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Sparkle Report

I am committed to the attentive search for Sparkles, wherever and however I can find them. I also think we need to report the Sparkles we find, wherever and however we can. This is, for me, a focused antidote to the negativity that is called the “news”. So, I am reporting on a local Sparkle.

My morning walk includes a 1.25-mile paved trail through a woodland, most of it untouched forest land with the exception of a few intersecting horse trails for the very rare horse visitor. The contrast between the very “civilized” trail and the very “uncivilized” surrounding land is striking and valued. This trail played a significant role in the local Covid Cave adaptations for a small community of “walkers”. I am one of them.

On January 21, 2020 the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first known case of Covid 19 in the United States, in Snohomish County, Washington near Seattle. The next few months saw the gradual systematic shutdown of much of what was daily life across most of the US. Some people continued to work. Because I am a nurse, many of my friends, colleagues and students continued to do their “jobs”, albeit often under catastrophic conditions. They were part of the “essential personnel”. Everyone else “stayed home”.

“Staying home” had its own serious challenges. Confinement created unfamiliar and confounding experiences. One was the persistent decision process: when do you go out of your home, under what conditions, for what purpose? If you were “elderly” the message was clear: every effort to escape your home was risky. We collectively created the experience of the Covid Cave, not yet imagining its impact.

A small group of persons around my home decided that walking on the paved trail I just described was one thing you could do to leave your home. For some it was dog walking time. For some it was a brisk run. For many elderly persons, it seemed the only option for leaving home at least for a bit. And everyone, with very few exceptions, “masked up”, even though there was considerable resistance to masking up in the surrounding community. We walked the trail like rebels with adaptive facial wear. The tenor of the experience was escapism.

We had ceremonial nods and some “Hello” or “Good Morning” greetings, but no conversations.

Exceptions to the pattern were noteworthy because they were such rare exceptions, all occurring while masked up. Some of the older “walkers”, curious about my cane and walking sticks, asked me about “what happened”, seeming to feel something bad had led me to using the devices. When I said they made it possible for me to walk and exercise, they nodded and went on. One woman (a true Old White Lady, aka OWL) shared that she walked because her caregivers insisted that she do so. She was 75 years old, was recovering from cancer and had just started growing back her hair. This was probably the longest conversation I ever had on the walk.

We just kept walking, hoping this was going to work out OK, whatever that meant. We were a small number and a “little” community emerged. This community was even smaller during the miserable cold winter weather days. Over time, through the seasons, there still were few if any conversations. We continued our “Hello” and “Good Morning” greetings ritualistically, making our way through year 1 to January 2021.

By the time winter arrived in November of 2021 we were habituated, many still masked, bundled for the cruel weather with many bitter cold days. We were traversing vaccination adventures. We continued to walk.

The forested area tends to look like an abandoned battlefield during the winter. While most of the forested area is made up of deciduous trees, there are a few conifers. They tend to stand out because they are rare. One is at a midpoint on the trail, close to the paved walkway.

One day last winter, about a week after Thanksgiving, I noticed a Christmas ornament on this tree. Gradually, as we went through the month of December, the number of ornaments increased to about 30-35. I never heard or observed any discussion about this decorating plan. I never witnessed anyone adding their ornament other than watching myself proudly hang mine.

And yet there it was, a Sparkle to be sure. A community spontaneously celebrating Christmas among ourselves in the midst of Covid Cave living. We were used to not really communicating in words, but we dramatically communicated with the tree. I looked forward to seeing it. I smiled every time I passed it, saw others stop and stare or study, and smile. Still no conversations. We were slowly coming out of our Covid Caves during this time, and this seemed a communal signal, a common cause.

The Monday after Thanksgiving this year, I was walking and stopped abruptly: five ornaments were already on “the tree”. Two days later, shortly after I passed our “Sparkle” tree, I encountered the cancer survivor. We always do the ceremonial “Hello” or “Good Morning”, have never replicated that single conversation we shared. This time she stopped after the greeting and asked “Did you see the tree decorating has started”. I smiled my yes and told her I had just taken a photo of the first ornament appearances. That photo is the opening image for this posting. This morning we were up to 18 ornaments, including mine. I selected one with the year 2022 on it. It seemed important to include the date.

“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.”

- Dorothy Day -

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