How To Beat The Virus Without Feeling Like a Prisoner

Sheltering in place isn’t easy for any of us, but there are ways to maintain some semblance of normalcy without feeling like prisoners in our own homes.


the virus: social distancing

On Sunday, I was sitting at home with Nemo, my cat, minding my own business and practicing social isolation. (How’s that for an oxymoron?)

As a single man, I’m accustomed to being alone, but I am not good at being forced to participate in the sort of unprecedented paradigm shift into social disintegration we are experiencing now.

I had two options: Stay at home and fret over our current situation, or do something positive to take my mind off it. So I went for a hike. Because, you know, nature and stuff. Nature is still open, by the way. It’s one of the few places that still is — at least until they impose martial law over all civilian functions. God help us all if that happens because it will be the precursor to anarchy.

I wasn’t alone. The people I met on the trail were cordial and polite, as were their dogs (lots of dogs), unlike those antisocial souls at Target yesterday, all of whom seemed convinced that everyone except them was a carrier of the plague. No one spoke, but rather, scooted past each other in the aisles, eyes averted, like the only surviving humans in a zombie apocalypse. It was weird. If you’ve been to a store lately, you know what I mean.

With a new lumbar pack and trekking poles in need of breaking in, I headed up from the parking lot at the NHMU. I have been told that you can access the reservoir at the top of Red Butte Canyon on a particular trail, and I’m embarrassed to admit that in spite of living here my entire life, I hadn’t attempted it until now.

Once you leave the sheltering stands of scrub oak, the hillside above the U of U opens into wide and undulating vistas, not unlike the moors of Scotland, but not as green. Standing on a rocky outcrop overlooking a seemingly dead Salt Lake City was a surreal experience. Even the usual rush and roar of I-15 was strangely silent, and it was easy to imagine that my fellow hikers and I were the only survivors of an extinct civilization, left to forage and fend for ourselves in the sparse and quiet foothills; the victims of an invisible enemy. A tad dramatic I know, but that’s how it felt.

Yes, COVID-19 is a crisis; the news is frightening; even the word pandemic is terrifying. People are dying. The economy is faltering. The world is closed.

None of us alive today has ever lived through anything like this, and we’re scared. That’s normal. It’s even healthy because it forces us to take greater precautions than we otherwise would. But scientists are actively seeking a vaccine, and we can all do our part by not congregating, and by isolating ourselves if we don’t feel well. It won’t last forever, but it could last for a while.

To paraphrase the immortal Bugs Bunny, I should have taken a left at Albuquerque. The trail took an unexpected turn, and I never did find the reservoir, but I did revel in the opportunity to feel the sun on my back, the blood in my veins, and arrive instead at the optimistic conclusion that despite social distancing (or maybe because of it), society is going to weather this storm and be even more united when the skies finally clear.

There is nothing normal about our current situation, so do something that feels normal. Go outside. Go hiking. Go for a walk. Walk the dog. Walk the neighbor’s dog. Ride your bike. Go to the park. Wash your car. Do yard work. Just keep a respectful distance from others. Some people have abused the privilege of being outdoors by gathering in groups of more than 10, or by overwhelming a particular park, trail or canyon.

Sheltering in place isn’t easy for any of us, but there are ways to maintain some semblance of normalcy without feeling like prisoners in our own homes. As long we stay within common sense perimeters, chances are we’ll be just fine.

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