If you live long enough you gain an appreciation for those who came before you.
When COVID-19 hit and everyone was advised to practice “social distancing,” I was indifferent. “Social distancing?” I invented it. Been practicing it for years.
Then came “shelter in place” and “work from home.”
Unlike most, I could not have been happier. Stay home? Well “please don’t throw me in the briar patch Br’er Fox.” I packed my possibles and headed to our farm.
I take liberties with the word “farm.” Not the image the word conjures. Really just woods and a few open acres. The crops are trees and wildlife, not corn and livestock.
Finally, a chance for the good life. The life of my ancestors. A life for which I was surely born.
Now to be clear, I do not have an upper-class pedigree. I did the research. My kin were Irish immigrants and poor white sharecroppers. No royal sap in the family tree. Mostly poor folks who eked out a living with whatever they had on hand.
But I had more. The pandemic did not take me by surprise. The farmhouse was fully stocked before the initial panic hit. While many rushed to the stores, I just sat back and watched from a distance. I am, after all, a smart man (just ask the Redhead and she will tell you “oh yes, he certainly thinks he’s a smart man”). I am forward-looking. A visionary even. I was never a Boy Scout, but I lived their motto — “Be prepared.”
I had food. I had medicine. I had gas and diesel. Masks, antibacterial wipes, and toilet paper to spare.
I might have even had a gun or two.
I also had creeks for water, trees for firewood, and wild animals for meat.
But most importantly of all, I had seeds for a garden.
I was dug-in like an Alabama tick. Ready for the long haul.
The first three weeks were blissful. I was finally able to get my work done. Almost no calls, no emails, and no visits from anyone to break my chain of thought.
My plan was executed to perfection. I put in my office hours, then headed outside to take leisurely walks and tend my tomato plants.
On a gorgeous Saturday morning I climbed aboard the big John Deere and plowed and planted my garden. It was the same kind of worn-out rocky ground that my ancestors plowed with mules, but no matter. I could coax that sorry dirt to yield more than they ever dared to dream.
Then came Sunday morning. The storms hit at sunrise. Hail. High winds. Rain by the bucket-load. The lights flickered, then went out.
No worries. I had candles and flashlights with extra batteries. Who needs television or the internet? I had shelves of good books and plenty of paper and pens with which to write.
That night I laid down in sweet solitude. The bedroom windows were open, and the light breeze and the dripping rain the only sounds. My sleep was deep and filled with contented, peaceful dreams.
Monday morning, I decided to take a stroll to survey my kingdom.
Trees down. Trails blocked. Garden mostly washed away. Creeks out of the banks. Dead battery on the Deere.
Rugged independence? Gone.
That night I blew out the candles and lay in the darkness again. You know you really cannot appreciate true darkness until you are way back in the woods with no lights on a cloudy night. I struggled to find sleep with my troubled thoughts.
As my mind raced through the stillness of that long night it finally hit me. There was nothing romantic about the way my ancestors lived. They could not run to the grocery store when the crops washed away. No cash to buy more seed or supplies or even pay back their shares. No hiding from a pandemic. If the Spanish flu did not kill their children, then cholera just might.
I understand them now. Why they left the “good life” for jobs in the cotton mill towns. Why they traded idyllic farm living for a hot, dusty job where a man might lose a hand in a second or his lungs to the lint in a matter of a few years.
I have no worries. I can start again. I have the means to replant the garden, and the grocery store is only five miles away. I still have my masks and wipes, so I will probably stay untouched by the virus, at least for a while.
I added something to my supplies. Respect for my ancestors.
The “good life” is all high cotton and buttermilk cornbread when you are playing a role in the theater of your mind. But when you live off the land to survive it is not all it is cracked-up to be.