I walk my dog for an hour down alleys, through the park, up and down streets. A few small, very vocal dogs, acknowledge us. Beside the Opera House, in a vacant lot, three ravens stride awkwardly, in their non-flight, lurching step (oddly, at suggested social distance apart). I imagine they’re evaluating the property, given we two-feeters aren’t in evidence. They see us and fly away, graceful, meant as they are to be magically airborne.
Because I know this town, somewhat, I feel the people within the houses. Some are old classmates from Patagonia Union High School; others newer, also good friends.
I feel a whisper. Inside these stilled homes are babies crying, laughter, the smells of cooking, arguments and the conversations that happen when we are under lockdown. The Wagon Wheel with its neon beer sign still lit in the window gives no idea if it’s open or closed. One car is in the parking lot, way to the side on the highway.
Perhaps it is a hum not a whisper. This vibration of life is what I feel as I see only 14 people, at distance, in an hour during our dog walk. There is a man with a well-behaved golden retriever not on a leash. There are travelers, possibly hikers, who are piling back into their vans. Three avid runners go fast through the town, so lean, as if running away or emerging from a town under siege. Two have earplugs, they hear anything but the silence or the whispers.
My white dog with his black eye patch is delighted for the grass and the trash cans he finds. He marks, he pees, and it’s one happy dog roaming our ghost town.
Well, not quite a ghost town if you count the aged motorcyclists who gather in threes and fours blaring old metal rock and blowing smoke up into the air as they linger by the park. No social distancing for them and somehow I don’t care. Let them smoke and party-hearty as long as they stay away from me – and our local stores. Fat chance. I would despise them but I know one of my old friends is one of such a pack. Hard to hate what you know.
I hear the Town Manager and probably the Marshall have the odious task of dispersing groups – the time-old, “and if you don’t, you better get out of town.” Like old west days except now because of the COVID-19, not feuds. We have a plague.
There is a beautiful moment: a car passes me and a hairy arm waves and I see a friendly, unshaven face. This car pauses at the corner when a man, bent forward like a tree who has encountered too much wind, is standing. The unshaven face calls out “Do you need anything from Nogales?” The man on the street says no, and they continue to talk about a mother’s operation. I am too far to hear whose mother it is. But it is sweet, this brief brush with humanity.
It has been two weeks since I left our home in Red Rock Acres. Voices on the phone are reassuring but no substitute for the face, the eyes across a table or on a patio. Sick for a week, I’ve self-isolated until now, even though it was just a bad cold or another sort of flu. Amazing when a wet cough reassures one versus a dry cough. Our thermometer allows that I am very normally alive or even sub-normally: 97.4 F.
No word has passed from me to any other, except to say “caw” to the ravens. My accent is bad and they don’t respond.
As I drive back up to our house on a hill, where you hear no neighbors (not even a whisper) I realize the absence of sound is almost the same. Except there is the seemingly everlasting beauty of the mountains and open acres of blooming yellow flower – if they are weeds, they are flowers to me. Our sky is punctuated by friends: ravens, crows and buzzards announcing and ending our days.
I’m grateful for the beauty of our silence here. Grateful to have a mate to exchange comfort and exasperation – and those odd, erotic moments provided by complete privacy. Whether we can see them or not, our neighbors are really, actually there. We have friends here. There are people who would leave us a bag of groceries by our front door – and we would do the same.
When I was a child every night I was told to say “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to God, my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Now all I pray or wish, is for all of us to wake and rise up to care for each other. To love: there is no other reason for our being.