Bear Lake. Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/For the Clarion)

Bear Lake. Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/For the Clarion)

Tangled Up in Blue: Shelter from the storm

I ran into a stranger while enjoying some spring skiing on Bear Lake last week.

I spent a warm spring morning skiing along the groomed trail of this large lake that I write about so often. In the distance, I spy this woman skiing up closer toward me and begin debating on the ways to keep my social distance.

Do I hop off the groomed trail? Will she? What if I have to sneeze at that exact moment? The worrier in me began to worry as she continued her collision course toward me until stopping within shouting distance and telling me about her week.

How many different ways are there to describe what we’re living through with the spread of the new coronavirus? I tend to favor “unprecedented times” when I think about the quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing and complete shutdown of the economy across the world because of global pandemic.

Luckily, these unprecedented times haven’t impacted my schedule too drastically. I already worked from home and don’t have kids that are suddenly home-schooled.

Sure, some big picture things have been upended, but the most evident impacts to my daily life have been the lack of espresso from Resurrect Art Coffee House and the dramatic decrease in visits to my local Safeway. I’m very lucky.

As this stranger skied toward me on the lake, I was struck by the largest impact of all — fear. I had never dreaded someone approaching me on a trail before, worried that she may not see the importance of social distancing.

But, this stranger on the lake did and maintained her 6 feet of distance through ski poles, and we dove into another intangible impact of unrelenting spread of COVID-19, loneliness.

She unraveled her saga of social distancing to me, and I was excited to hear it. She told me about her husband getting laid off, I countered with stories relayed from friends who were struggling with the online unemployment system. She told me about the ways they were looking at this as an opportunity. I replied: “That’s what we all have to do right now.”

She never told me her name, and I never told her mine. But for a brief few minutes we chatted, never sneaking past that 6-foot barrier. Amidst the vastness of the lake, we stumbled into each other but only bridged those last few feet by relaying how we were continuing our lives, however disjointed they may be.

These are how my conversations have been lately, a level of disconnect to maintain public safety. I’m happy to do it, happy to do my part in flattening the curve while fending off loneliness, but I won’t be the first person, and definitely not the last one, to say that I don’t love these unprecedented times. Dare I say, I hate it?

I hate being unable to greet a friend, even strangers, with open arms. I wish I was able to ski with more people, carpooling to and from our destination, sharing a beer or a meal afterward as a group. There are a lot of things we all wish we could do.

But, there is a silver lining — I’m lucky I got to ski on Sunday at all.

In New Jersey, where my family lives, boardwalks along beaches are being closed and restrictions are tighter than ever. I call my parents and hear about the upheaval of their daily routines and have to think, “How lucky am I?” I have the entire Last Frontier in front of me, to my left and right, with miles more than 6 feet in every direction.

And the strangers I run into along the way? We can still talk, share our stories, while keeping those two ski poles between us and reminding each other that this fear and loneliness will pass.


For the Clarion

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