s a health centre a few minutes from the village. 45 minutes away is a larger town, though just last week we laughed as we drove into it because we noticed a sign (a new one?) indicating “City Center”. The population is about 10,000. There’s a hospital, a couple of grocery stores, a book store, several pharmacies, a few places to eat, a library, and other small-town services. Many of these are along one street and I guess that was where you’d end up if you followed the sign to the City Center. We tend to go to the larger town once a week and our nearby village a couple of times a week. So far it’s seemed safe. No one we know has become sick. The local pool is still open and just this morning we swam, though we were the only ones there. This is not uncommon on a Saturday morning, though. When our family in Ottawa called today, they said that pools, libraries, and museums are all shut down or about to be; schools and daycares too. They said they were wishing they could come to B.C. for a couple of weeks, and wouldn’t that be nice? The little boys could come swimming with us and their dad could help with firewood.
What does it mean to isolate yourself, to enter into a state or place of isolation? The Oxford definitions are interesting.
(Mass noun) The process or fact of isolating or being isolated.
(As a modifier) Denoting a hospital or ward for patients with contagious or infectious diseases.
(Count noun) An instance of isolating something, especially a compound or microorganism.
Elsewhere, I found this etymological information about the word:
“standing detached from others of its kind,” 1740, a rendering into English of French isolé “isolated” (17c.), from Italian isolato, from Latin insulatus “made into an island,” from insula “island” (see isle (n.)). English at first used the French word (isole, also isole’d, c. 1750), then after isolate (v.) became an English word, isolated became its past participle.
Sometimes I tell people we live in an isolated area. We do. We have no immediate neighbours. We see no other houses from our house. We have 8.5 acres and we live on a cleared area on one part of that acreage, surrounded by deep woods. Mostly I don’t feel isolated. I’d say, rather, that I feel private. When I work in the garden in good weather, I have the windows and doors open (though screened) so that I can hear music coming from the house. It can be as loud as I want it to be. I like the pure darkness at night.
But to have to isolate ourselves? That’s another thing. We would be fine for quite a long period because I have a good larder—the freezer is full to the brim with berries, fish, meat, soups, broths, boxes of filo pastry, still a couple of pies from the fall, and the shelves in the porch that serves as our pantry are laden with jams, jellies, chutney, salsa, and various other preserves. We have lots of dried beans and rice and lentils. Big bags of flour and other grains. A good quantity of wine. In the garden earlier, I was looking to see what could be planted and where and I rescued a couple of red cabbages that were gnawed on by deer last fall when a bear broke the garden fence. I’d left the cabbages and forgot about them but they recovered quite nicely, though they’re misshapen. (Tomorrow I’ll cook them with apples and some red-wine vinegar.) There’s kale, tiny shoots of miners lettuce, perennial greens like chicory, buck’s horn plantain, dandelions. The chives are up. There’s parsley, other herbs, and the garlic is looking quite robust as it bursts forth from under its mulch of leaves. I planted lettuce and arugula in one of the boxes John built a few years ago. They’re like cold frames, I guess, but with old sliding windows on the south-facing sides, plexiglass panels to put on top when it’s cold, and chicken wire on the other three sides, to keep deer out. (The boxes aren’t in the fenced vegetable garden.) The peas I planted inside are nearly ready to go into their bed and tomato seedlings are coming along.
What I have, and what John has, is work to do. Our own writing, the garden, various repairs. We can go long periods without seeing people and it doesn’t feel strange. Unless it’s mandated. Unless we’re forced to stay home because nowhere is safe.
Tonight we’ll go out to Egmont to have supper at the Backeddy Pub because it’s still open and who knows what will happen next week. Sometimes we see whales from the window there. There’s a woodstove, like at home. I hope that everyone who is sick with this virus recovers, I hope that our health care systems withstand the stresses, I hope that those who are alone have enough to read, enough to eat, and that we all find ways to care for each other.