Walking in the time of Covid

Beatrice and I go for a walk yesterday. We park at the boat ramp amid the start of Labor Day tourists: kids, floating devices, coolers, and dogs. We walk past and onto the trailhead. She tells me about how Jackson got really drunk last night. Syd’s son had a bunch of friends over, boys that we both know from the kids growing up, who are now almost adults, and Jackson and the other guy, I can’t remember his name, George or something, had a bonfire with the young men and drank. I mention that Andy did this kind of thing too, that we had something in common there, in our men who liked to blow it out once in a while, and were kind of dicks about it, frankly. We laugh pretty hard about that. She says that Jackson always ended up getting bloody out of the whole deal too, and we laugh again and then I tell her about Bobby grabbing Andy by the scruff and hauling him out of the conversation with Lars.

We are walking around the lake, and all around, the evidence that summer is falling and the signs of autumn rising. The alders are beginning to lose their leaves, and the gritty sour smell of them is comforting somehow, like a relaxation exercise. The trail is very dry and dusty in places, trod on by thousands of visitors, despite covid, despite everything, that still flood here to get away from each other.

We meet some groups of people on the trail, coming the opposite way, and each time there is the issue of masks, some people wearing them constantly, others hurriedly putting them on, while others grab their shirts and hold them up over their faces as they pass us. I have one in my sweatshirt pocket; Bea has to grab the front of her shirt, she left hers in the car. Always, our eyes meet with these strangers, whose eyes became more intense because you can’t see their faces, it is as if we look into each other’s eyes more now, because of covid, where a stranger might turn out to be something lethal for you to meet.  We also say hello often, which some people answer and some don’t.  I have the sensation, as we pass them, that I have to breathe a little differently because I am still breathing these strangers’ air.

Out to the right of us, the lake sparkles, a deep green color, like an emerald. You can look way down into it, clear to the bottom, sometimes you see salamanders floating near the surface and I always look for them but I don’t see any today. The water is very still and very very cold. It runs down off the mountain and even in late summer, as we are, it is still incredibly cold. When you swim in it, there are strange warm patches though. The smaller lake, further down, is warmer, especially at its lagoon end, but it is also more crowded and there are a lot of slimy weeds growing on the bottom that I find disturbing to step on.

Bea walks in front or behind me most of the time, rather than side by side, because of the trail being narrow and because of the groups of people we keep encountering. I watch her sometimes as she talks; she has a tall, slightly awkward grace and heft to her, she is very tall actually, and has a beautiful waist and proportions. She is also an amazing dancer and and has wonderful taste in music, all things which make me love her, along with a thousand others. She is wearing a skort and tennis shoes and a tank top with a button-up shirt over it, her clothing and the skin on her hands are speckled with paint. When she is here she is always painting something at the old farmhouse, or weeding the lavender and harvesting it. This is a rare summer in time for us, normally she lives in LA and works for Microsoft; we have settled into a routine of seeing each other once or twice a year. But this year, again because of covid, she and Jackson have been here since the beginning of July, and we have had a lot of time together, going out on the boat with Andy and crabbing, and also two hikes now, this being the second.

When we got to the upper lakes we sit down on a log and look at the lake. Below us, down a steep slope, there is a small sandy beach, unusual on the lake, whose edge is usually clustered with fallen trees and overhung with cedar boughs. We go down there to look. I say the water looks perfect for swimming and we should do that next time, I run my hand through the water and feel the deep cold. She feels it too and then I sit back on a log that is stretched behind us.

Bea is in front of me, her hands on her hips, looking out at the water, she is thinking about something, I can’t tell what but I want to take her picture. Always when I’m with her I can’t believe it somehow, like she is too good to be true, like I have to capture the moment, like I’m seeing an exotic creature that’s come out of the woods or something. Suddenly she turns and looks back to me and says “OK, I’m going in.” She strips off her clothes. I laugh with delight and I take some shots of her jumping in.

While she swims I look down the lake. This is a smaller lake, you can see all the way across very easily, and through the trees you can see people walking on the trails, and often hear their conversations. A group of three people are running, two men and a woman, they are talking about applying for jobs. The trees on the edge of the water screen them but I can still see them because they are moving, the impression is like a series of stills as they pass by, the girl is wearing a mask but the men are not, and both men have red shorts on.

On the way back down, we discuss when they are leaving to go back to California. She doesn’t want to go. I think about all the times the rest of the year when I could come up here alone and still walk here, while she will not be able to. But she will be able to walk on the beach and the boardwalk, and she also will be able to see the real ocean, the kind of ocean where you don’t see anything on the horizon. That is a sensation I love also, and these different types of water, the quiet inner lake and the broad outer Pacific both appeal for different reasons and different times.

When we are done and back at the parking lot we don’t hug each other because we can’t do that now. The parking area is now clogged with cars and a father is trying to unload everything from a mini-van full of equipment, dogs and children, the wife is holding the dog. I tell him we are leaving and his face is relieved, he says “oh, thank you” and we wave goodbye and drive away, first Beatrice and then me.

When I got to the main road, I almost turned toward home but then I stopped and thought I should go see my dad. He lives out the other direction, at our old place, and I have to decide whether I will go right or left. I can’t go without calling him first, because he sometimes likes to sleep in the afternoon, when he has worked too hard, which he does pretty much every day.

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