I once read a book about a man who spent a winter alone on a sailboat frozen into the sea somewhere off the coast of Canada. Every day of the long Arctic winter he would walk out into the darkness, as far away as he could go, out beyond where he could no longer see the boat, where the footprints of hungry polar bears marked the snow. He did this to ensure that his tiny, musty boat would feel like a refuge and not a prison.
I think of this story every day when, around noon, I hoist myself off the sofa, take a shower, get dressed in the most brightly colored outfit I can fashion, and go for a walk. I don't walk away from our house but rather circumnavigate it, making one, two, three loops on the woods trail that runs around our property. One week into social distancing, I don't yet feel confined in our house (I'm pretty good at staying home, despite what my family members might think). But the idea of refuge is very much on my mind.
I think, too, of people in literal prisons and those in the concentration camps at our southern border, for whom social distancing is impossible and for whom COVID-19 will spell disaster. I think of people trapped in homes with dangerous people or just too many people for health and sanity. I feel fortunate that I have so much room to roam, both indoors and out, and yet at the same time I feel unbearably anxious—that every sneeze or tickle in my throat means I've got the virus, that all those people in all those unsafe situations are suffering, that our government is failing us catastrophically.
I walk that loop of trail until my brain derails from the loops of negative thoughts, when I nearly step on a woodcock, blending so perfectly with the dead leaves of the trail, or when I hear the high-pitched tsssp-tsssp sound of kinglets in the trees or a wood frog chuckling in the swamp. There are no deadly polar bears or sub-zero temperatures out there to drive me to the safety of home. On the contrary, spring's slow reveal is a reassurance that nature hasn't changed, that everything is going to be okay, if only for a little while.