Sitting Still in Minnesota

On Mick’s birthday, October 10, we were supposed to be in Acadia National Park, admiring the coastal Maine landscape, hiking trails unfamiliar to us, photographing small creatures in tide pools, feeling that Atlantic Ocean mist on our faces. We had a room reserved at the Elmhurst Inn in Bar Harbor. We were going to make a dinner reservation at a nice restaurant, maybe have some lobster.

Instead, I cooked an omelet – ham, onions, peppers, tomato, cheddar – for our lunch at home, made a pot of Earl Grey tea. We sat on our own deck under Minnesota’s pale blue October sky, sipped our tea after we finished eating. Mick read the birthday card I’d made in the morning while he was busy listening to a history lecture on his laptop. There was no ocean mist upon our faces.

That COVID finally found us just when we were thinking about what to take on a long-planned trip to Maine was poor timing. It was also a reminder that resilience matters. Plans change all the time. Why shouldn’t ours?

There’s a glazed pottery bowl – wide, shallow – that I filled with water and left on the table in the corner of our deck. I thought birds might use it to get a drink from time to time. The bowl has become a daily water bar and sometimes bath for blue jays, cardinals, robins, finches, sparrows, wrens, juncos, flickers, chickadees, bees, butterflies, chipmunks, and squirrels. Every time I sit at the dining room table for more than five minutes, I see someone pop in for a sip of water. I had no idea that bowl of water would get as much use as it does. I fill it with clean water every day, skim white pine needles and birch leaves from its surface. That I can offer this bit of sustenance to small creatures feels like a purpose, one I can do well while quarantining at home.

I have no illusions that these creatures won’t find water elsewhere if I am not at home, but to be here, to be their source for one thing, is magical.

Mick tested positive for COVID first, just days after we both received our updated COVID and flu shots. When he first started feeling sick, we figured he had a shot reaction. When it didn’t go away, we knew otherwise. We’ve been careful but aren’t bulletproof. Who is?

He moved downstairs to our guestroom. Five days later, after I’d cancelled all our trip reservations, I also tested positive. 

He moved back upstairs. At least now we could be in the same room with each other. And neither of us was deathly ill, just zapped of all our energy. 

There is a way in which being forced to slow down has long appealed to me. Bonus points if the forced slow down comes at a convenient time. COVID is lousy at honoring plans, seldom arriving at an opportune moment when you wouldn’t mind missing something, like the city-wide garage sale or your next colonoscopy.

When forced to slow down and miss something desirable, it takes a minute to stop grousing. Oh, hell, it took me all week to stop feeling rotten about our missed trip, to stop thinking, we’d have been at this inn, watching the moon rise over the Atlantic, having a great bottle of wine

Things that made me feel better: Sitting outside. Bird chatter. Grocery deliveries from our friend Luann and our daughter Abby. Entire seasons of Gilmore Girls. Thich Naht Hanh books. Jazz. Listening to Mick play his saxophone. Open windows all over the house. Not watching the news.

One afternoon, I sat at the dining room table with my camera, photographed the young robin who sat atop our deck’s privacy wall. He seemed to see me through the patio door. He chattered, sang, rivaled the music I had playing on the stereo. I watched the feathers beneath his beak puff out then flatten as he chattered.

Was any of that chatter directed at me? Do birds ever try to tell us things?

We snuck outside for walks late in the evening when no one else was around. The mild weather and clear nights called to us. It was the only exercise we got during our bout with COVID. I swear the night air, the movement, sped up our recovery. 

The moonrise wasn’t bad, either. The Hunter Moon. Bare tree branches. I wished for an owl to complete the picture.

Mick and I weren’t the only ones stuck at home for the past couple of weeks. We have a few friends who also contracted COVID around the same time. That none of us had a severe case is probably some proof that vaccinations work. All of us are over the age of 60. Here we are. Lucky. Very lucky.

Today’s post was supposed to be a travelogue. This is Plan B. Right in this moment, I don’t mind. We’ll go somewhere else, do something else. We were reminded that our backyard is a sanctuary for us as well as the little creatures we’ve invited with water bowls and native plants. There is powerful healing in sitting still for a bit. All those birds and squirrels who came to the water bowl while I sat still at our dining room table already know this, just as surely as they know to keep track of where they get their sustenance. It’s just a matter of paying attention.

All photos by kcmickelson 2022

Published by Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

Kathleen Cassen Mickelson is a Minnesota-based writer who has published work in journals in the US, UK, and Canada.

12 thoughts on “Sitting Still in Minnesota

  1. I am so sorry COVID “found” you, but that you are doing fairly well and are nearly recovered. I’m sorry, too, that you had to miss that trip to Maine. As always, your attitude is positive. I enjoyed the bird images and accompanying story. A beautiful telling.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: