Seeking peace

For the last 25 years we have lived a few miles from Sheridan Lake, a reservoir in the hills that provides a wonderful place to paddle small boats. There are a few folks who have pontoon boats and even some large motorboats on the lake, but I suspect that they get a bit bored because their craft are designed for bigger waters. The lake, however, is just right for a canoe. I can paddle all the way around the shoreline, looking into the little nooks and crannies, watching the birds and beavers and shore creatures and viewing the sunrise from just the right perspective. I haven’t been paddling this year, however. We have been focusing on walking every day and for the time being walking has replaced paddling in my exercise regimen.

We went to the lake yesterday and walked around the roads of the campground. It is a way to be out in the forest without having to deal with mud, something that we thought might be present as it snowed the day before. We were the only people in the area, so our physical distancing exceeded the CDC guidelines by thousands of feet.

The geese, however, had not been paying attention to the rules of physical distancing. They were congregated in groups on the shore and in the water with little distance between them. Geese often don’t pay attention to “rules.” There are several electronic devices all around Sheridan Lake that are designed to discourage geese from hanging out in the public picnic areas and beeches. As far as I can tell they must have forgotten to tell the geese what they are there for. I’ve seen a gaggle of geese surrounding one of the devices like it was just another goose. They seem to congregate and leave their fertilizer wherever they want all around the lake.

The ice hasn’t been out of the lake for very long but the geese seem to know when it goes out and arrive even while there are some large chunks floating in the lake.

Humans, however, are paying attention to the pandemic and the threats that it poses. At the campground there are barricades across the roads that are used to indicate that the campgrounds are closed. The barricades go up every fall when the water is drained from the system and the pit toilets are locked up for the winter. Those barricades now have signs attached to them, carefully printed and laminated to withstand the spring weather. The signs inform people that the campgrounds remain closed and that the National Forest Service cannot guarantee “A Covid-free environment.”

We were not asking them for such a guarantee as we walked around the campground, knowing that while the geese gather closely among their own kind, they are unlikely to allow us to approach within six feet and that our shoes touching the road being the only contact with surfaces, it is probably safe to smell the pine trees and feel the wind on our faces and walk up a few hills that get our heart rate up. We walked a couple of miles around the area and enjoyed the feeling of having it all to ourselves.

While I think there is little to no risk of walking win the parks, we do see more people. The folks walking in the park are observing physical distance rules and give each other plenty of space. Our city has a lot of park space and the paths are six feet wide in many places. In other places, it is easy to step off of the path to give another person a bit of space. With all of the businesses that are temporarily closed, even taking a walk in the downtown area doesn’t pose a danger of coming too close to other people.

I know several people who have given up going outside of their homes. They have groceries delivered and keep in touch with others over the phone and computer. As is true of so many other topics, we are not of one mind as to the bet way to defend the health of others and protect ourselves from infection. But we are a community that is fairly tolerant of folks who are different from ourselves.

Of course physical distancing isn’t an option for those who are dependent upon the Rescue Mission for their meals or the Hope Center for a place to get inside during the day. If you live on the streets, your social rules are different from those observed by people who own private homes and have plenty of space to themselves. Privacy doesn’t come easily to those who are homeless. I see them walking around the town and in the parks and know that they do a lot of walking.

Wendell Berry wrote “The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

In the midst of all of the changes of our culture that have been brought about by this pandemic and the fear that is circulating in our community, we all have to learn new ways of seeking peace and grace. For me the peace of wild things is part of calming my soul. I go to the lake to watch the geese or to the park to feel the breeze or to the hills to smell the pine trees and I am reminded once again that this world continues to be a place of great beauty and deep healing.

And sometimes I worry for those who are shut up in their homes afraid to go out.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!