Sheltering Far From Home

by P. J. Grath, 5/7/2020, Northport, MI

Adult Category


The only home we own is an old farmhouse in Leelanau County, Michigan. My husband and I are 83 and 72 and still self-employed in side-by-side seasonal businesses in Northport, my bookstore and his studio/gallery. We came out to the Southwest in December, for a few months of “seasonal retirement” in a rented ghost town cabin, expecting to return home in the spring. Now spring is here, but for the present we are sheltering in place in Cochise County, Arizona, far from our Up North home.

Family members and some friends urge us to stay where we are, understanding that we feel safe here and dread travel and that there is no real urgency calling for our immediate return. Other friends (a mix of the encouraging and the impatient) tell us that travel is no big deal and we should get right on the road and come home now. They say that although still others back home write letters to the editor of the county newspaper saying that “summer people” should not come north!

Are “snowbirds” and “summer people” one and the same? I don’t think so. We are not “summer people”! But does the virus care? I doubt it. The way I’m pretty sure the virus sees it, travel is travel.

When we peruse the road atlas and read advice about where to find food and restrooms and overnight accommodations, we look up at each other nervously and ask, “What do you think?” Our car is old, our dog is old, and we are old. The decision to stay or go – that is, when to go – seems overwhelming.

Setting that troublesome question aside, our life here is peaceful. Yes, the days have heated up, but it is the famous “dry heat” we’ve heard about forever, and in the shade, with a gentle mountain breeze stirring the air, the hottest days are quite tolerable. At night, the high desert cools down quickly, and we welcome the onset of cool darkness.

Never birders before, we have taken to putting out water and feeders and watching the passing parade at all hours of the day. On a regular basis we see finches and sparrows, cardinal and pyrrhuloxia, hummingbirds and ladderback woodpecker, the curved-bill thrasher, canyon towhee, and cactus wren are birds. It’s big excitement when Mr. and Mrs. Quail come to visit or when Pete the Roadrunner hurries through the yard, as if late for some important engagement.

My husband paints. I write. We both read. Now and then we must screw up our courage, don our masks, and make a run to the grocery store, hardware store, or (yikes!) laundromat. Otherwise, every day is pretty much the same, one “month of Sundays” now having segued into another.

Back home in Michigan, it is the time of wildflowers in the woods, the lovely spring ephemerals. We are missing the gone-wild daffodils planted long ago by someone who lived in our old house way back when. Soon the grass will be ready to mow, and front porch season will be underway. I think of that porch with longing.

At the same time, we are enjoying more desert greenery than we have ever been here to see before, and a short evening drive only a few miles down the road gives us the opportunity to watch colors in the sky – the sky stretching above the grasslands, pressing against the mountains — change gradually, imperceptibly, seamlessly from blue through all the warm colors of sunset and beyond, to star-pierced black of night. Next morning, we are wakened by a neighbor’s rooster and the lowing of cattle as close as our windows. Yes, there is a cow with a couple of little calves, right by our gate! I cannot express what joy and contentment the cattle bring, especially now, amidst the current social background of anxiety and existential dread.

If we left the ghost town today and were home by the end of the week, we would face a 14-day quarantine, but I doubt I would feel comfortable opening my bookstore to the public after those 14 days – or that many of the public will be strolling up and down the streets of our little northern village and in and out of shops. I miss my bookstore and am anxious for its future. I don’t see myself going in the direction of online sale. It isn’t me. Then what? Right now, I have no idea.

Here and now, anyway, far from home and bookshop, I can still read and share books with readers of my blog. Because connecting readers to books and authors has always been the core of my mission as a bookseller, posting book reviews is my mission at present. It’s something I can do that feels worth doing.

And so, day after day, we postpone our travel decision. The default is doing nothing, staying put. Deciding not to decide brings relief, temporary though that relief must be.