I wind my way up the trail, the crunch of rust-red earth beneath my feet. The Sangre de Cristo mountains live up to their name, Blood of Christ, as the setting sun heightens the color of the dirt and the trails seem to bleed down their sides.
“The light in New Mexico makes everything clearer,” my friend Theresa once told me, “it’s like a camera lens snapping into focus. Until you experience it, your eyes are only practicing.”
I think about her words as I notice how the grey bark of scrubby pines glints silver, how each deep green needle singularly stands out.
I’m not a confident hiker, having grown up in Florida where golf courses pass as hills. I must concentrate only on the immediate space in front of me. I like this unlevel ground, how it relieves me of certainty and narrows my focus to something as simple as staying upright.
In New York City, the disease blossoms like red tide, bringing with it the stench of fear. It lurks on every surface, lingers in elevators, emanates with each breath. I. carefully follow the new precautions.
I wear a mask in public spaces.
I keep at least six feet away from everyone.
I disinfect surfaces.
I wear gloves to handle mail, groceries, anything touched by others.
I wash my hands for a minimum of 20 seconds countless times each day.
I don’t go out to eat.
I don’t order in.
I make every meal.
I do not see friends.
I stay at home.
I must not fall ill.
I must not fall ill.
No longer at sea level, I’m out of breath and suck in the cool, dry desert air redolent with the holy trinity of scents—juniper, piñon, and sage. It’s not just my eyes that are born again here, but all of my senses, it seems. I’m a long way from my New York City apartment ten-stories up, where only cooking smells and pot smoke waft in. I begin to feel the knot of my hypervigilance loosen, though I know the pandemic still lies waiting.
Some days, I sit at the breakfast table staring at the screen, empty. I have no new ideas, no new tales to tell. All I can do is re-write the scribbles from a fuller day. “...glints silver”? or “glimmers”? “shimmers”? “shines”? I try each out, then again. And yet again. “Glints,” I decide, for how the light fell sharp upon my eyes. My choices are small but consume the morning hours. On these days, in the space between isolation and infection, this is all the care I can take, the most care I can give.