The Occasional

I was walking in Crown Mountain Park recently. That early morning, an autumn chill was still in the air, and the sun had just started to warm up the earth. I had just finished one loop with my dog and placed him safely in the car, before two friends and I began take a second lap around the one-mile path.

We were engrossed in our conversation. I had not seen these women in about a year, even though we live in the same neighborhood, and many things have changed for them — for us all. We talked kids, jobs, schools, the status of the world. While one of the women recounted a life-changing event that had recently taken place, I took notice of an adorable Boston terrier in the grass chasing a ball from its owner. I always notice Boston terriers. My father had one growing up as a kid and for some reason, when I see them, it makes me feel closer to him. I smiled as his small but fast legs took him through the grass to the ball.

The owner also had a child on a Strider bike. All of this information I took in and processed in 10 seconds, while also giving attention to the story my friend was relaying. My mask was hanging around my neck as I was not in close proximity to anyone. Or so I thought.

Abruptly, the dog owner and assumed parent to the Strider-riding child (all unmasked) chided us: “Thanks for moving over ladies.” She was being sarcastic, but she was also being intentionally mean. We hadn’t noticed we were taking up the entire pathway, apologized and moved immediately when she said it.

The dog owner followed that up with some other aggressive comments directed at us as we passed, which made me pause.

“Was she picking a fight?” I asked. By the time we had arrived at her again on the other side of the park, I was fuming. I am a mask wearer! I social distance! I trust doctors! I listen to science! One wrong move and she was jumping down my throat?

When we came in contact again, I apologized for our inadvertent encroachment but asked her about her delivery. Basically, I told her while I agreed with her, we had our masks (which she did not) and it was the matter of her approach that bothered me, not her request. As you can imagine, it did not go well. She yelled at me and I ended up yelling back, loud enough, I suspect for the entire park to hear. It was not one of my finer moments, and I didn’t feel better for having had the tense interaction.

My point is — tension is high, people. Like, very high.

This on the heels of the debates, the Trump rallies at Catherine Store, the upcoming presidential, senatorial and CO-3 election, the enduring pandemic, kids at home, traffic backed up past North 40 into Aspen in October, and who the hell knows what this winter is going to look like.

For months now, I’ve been saying that everything is going to get better in 2021, but now I’m not so sure.

There’s the election. There’s school. As of this writing, the public schools have not fully returned to in-person instruction, and although there is a plan in place for most kids to get back into classrooms, it’s still not in the cards for all. We have some families demanding school be opened, we have some teachers demanding they remained closed, we have some people keeping their children home and we have thousands of kids who are in the worst year of their lives stuck at home with parents who are also trying to work full time. I can’t even begin to think about children stuck in abusive homes. The decades it will take to repair that damage is beyond comprehension and has not been addressed to my knowledge.

Then there’s the Supreme Court. If the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett is pushed through before year’s end, I will have to plan to march to save a woman’s right to choose, the right to marriage for the LGBTQ+ community and the Affordable Care Act. I thought these fights were over already. I’m already exhausted by 2021.

Now say we get through the election unscathed, and, by some miracle, Coney Barrett’s confirmation is delayed. We are just getting to the winter.

When we all spent months at home this spring, the saving grace was the sunshine and warming temperatures. We had a beautiful spring in the Roaring Fork Valley, and had a summer that kept us and our children outside. We hiked, we swam in the river, we went camping, social distanced at parks. The days got longer. Even now for those students who are back to in-person learning, they’ve been outside a bunch, in modified classrooms, in PE outdoors. The weather has been our best ally in this pandemic. But that’s all about to change. For all of us. Windows are closing, in more ways than one.

We are all about to be indoors, it’s going to be dark and cold, the cold and flu season are upon us, and the COVID numbers are going to creep up. Listen, I’d love to believe the virus is magically going to go away, too, but reality and science say it will not. Kids are going to get sick, teachers, workers and everyone is going to be home again — mandated or not — teaching their children while juggling their jobs. Just trying to keep their lives together. And this might be the reality until the spring. This might be the reality next fall. We just have to prepare ourselves.

All of this, and so much more is weighing on me and my neighbors. I’m scared. I’m scared for what the winter will hold, I’m scared at how our kids will recover from this, I’m scared if my career in travel journalism will ever recover in an industry that has been grounded, literally, by COVID. I’m scared that people — even those just passing by while walking the loop at Crown Mountain Park — are going to be in an even darker place come January. We’ve already seen some well-known people end their lives this fall, teenagers in the midvalley battling with depression and suicide attempts, and we haven’t even reached Election Day.

What is the solution? Is this the time when we look more to our local governments for support? Do we make a pact to check in on each other every week? Do we buy up all the marijuana edibles and a boatload of art supplies and try to create something beautiful out of something so corrupt? I don’t have an answer, but we have to start thinking about what this winter is going to look like and how we are going to make it through successfully — for us, for our families and for our neighbors. Because the tension is thick, folks, and sooner or later, something’s going to give.

The Occasional runs in this space every other Friday and features different valley voices, including Amiee White Beazley, a writer based in Basalt.