Guest Columnist

A 20-year quarantine, but the virus is coming

Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.

I think I’m in trouble. I am an elderly man with underlying medical conditions, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. And I’m a person who likes to be in control, perhaps demands it, so this coronavirus stuff is difficult for me. I began self-quarantining more than twenty years ago, building a place in the country where my closest neighbors live in trees, in caves, and out in the open. The critters that share my land are my kind of company, not much for conversation, but very comforting.

As I write this it’s turning toward dark and there are eight deer in the field in front of my house, scattered, like they’ve learned how to socially distance themselves from one another in case of a virus. I see on the television news there are long lines of people at airports, cheek-to-jowl, backpack-to-carry on, a beautiful Petri dish for the spread of disease. With this kind of expertise by the TSA it’s only a matter of time before the coronavirus finds its way out here. My place is remote enough that there is no cellular phone service at but I’ve no doubt the virus will arrive, probably carried by some federal census worker, right to my door.

Above the grazing deer the western sky is layered with pink and gray, giving up a kind of dusky half-light embraced by the Hudson River School painters in the middle of the 19th century. In addition to the always-present deer population, robins have returned, bald eagles have begun to leave, Canada geese have begun northward migration, and I’ve encountered a few grasshoppers. Soon adorable little peepers down by the pond will launch into nightly choruses, an audio wall of sound I can count on when marveling at the Milky Way hovering overhead.

After a strange winter the woods behind my place beckons and it’s time to sharpen the axes. This year I may treat myself to a new 30-inch bow saw. Today’s bow saws are never quite as industrial-strength as I’d like but I suppose that market is long gone. Only old men still use hand tools. The once dry creek bed down in the hollow has been flowing for a couple of years and a couple of eroding banks need some attention this spring. I may call a neighbor to help with that one.

Oh, back to the coronavirus. Other than chain saws, I don’t fear much, but I do fear disease. Hospitals may offer comfort for some but I do everything I can to avoid them. Hospitalization for me is when you give in and admit you didn’t pay attention in biology class until the day the cute blonde became your lab partner, and by then it was too late. Thus I am forced to consult with doctors and nurses, all fine people mired in an imperfect system. And if the worst happens and I can no longer swing an ax, loved-ones will hover around my hospital bed, all wearing hazardous materials suits, but it’s OK.

In the meantime, or perhaps while I wait for the virus to find me, I will enjoy whatever time I have left, and how could I not? My two cats are sleeping happily in front of the stove in my living room, Nat King Cole is on the radio, the little glass of scotch is terrific, the sun has set, a book by Minnesota writer Bill Holm is on my lap, and I have plenty of toilet paper.

Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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