I almost didn’t write this post, because I feel guilty about not being as cooped up and resource drained as so many people are by this pandemic.
Normally this time of year I would be home in New York City. But when COVID hit, I was in California’s Sierra mountains, where my partner and I spend 5-6 weeks in the winter and then again in the summer. We’ve never spent spring in the mountains. The new season felt slow in coming. Back in early April, friends in NYC were sending pictures of cherry blossoms and we were still cross-country skiing. The ski area was officially closed, but we could still beat around on the cruddy snow, safely distanced from other people. But I was sick of skiing (I never thought it was possible) and I missed the flowering trees. Actually, I missed everything about the city—friends, theatre, movies, restaurants, wearing fun shoes and so on. I knew that what I longed for was on a giant PAUSE for who knows how long, still I wrestled against the restrictions.
I spent weeks resenting the lingering snow, the leaf-budless trees and my solitude that was supposed to be over. To compound things, I knew that I was in a very lucky spot compared to many. I could go outside without worrying I’d be shamed or run afoul of all the conflicting information about whether exercising outside was safe or not. (Thank you, Cate, for giving us some medical insight into the dangers of outdoor exercise yesterday.) So I piled judgment and guilt about my lack of gratitude on top of my resentment. Like many women, I’m an expert at self-criticism, that great pleasure destroyer.
Then the daffodils popped up (they seem to be the only perennial around here, other than the wildflowers, which are still mostly under snow). The bare tree branches started to bud and now the leaves are emerging, in all their dazzling early spring green. The birds came back in droves, singing all day long. On Saturday morning we were lying in bed listening to the birdsong when we heard a familiar rustle below our window. The deer were back, looking scruffy and winter shaggy, browsing in the wild shrubbery on the slope below us.
The snow withdrew enough from the mountain trails to make running possible. On my first run in the woods, I spent a third of my time picking my way through the snow piles searching for the continuation of the trail. Every time my foot broke through the surface crust, spikes of old snow stabbed my winter-white ankles. But something else happened too, my resentment started to leak away. I adore trail running. The smell of the cold, damp pine needles went straight to my head. The blast of joy started to clean out the cobwebs of frustration.
I realized that my psyche could keep on fighting against all the restrictions that COVID had imposed on my life. And I could then dump judgment on top, because those restrictions are fewer than many are enduring. I can feel guilty that about running without a mask, about the privilege of running period (no stealth required, as Nicole described in her piece about being a devious runner). And I can feel guilty that what I’m doing outside feels joyful, in a moment when joy feels unseemly.
But why should we diminish the pleasures life continues to offer, despite the pandemic? COVID takes and takes and takes things away from us. I don’t want to let the virus take away spring, in all its hopeful glory. Guilt and self-condemnation don’t serve anybody. So, even as I continue to miss the city, my gratitude is blooming again alongside that sadness.
This morning I ran for an hour on the trails, through dirty old snow and mud, over a fat log across a spring swollen stream and through tall pine forest on a soft carpet of needles. I wore too-light gloves and my hands felt like little fists of ice, my arms sheathed in frost. But with every breath, the heat of my pounding heart met the crisp air with a thank you, thank you, thank you.