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  • Shana Ritter

The Innocence of February

Updated: May 21





Just a season ago we stood around with friends at the maple syrup camp boiling sap tapped from the trees surrounding us. It was chilly, and we huddled close to the fire, cooked some food, and shared dinner in the dusk. I had just come back from a trip to New York City, a few packed days of meetings for Manolo’s wine import business, seeing family, friends, a morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, lunch at a neighborhood trattoria happened on by chance, an exhibit at the Shed, rush tickets to Hadestown where I sat alone, with hundreds of others, transported by music and staging, a completely alive performance.

All those things we did with innocence back in February, before we knew the world had become someplace dangerous.

My good dog Gracie died unexpectedly at the beginning of March. I was glad we were home with her, she was a faithful companion for over eleven years. We talked about getting a puppy but decided to wait until after our upcoming trip to Mexico City in mid-March, another trip to Spain to visit family and wineries in April, and a trip we were planning to California in June, both to visit to wineries and friends. A plethora of travel throughout the spring.

And then the stories started. My older daughter asked if we were sure we wanted to go to Mexico with the talk of this new virus. Oh, I said, we’ll be careful, we’ll wipe down our area, on the plane, take extra care. There were a couple of days of thinking that would be enough back in that first week of March, when there was a trickle of information. And then everything broke at once, travel became unthinkable and airlines, air b and b, everyone was gracious about cancelling. By mid-March plans for April and May were cancelled, Spring breaks extended indefinitely for students. Stay at home orders were issued, phrases we had never considered became a constant in our vocabulary: shelter in place, self-isolation, facemasks, curbside pickup, social distancing, Covid – 19.

It was just a season ago, back in February, when none of this existed, or at least that's what we thought. It was a reality since the season before that, but we hadn’t let seep into our world. Whether information was purposefully held back, or we weren't really paying attention I'm not sure. At any rate it was something that hadn’t yet affected the way we lived. And now it does, though we don’t understand the impacts yet, not really, not so much at all.

I have thought and read quite a bit about historical pandemics and plagues (I suppose that’s what comes of writing an historical novel and having been a researcher). At first, like so many others I thought this is like the 1919 so called “Spanish” flu, then I thought no it’s more like the plagues of the 14th century that forever changed the social structures in Europe. But lately I’ve been thinking more about AIDS, about all the falsehoods we entertained. How while the epidemic’s devastation was supposedly localized to gay men it spread on its own course through many more, until it remade the way we thought about disease and illness. I lived in San Francisco then and like so many, lost many friends. We watched as neighborhoods and communities were devastated. The realization that AIDS could affect anyone was painfully slow, made more so by the way bias blinded science. It took even longer, both locally and globally, to become aware of the myriad of implications that the disease wrought.

It’s been two months now since I’ve been in a store (curbside pick-up), or really anywhere except for a walk. I am one of the lucky ones with a comfortable home and easy access to what’s needed. And its two months since we got our pup, (we named her Emmy Rae, after much consultation with family) a large bundle of fur and energy, work and love. I’m still not sure if deciding that now was the right time to get our new puppy was the best decision or the worst decision we could have made. She has certainly filled out our already rather full time. I can’t quite imagine her not being here to accompany the many times a day I take walks to break up time at my desk.

I don’t know how this pandemic will play out; I don’t believe anyone really does. We might know some things, like wearing a mask in public helps prevent the spread. But knowing and doing are two very different things. I go back to thinking about the time of the plague and about the kings and queens who got themselves away from the pestilence, retiring to summer lodgings far from the people who could not. The role the plagues had in breaking down feudal systems. What role will this pandemic play in changing our ways of life?

I think a lot about that last free time in New York, in and out of the subway, on and off busses, in and out of restaurants and theater and museums. All unthinkable now, just a few months later. I remember that last effortless gathering of friends. It seems much more than a season ago, that innocence of February.

But now, it’s time for another walk with Emmy, it’s mid-May and the peonies are in blossom, the woods all leafed out, the pond filling is with frog noise. Just as it does every year at this time.

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