by Willem Lange
EAST MONTPELIER – There must be plenty of us still alive who remember Dubble Bubble Gum. It debuted before World War II, was unavailable for a while after 1942, and came roaring back in 1950. Bubble gum sales reps, just like their yo-yo counterparts, held demonstrations and contests at various stores. I never entered any, mostly because I never mastered the truly giant bubble, but also because I strongly disliked picking the bits of exploded chewing gum off my face.
All that is utterly apropos of nothing – except that, as I consider my current existence in the State of Vermont, I feel as though I’m living in at least a double bubble, for which it would be churlish not to be grateful.
Consider: The national and international news floods in here around the clock. It’s currently awash in stories, photos, and video clips of the outrages of January Sixth. Although a full busload of unmasked Vermonters did travel to Washington for the festivities, they returned quietly enough in the wee hours of the next day, sleepy, and if any of them aboard that bus was infected with Coronavirus, about to come to grips with it themselves, making their home state look not so good in the national standings. Yet all that Potomac turmoil seems far away from our bubble.
Generally speaking, we’re at least as safe here as in almost any other populated place on the planet. Our Governor and health officials hold frequent publicly broadcast briefings on our situation, plans, and prognosis, and are much trusted by almost all of us. I can walk unmasked in the park as long as I keep at least two meters between me and other human beings. Here in our house, there are only the two of us – Kiki and I – but we go out only together, so I never have to wonder whom she’s been with. She might worry about what I might be bringing home from the supermarket besides the groceries. But if she does, she never shows it.
We go about our daily routine much as we did before the pandemic restrictions: working around and from home, connected by e-mail and Facebook; a trip to the supermarket about every six days or so; a daily jaunt in the park – I shuffle, she trots, gallops, and zooms — and an occasional trip to join the NHPB film crew to shoot an episode of our show. Yesterday, it was the White Mountains; next week, a hike on Cape Cod. Those trips are worrisome, but I’m sure my state health department is doing all it can to get the vaccine distributed (I’m in the next demographic to get the shot), so I try to keep my head down and be patient. When there’s little more you can do about improving a situation, it’s very nice to be able to trust those who are working on it.
While the flood of incoming information is macrocosmic – everything from the famine in Yemen to the strangulation of freedom in Hong Kong – our life here is intentionally microcosmic. Kiki clears the yard, morning and evening, of predators – pumas, mostly-– while I exchange notes with friends. We spend a lot of time together in my recliner, keeping each other warm while I read. This week, while the riots raged in our nation’s capital, I read to her from Huckleberry Finn. She seemed more impressed with its loosening pages (a paperback bought for an American Lit course in 1956) than with its brilliant writing and social commentary. Evenings, while I catch up on my bank account, or a book order, or correspondence, she curls up on a fleece pad on the desk at my left elbow. Around eight, she asks to go out, and at ten, to go to bed, where she lies on my knees ‘til I’ve finished the newspapers and read myself groggy with a magazine (a great piece, by the way, about the Mormon Church in this month’s Atlantic).
The ground was frozen before the last snowstorm, so I can see my way around the house at night by snowlight. I can tell which way the wind is blowing by letting Kiki out; she always stops halfway across the yard, sits, and faces the wind, sniffing. A relict Queen Anne’s Lace stalk, stiff brown beside the porch, tells me how hard it’s blowing. The chickadees and their upside-down pals, the nuthatches, swarm the feeder for ten minutes and disappear. The daylight lingers later every evening. Maurice Chevalier leads Buffy Sainte-Marie, Woody Guthrie, and Andrés Segovia across the speaker somewhere in the computer. The coffee steams in its cup. Like two tiny figurines in a snow globe, we wait together for spring, a new administration, and the end of the pandemic.
Kiki is waiting out the pandemic in Vermont.