Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

Not this gal’s first rodeo adapting to isolation

Apr 18, 2020 06:12AM ● By Editor
Last week, a calm Lake Superior rested by the shore at Montreal River Harbour. Photo: Ruth Fletcher 

By Ruth Fletcher of The Sault Star - April 18, 2020

This isn’t my first quarantine. Or should I say isolation. All these “stay at home” messages have triggered my own, long ago, life-altering experience. Not that it could compare to what is happening in this COVID-19 world today.

Ever since this global event started, we have been hearing the words “isolation” and “quarantine.” To understand the difference between the two terminologies, I opened my trusty, dusty, three-kilogram Canadian Oxford Dictionary, to which I excitedly refer because it includes the origins of our vocabulary. I searched out the meanings of both words. English, as we know, is well rooted in other languages, which virtually leads us to other parts of the globe. Both the French version quarantaine and the Italian quarantine refer to 40 days. OK, I get that. Stay secluded for 40 days. The source of the term isolate comes from the Latin insula, which means island. So our homes are islands for 40 days? That is where we must go to continue to exist? Indeed we shall. But not to worry. Humans have known how to adapt for thousands of years and we have countless survival stories to prove it.

Some of the latest ones can give us heart. A New York woman who recovered from the coronavirus wears a celebratory yellow cape as she donates her blood plasma in the hopes of a cure. Piles of cotton masks appear thanks to tired backs bent over sewing machines. Evening rituals include outside singing, pot banging and noise making to honour front-line workers. Or how about turning up the volume on a Beethoven’s Ode to Joy record album as it spins around a vintage 1983 turntable? Comfort appears in every colour and corner of the world.

My own world of quarantine erupted when I was 9, sick in bed with scarlet fever. At the time I didn’t know much about Lake Superior, didn’t know of its countless stories of survival. (Although I’m sure that every kid, in their soul, has an inherent awareness that nature is where true wisdom lives.) After all, trees, rocks and water, have been on this planet for eons. A lone pine, wind bent and embedded in granite, has the guts and wherewithal to exist with whatever condition the winds blow in. And when the fingers of the lake have picked clean the roots of wave ravaged trees, they somehow still cling to whatever strength the sandy and cobbled shore can give them. The rocks show even more resilience. Pounded and tossed, formed and reformed, they continue to roll around the shores until they are ground into fine grains and find new life as a sandy beach. The water itself is a miracle of design. Sometimes liquid, sometimes ice, sometimes a snowflake or a blanket of fog, it can shape shift to suit the mood of any day.

I wish I had seen more of Lake Superior by the time I was 9. Everything I knew back then was from kitchen table talk plus a picnic or two at Batchawana Bay. The lake would have helped me with my hardscrabble isolation/quarantine. I remember those days – maybe too well. My contagious scarlet fever meant no one could come near me. Up in the attic bedroom by myself all day. Fever so high, so hot, so hot. Sleep , sleep , sleep , sleep. Wake up. Look to the window. Is it morning or night? Where’s my mother? Ache, ache, ache. Hurts to move. Eyes hurt. Teeth hurt. Hair hurts. There’s my mother. With a tray for me. No food. Please I don’t want any. OK. Just a bite of cinnamon toast. Or sometimes a small glass of ginger ale. But the bubbles hurt my throat. Leave it. Drink it later. Warm stale ginger ale is better anyway. Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep. Wake up. Look to the window. Is it day or night? Where’s my mother? There’s my mother.

The good news from my quarantine? I learned a few things. Loneliness doesn’t last forever. Rest can heal. And cinnamon toast tastes pretty good. Thanks, mom. These are comforts I always shall remember.

Life always provides extra unexpected comforts too. The other day I was cleaning up a paper pile beside this computer and came across a quote from the talented Ojibway author, Richard Wagamese. Our friend, Susan, had chosen the quote as a 2019 memoriam for her late partner, Tom. The words, so relevant today, appear in Wagamese’s 2016 book, Embers, One Ojibway’s Meditations. Wagamese says, “Life isn’t something you leave home to do. It’s what you accomplish within the walls of your haven. That’s what allows you to greet the world with an open heart and reach out and embrace living in all its richness, variety and staggering wonder.”

Wagamese died in 2017 but his advice is eternal. Our hearts can be full of “staggering wonder.” We just need to open them. And even though COVID-19 demands a physical distance from each other we still can embrace the love of mother in nature. After all it is spring. The emergence of bright purple and yellow flowers shows the strength of the earth. A pre-dawn bird chorus sings hope to the flock. Trees feed wisdom into the buds of leaves. Such joys no doubt will fuel our immunities.

Then maybe, with luck, this will be our last need for a quarantine.

Ruth Fletcher spends her time between Montreal River Harbour on Lake Superior’s east shore and Sault Ste Marie. Her column, Shorelines, is contemplation on Lake Superior and all the stories it has to offer.

To read the original story and more from Ruth Fletcher, follow this link to The Sault Star website.

Upcoming Events Near You
Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here