A Droplet of Wild Hope from the Epicenter
Featured Image: Seattle from Bainbridge Island © Robert Long
By Paula MacKay
First the vibe changes. A city that prides itself on being chill suddenly becomes the hot zone, and your ears are on fire from the news.
Seattle’s Patient Zero spreads virus.
First US death occurs in Seattle.
Seattle has turned into a ghost town.
Then the closures and cancellations reach epidemic proportions. Concerts. Conferences. College campuses. Public schools. Everybody work from home. Nobody is safe from COVID-19.
Your quaint little island, a ferry ride from downtown, feels a bit like a refuge—until it does not. One case. Two cases. Okay, here we go.
You sing happy birthday to your hands a hundred times a day. You race through the market to stock up on food, buy extra bananas for your disabled twin. You call loved ones on the phone while you wipe down your groceries. You wipe down your phone, and also your dog, although you know the latter is probably silly. You practice social distancing—an oddly disquieting term you’d never heard of until three weeks ago. You hug your husband, a lot. You swear that, tomorrow, you’ll take a break from the internet. Mostly you worry. You worry about family and older folks around town. You worry that you’re no spring chicken yourself, despite your husband’s kind words. You worry about your newborn grandniece in Boston, whose middle name is Hope. You worry that hope itself will go extinct.
The world is in chaos. Everything has changed.
You walk in the woods, where heralding skunk cabbages bloom their bright yellow hoods.
You lift tired fern fronds from a mat on the ground to find the fresh curl of fiddleheads emerging beneath. You see the stalks of spring nettles growing free in your yard and you think, Oh good! We can steam away the stingers and eat greens tonight.
You hear the tuning-fork tones of varied thrushes at dawn and remember what sunshine feels like after a soggy Northwest winter.
You catch a familiar floral scent on the passing breeze and, for the life of you, can’t recall its botanical source. Who cares, you tell yourself. Just breathe it in.
You schedule lunchtime strolls six feet from your friends, plant cucumber seeds in small fiber pots, replenish the birdfeeder for the second time today.
You stop on the road to say hello to your 82-year-old neighbor, whose hazy eyes still sparkle as he shuffles toward home. I’m taking walks every day, he says. What else can I do?
Your own eyes water with the flush of spring pollen, and then, without warning, fill softly with tears. The trees keep on giving, and so must you.
From the beach near your house, you watch two bald eagles circle their nest—a tangle of dead branches that will soon brim with life. The eagles were soaring here last March, too.
You gaze across the sound at the Seattle skyline, which can seem almost tranquil from nine miles away. And beyond the tall buildings, the Cascade Range, a sinuous spine of solitude shedding its season of snow.
You imagine a black bear shaking loose from her torpor, her trio of cubs a chortling mob by her side.
You picture the gray wolves who have returned to this place, and the itinerant wolverines, wandering pathways of ice.
You can’t wait to be out there again—in that big, lonely wild.
From the eagle’s perspective, everything is the same.
Paula MacKay is a freelance writer-researcher and field biologist, having studied bears, wolverines, and other wild predators for the past two decades. Paula served as managing editor for Noninvasive Survey Methods for Carnivores (Island Press, 2008) and earned an MFA in creative writing from Pacific Lutheran University in 2015. She has written for numerous conservation groups, books, and magazines. Visit Paula’s website at paulamackay.com.