By: Cathy Salter
This April has been unlike any other in our collective memory. Three weeks into April, the world remains in the grip of a coronavirus pandemic and staying home has become the most widely accepted path for flattening the curve. Because we are all in this together, we literally mask our fear and wear latex gloves on rare occasions when we venture out. What once was normal social behavior—hugging, shaking hands and interacting in large groups—no longer is in today’s Covid-19 reality. In our time of isolation, the mindful poetry of Mary Oliver surfaces serves as meditation as we try to keep breathing. So this is how you swim inwards. So this is how you flow outwards. So this is how you pray. After weeks at home just with Kit and our cat Fanny, I experienced a close encounter that challenged my stay at home resolve. A dull pain under a tooth that has been quietly doing its job without complaint suddenly demanded my full attention. What to do, I pondered. But not for long, because pain moves one to action. Dental offices are temporarily closed in this time of coronavirus caution, but my dentist Dr. Bryan Foote responded to an email on a quiet Saturday morning and three days later saw me in his office and determined my problem. I needed antibiotics for an infection followed by a root canal. A week later, I was in another dental chair looking up at endodontist Ivan Larsen at Missouri Dental Specialists. The last thing I wanted during a global pandemic lockdown was a dental procedure necessitating close contact with a dentist and his assistant. A root canal involves Novocain injections, multiple X-rays, a tray-full of scary tools and water-suction tubes—all of which at some time or another during the hour-plus long procedure ended up in my mouth. Not exactly the social distancing model America’s most trusted coronavirus advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has touted for weeks. Reader, I survived that root canal and am grateful for the two masked dentists who came to my rescue. Compared with the pain being experienced by everyone in the world whose lives have been touched in some way by this terrible pandemic, a root canal is nothing. Days later, we received the sad news from Madrid that our son’s father-in-law, Marcos Martin, had suddenly succumbed to the coronavirus after one night in a hospital. The Martin family is in shock at the stunning loss of this beloved man our grandson Nico describes as “a mighty oak.” When the time is right, we’ll plant a Missouri oak that years from now will be a mighty remembrance of both the man and the moment we lost him. Most days, I walk the path around our meadow, ending up in our orchard to experience up close the emergence of pastel blossoms on the fruit trees—crabapple, apple, quince, cherry, pear, plum, peach and nectarine. In early April when temperatures reached a record high in the 80s, pastel blossoms popped open on every tree. Just days later, ice formed overnight on Fanny’s outdoor water bowl, asparagus spears temporarily halted their rise and tender potted plants that had recently been sunning outdoors were moved back inside. Last week, I experienced a close encounter of another kind here at the Creek. On a busy day at our thistle feeders, a goldfinch flew into our kitchen window. Seconds later, I reached a stunned goldfinch on the ground below the window. For the next 15 minutes, I held the tiny bird in my closed hands. Initially in shock with its beak parted and eyes barely blinking, it showed no resistance to being held. As we stared at each other, I stroked its brilliant yellow feathers and traced the narrow black on white pattern on its wings. Eventually, it blinked and flexed its feet—both good signs. When I opened my hand, it showed no signs of fear or permanent injury. Like me, it had survived a close encounter with pain; and sensing that, it flew away. This month, notable moments have connected me to the world beyond our creek. Easter morning, Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli performed solo in the Duomo cathedral in Milan. Viewed globally on YouTube, the world came together for a moment of amazing grace. We’ve had Zoom conversations with friends in Los Angeles and my book club. Kit is teaching an Osher class via Zoom from his studio at home. For daily exercise, I take YouTube dance classes at the ballet barre in my studio. While our branch library remains closed, we voted online for the Daniel Boone Library’s September 2020 “One Read” author and book (deadline April 24). As April marches bravely on and a riot of redbuds fills the woods, two deer pass through the orchard without making a sound. In the silence that characterizes our days while sheltering, the words of poet Mary Oliver can be heard across the land— “What can we do but keep breathing in and out, modest and willing, and in our places?” Cathy Salter is a geographer and columnist who lives with her husband, Kit, in Southern Boone County at a place they call Boomerang Creek.