By Durin Chappe
Recently, while superintending my daughter’s remote schooling from our sunroom, I glanced over her shoulder at the adjacent blueberry field as two bright orange-clad figures ambled across it and into the woods. These were my parents, beginning a walk that they had announced to me earlier.
In addition to blueberries, the land contains cedar swamp and boggy portions, with the remainder scrubby and cut-over and criss-crossed with animal trails. Normally, I feel very much as the Native Americans do, which is to recognize that the land doesn’t “belong” to me, nor to any one person, but to all of us.
However, this was hunting season — and in a particularly fraught election year, I consciously posted more than usual, with signs on both sides of the road. I’ve also flown a “Joe Biden President 2020” flag from the tallest white pine and an unusual share of vehicles have slowed in front of it, some to intentionally litter.
Truth be told, I’ve expected some reaction, yet I also expect that the attention will wane and my flag — along with my rancor — will slowly tatter into the winter winds. I allow myself to imagine a new hope crowding out any remaining bile, the eclipse of remaining lawn banners by clumps of daffodils and crocuses.
When the Zoom session with her teacher ended, it was nearly time to drive my daughter to her weekly tumbling class in neighboring Ellsworth. It is the highlight of her week by a long shot and the summer classes she missed due to the pandemic seem to have spurred her to extra effort. I watch with great amusement as she prepares her gym kit. Her mask has long been accepted but coats and hats — and socks — are merely accessories to be tolerated if my nagging is to end; she doesn’t feel cold like her mother. Earmuffs and flip-flops are infinitely preferred.
The tumbling gym is now off-limits to parents and instructors and students are masked up continuously. Conveniently, there is an app for watching classes online and some parents routinely park next to the building and stare for an hour into the loom of their iPhones. I’m usually running errands but lately I’ve been getting back in time to stand in front of the windows and catch the second half of the class.
By the time they’ve reached the beams, she’s spotted me and, as much as I know I’m a distraction, I want her to see my smile grow to stretch the elastic on my own mask. Oddly, I want to be out there in the cold, my body teetering and tensing in concert with her own, as her careful steps navigate the narrowness underneath her.
We drive home in the dark to the strains of Woody Guthrie, her choice. By now, she’s seen me tear up enough to know there’s some heartache and death mixed up in the joyfulness of these old folk songs. Maybe it’s a sign of the times that not hiding these sad truths makes more sense than prolonging any myth about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.
When we arrived home, I found that my parents had managed to get themselves badly lost. My father had yelled himself hoarse trying to raise some help until they found themselves on an old skidder track leading back to the road. He’s an insulin-dependent diabetic and hadn’t brought anything for the low blood sugars. It quickly dawns on us that things could have turned much worse.
Thanksgiving has been and gone now. And though our lives continue to seem shrunken and preyed on by a virus run amok, there are ample reasons for not giving in to despondency. We certainly don’t have to download any app to see for ourselves the steady trickle of small miracles.
Durin Chappe is a carpenter and occasional writer. He lives with his family in the shadow of Schoodic Mountain.