When the “shelter in place” began in California in 2020, I expect that most of us thought that if we just closed down for a few weeks, we’d be able to get back to our real lives. And so we sheltered. Here in Northern California, the winters are often mild, and many winters, there is not even much rain – until this year, of course, a record-setting year for rain. So in the late winter and the spring of 2020, we stayed close to home, enjoying our yard in the city. In the evenings, before sunset, Jeff and I would often drive through Oakland, seeing neighborhoods we rarely saw, enjoying the one freedom we had. We ordered our groceries delivered to us. We felt privileged – which we are – with a studio in the back of the garage for Jeff, and the room I call “my little study” down a flight of stairs from the kitchen.
Still – how to pass the hours, multiplying into weeks and months? We didn’t take to going to worship online, and so we began to leave our house early on Sunday mornings to find places to walk. Both being retired, a Sunday morning to spend as we wished was a luxury. And we counted: over the course of many months, we walked at least 15 neighborhoods in San Francisco. We walked up hills. We walked down hills. We walked through streets that were mostly empty of other people. We walked and we talked.
We walked, again and again, on the paths that line the Martinez Slough, high tide and low tide. We walked and we talked.
As time went on, we invited friends over to enjoy our yard with us. We brought dinners out to them on paper plates, and we often sat, dressed in sweaters and even coats, until the light of the day was passing away.
I had a large plastic box of decades of photos from my lifetime – and from the decades before my lifetime – on a high shelf in the garage. Jeff brought the box out to me in the yard, and I sat in the sun and sorted almost a centuries’ worth of photos, some black and white, some formal, some taken on a whim. I looked closely at each one, the time stretching before me into some unknown future, and then, the past stretching behind me. Some of the photos I mailed to my sister in Hawaii, others I sorted again into large folders that now fill a drawer of the wooden file cabinet in my study.
Like so many others, we think back on three years of the world’s living with COVID-19, and it’s hard to believe we did it. We learned to live with the virus, and we are grateful that we didn’t contract the virus until it was less severe than news reports talked about in the beginning, when health care across the world struggled. And our own world grew in a way, as we discovered places in our own community.
It’s a relief that the world has moved on to a different place, with COVID-19 a regular resident of the planet, along with the rest of us.
Walking through the Pandemic: San Francisco 11/2022
photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert