We stood on the banks of Clover Creek, in the depths of a pandemic.
Happily married we may be, but an odd couple we be.
My husband Pete — the master of denial.
And me — the master of hyper-vigilance.
We’ve been holed up for two weeks — leaving the house only when necessary, furiously working the phones to keep up with the spread of COVID-19.
But he gets twitchy without exercise.
And I was twitchy with Pandemic Anxiety Syndrome (if it doesn’t exist, it ought to now).
So now, during what they’re calling “The Great Pause” — we’re all pondering our mortality and our choices.
Even before the Great Pause, anxiety was running rampant.
Surveys suggest that even before this pandemic, 1 in 10 people — around the world — suffered from a mental illness. Depression and anxiety account for a big share of that total. A survey found that about 31% of people will cope with problematic levels of anxiety in their lives. Both depression and anxiety have increased among our social media bound young folks, according to assorted studies. And that was before the pandemic.
At least I know I am not alone.
So we got out of the house, while keeping our social distance from the rest of the world.
We drove past Pine and up into the Coconino National Forest seeking to change our attitudes with the altitude.
Mind you, my irritatingly cheerful husband has what you’d probably call a resilient personality.
He sees opportunity where I see threat.
He assumes the best while I brace for the worst.
I remember where I’ve stashed every roll of the toilet paper.
He can’t remember where he left the car keys.
Between us, we have the makings of a complete, well-balanced person — the sort who could shrug off the apocalypse without running out of toilet paper.
So we set out on the Clover Trail, with cameras, a bottle of wine, pesto cheese sandwiches, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.
We’d escaped the four walls of the house at last.
Even here, my mind went to dark places.
It looked so deserted. Like after the plague. Right before the zombies show up.
I pulled out my camera and shuttered away listlessly, wondering what will become of us all.
Pete burbled on about all the rocks, the emerald green moss, the sound of the water, the abundance of cow prints and pies.
Noticing a Forest Service sign board, he rushed over to read it — returning breathlessly to announce a meadow restoration project.
“And check this out, see how the Forest Service built up that check dam? Slows the water down. Gets a meander started. Man, that’s a whole column. Looks like limestone. Bet it’s 300 million years old at least.”
“It’s my story,” I said defensively. “You use your angles, I’ll keep mine. I bet there’s a lot more readers interested in anxiety than in limestone,” I added, warming to the theme.
I get a little hot when I’m attached to an idea.
Clover Creek ended up the perfect hike to change my mood. It isn’t a fitness hike. It’s a meandering hike along a pristinely clear alpine stream. During this time of the year, with the stream swollen with melting snow (we saw a couple of patches), we had to rock hop to get across the stream.
Other parts of the hike we could gambol along a meadow that rolls around the stream.
Gradually, the beauty of the place seeped into me. The greens of the water plants burst through the water, enticing me to snap pictures.
The clouds scuttled across the sky and the yellow bellied ponderosas shimmered in the mirror-still water.
A pair of elk eyed us through the trees.
Flycatchers gyrated in the air as they gobbled up insects.
We took pictures. We laughed. We even yelled at each other across the creek until it felt like we were just spoofing the quarantine.
We stopped for our snack.
“See those big ponderosas,” Pete asked, pointing to a forked yellowbelly at least 200 feet tall across the stream.
“Must be 400 years old. Maybe 600.”
“Really,” I said skeptically.
“Bet they’ve seen a few pandemics,” he added.
I studied the tree, the wind singing in the needles, and felt somehow comforted.
Packing up the remains of lunch, I found Pete’s keys in the green grass. He was photographing the odd little plants growing on the bottom of the clear stream, so I tucked them into a pocket of the backpack.
Two hours later, we returned to the Jeep.
Pete started slapping his pockets, looking worried. Anxious.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I lost the keys,” he blurted.
“They’re in the pocket of the backpack,” I said, smiling.
Like I said: “Put us together and you’ve got a well-balanced person.”
Bring on the zombies.