A few days ago, I went grocery shopping. I hadn’t been anywhere for weeks. The big university town to which I had commuted every day for work, shopping, and socializing has receded from my horizon with eerie swiftness. In the grip of the pandemic, businesses have closed their doors, my office among them, and the seemingly endless crowds of people have vanished, sequestered in their homes. I found myself contemplating the risk to reward ratio of venturing out for food, and while I chuckled over my sudden disinclination to tackle such a simple, everyday task, the fear was real. A primal situation had arisen in which a virus, instead of a sabre-toothed cat, lurked behind every shrub (or, in this case, behind every market door). In need of provisions, I buckled up and drove to town. Once busy thoroughfares were deserted, no pedestrians jostled at crossings, and the beautiful day was as still as a stage set awaiting actors.
Inside the market, people were quiet and intent on their tasks. We all observed a safe distance, those who could get them wore masks, everybody waited patiently behind the taped lines on the floor at checkout counters while clerks disinfected every surface. The mood was one of concern and discomfort at our (greatly adjusted) proximity, but I saw only friendly smiles and nods. There was a great, concerted effort among shoppers and workers to be courteous and kind. Every one of us felt the shivery finger of fear, hunted by an invisible predator that could at that very moment be lurking in our midst. Perhaps it had already battened on a victim or two…how would any of us know? But we did not cower. We attended to our necessary errands, observed what precautions we could, and smiled warmly, glad in the end to see one another.
The following day, I sat in my garden with yellow forsythia blossoms blazing around and over me like a galaxy of stars. Flowering quince waved fat pink buds and lilacs thrust their slender green-tipped fingers into the blue. I took my dinner there, thankful for the good nourishing food procured the day before despite grim thoughts of contagion. The air was alive with the flurry and chatter of birds, busy about their annual labor of nest-building. I cannot imagine a more social group of creatures, nor one that derives such joy from mere conversation or from preening in the spring warmth. Yet, not an hour before my peaceful meal, I had stood happily in the sun in my driveway talking with my neighbor, standing in the sun in his driveway. We talked of houses and history, village life then and now, the routines and traditions of those two social mainstays of rural places – the volunteer fire company and the farmers’ grange. We are not so unlike the birds after all in our appreciation of nature’s simple bounty or in the satisfaction of sharing it with like-minded individuals.
The serene wisdom of home and garden states that the heart rests contentedly in slow time. The many small tasks that propel us down the hours are sweet when we allow ourselves frequent moments of quiet to reflect on what we most cherish. When we allow ourselves to be soft and receptive to the elegant, uncomplicated blessings that soothe us. For me, it is this garden readying itself for further bloom, a one-pot meal with a little spice, a cup of rich coffee. It is sitting among the friendly trees, observing the sinuous grace of the maple with her arms raised to call the birds, poised like a ballerina on a purple carpet of hyacinth. It is this village where the earth holds centuries-old memories of crops and harvests. There is no place here for fear, whatever may come. There is only a house of Sweet Dreams and a woman with a pen, recording them.