I was asked by the local historical society to write a letter about these times for the archives, for future residents.
April 20, 2020
Lake Margaret, Duvall, Washington
Dear Future Duvall,
I’m a little jealous — you know how this turns out. Right now, we’re on the edge of a fissure — before the pandemic, and after. Like 911. A huge change is happening in the world, but we’re still teetering, not sure how this will end up. Will there be a global depression? Will this last for a few years? Will this country still have free and open elections when you read this? Will gathering in groups be a thing of the past? Will people reach an age where they say goodbye to the outside world, and sequester to live out their final days in solitude, because it’s not safe in the world? Or will this all resolve in a matter of months, and we return to business as what we call “usual”?
We’ve been locked down for about six weeks. COVID-19 has gone from nearly unheard of two months ago, to the leading cause of death in this country, surpassing even the big ones, like cancer and heart disease. Many of us have lost our jobs, and it looks like when we emerge from all of this, our town will be different. Businesses will be gone. Townspeople may have died from the disease. Others will be in financial ruin.
I have the desire to write an old-timey, “what was it like back in the day” description, describing how we churn butter and make frocks out of old flour sacks. The truth of it is, we are doing some old timey things. I make yogurt every week. I’ve planted a bazillion seeds that I hope will grow into a productive garden. I sew masks out of fabric. But there is no immediate hardship. Except for the masks, these things are voluntary. Wearing masks is recommended, but none are available to purchase. Healthcare workers are running out of masks and gloves, and some nurses and doctors have gotten sick while caring for others with the virus.
I’ve been home alone for a while now, only going out every 10 days for necessities. The orders to stay at home are vague — we are told to only go out if it’s essential, but we’re left, in large part, to decide what’s essential. My days have taken on a pattern that, when I don’t think too hard about it, is pleasant. My work as a self-employed wetland biologist has come to a screeching halt, so I have all the time in the world. My dog gets me up at 7:00 am and we walk in the woods for an hour or two. If it’s nice out, I work in the garden after that. People are worried about the food supply, so a lot of people are trying to grow food. In the evening I cook for a while, and then eat alone. Each night I allow myself one treat: either a bowl of ice cream or a beer. I frequently cheat.
I’m lucky to be in such a beautiful area with easy access to the outdoors. A lot of people around the world are stuck inside apartments, with no access to wild places. But I miss people. I miss working. I miss going into town for a cup of coffee or a trip to the library. I miss casual interactions that spark a new idea or change the trajectory of my thoughts. I miss laughing.
It’s been an exceptionally beautiful spring here; the sky is bluer than usual because there are fewer cars and planes polluting the air. The weather has been uncharacteristically dry, which may be cause for alarm, but it sure helps. The trillium are flowering, and they’ve already turned from white to pink; bleeding heart is just starting to blossom.
But it’s impossible to write about what’s happening now without answering what’s probably your biggest question: why did we let it go down that way? Didn’t we do anything?
You have the benefit of history, and I’m pretty sure you’re mystified. You know that we elected a tv star / real estate developer to be president, a man with no experience in governing, and worse, an unintelligent man lacking compassion and grace. He is the master of pitting people against one another to further his own purposes. He has been accused of numerous crimes: he ran a fake university that bilked people out of money; multiple women have accused him of sexual assault; he was found guilty of holding back funds that had been appropriated to protect Ukraine from invasion. The list goes on and on. He’s turned out to be worse than our worst fears. And you’re wondering why we stood by and watched, as a guy totally unsuited to be a world leader bungled the response to this virus, allowing it to spread and kill thousands of people, trashing the economy along the way.
The truth is, we didn’t. We aren’t. We voted against him. The majority of voters did not vote for him. But a lot of people didn’t vote. We marched. We marched in the streets to protest his treatment of women, and we marched for science, and we marched to encourage impeachment and removal from office. But it didn’t seem to do much. We wrote postcards to other voters. We contacted our elected officials. And nothing seemed to have much impact, because our actions have been based on a false premise. We believed that people at the top accepted the same values that we thought were basic: human life is more important than the economy. Everyone strives to be a person of integrity. Living a moral life matters. But time and again, we’ve observed reckless disregard for the truth, for science, for human decency, for laws and customs. And we’re tired. We’re tired, and we’re heartbroken. We’re watching all of what we believed to be true about this great land be torn apart, limb by limb, and It’s painful. We know we’re in the middle of a carnivorous attack on our democracy in the name of greed and stupidity, and the usual tools don’t seem to be working.
We’ve got outrage fatigue. Each day, Trump does something that would have been unthinkable behavior for a president. At first, we got worked up each time. When his pussy-grabbing tape was released, we were shocked and disgusted. But he got elected anyway. When he failed to condemn neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, we were repulsed. And on and on. This isn’t about politics; its about integrity. We have a cruel criminal at the helm, ignoring the physicians and scientists who are trying to save lives.
At some point, many of us decided that in order to keep getting up each day, we need to limit our exposure to the sordid details. We do yoga, and try to remember to breathe. We get outside; we take naps. We try to be grateful for the beauty and goodness in the world, because sustained outrage is exhausting. But are we letting you down, Future Duvall? We want so much to stop this. We want a brighter world for our children and for you too, but we don’t know how to get there from here. Each day, many of us break down and weep over the state of things. People dying alone, saying goodbye to their loved ones over a video screen. Hospitals not having the supplies they need. Thugs running the country. We want a hopeful future, guided by ethics and science. We want bright possibilities for our children. But we don’t know how to make it happen. You, from your vantage point in the future, might know. You might see a false turn we’ve made, an action we didn’t take that could have changed the course. But trust me, we’re doing the best we can. We’re doing our best to get up and give it our best shot every day, staying home, trying not to become so riddled with grief and anxiety that we give up. We get up each day and plow to the end of the row.
If time traveling is available when you’re reading this, come back and tell us what to do.
We got our hopes up that decency would prevail in the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, when a brave, accomplished woman testified about being raped by him, only to have him confirmed to a lifetime court appointment anyway. We got our hopes up with the impeachment trial, that some members of the senate would stand up to the bully, only to have them dashed. And now, we’re watching grown men protest against the social distancing programs that have been put in place to protect us all, while the president eggs them on. Grownups are going out in crowds to protest the lock down orders. The lockdown orders designed to save lives. Trust me, women right now are in no mood to watch men tantrum because someone has put restrictions on their bodies. It’s hard not to curl up and weep.
But here you are, reading this in future Duvall, and that makes me glad. You survived! Duvall survived! It makes me think you love this place the way we do. It is a magical place, separated from the busier parts of the region by a north-flowing, powerful river, a river has allowed us to keep our small-town feel in the middle of a high technology boom. We cling to our heritage as a frontier town, a hippy town, a town that dropped pianos from the sky. We love this town, this valley, these people. I’m glad you’re out there, and I hope so much that you love this place the way we do now.
And if I have anything to offer you, it’s this. You can make all the plans in the world, but when it comes down to it, all bets are off. Prioritize relationships over money. Take good care of your people. Be kind. Have hobbies. Do the best you can. Get up each day and plow to the end of the row. That’s all that’s left, when everything else boils off. Good luck, future Duvall.