I don’t know exactly how many days it’s been since the “lockdown” began as we’ve not had to change much about our lifestyle. Remembering social distancing when I do come into contact with people was a little difficult at first, but now I’m so acutely aware of people and the possibility that each one is sick so it’s impossible to forget.
Otherwise things are pretty good. I’m most anxious about it in the mornings when I know I have to head up to the campground to clean the bathroom. There are 3 bathrooms here: 2 at the main campground (RVs and tents) and one at the lower “walk-in” sites (tent camping with no power or water on site). On one of my first days here we had a meeting with the other hosts, the manager and assistant manager. We talked about how to handle the current pandemic as it pertains to park duties, and who would have what duties.
Jessica is the park manager. She’s a petite woman with a big heart and a big sense of humor. She instantly seemed to be easy going and down to earth. I had been anxious about management at the new park; camp hosting with an almost 2 year old can be challenging and doesn’t lend itself to a park with strict scheduling expectations of hosts. I was relieved when I found a manager that was genuinely understanding and sympathetic to, not just our specific situation, but each team member – employee and volunteer alike – and the difficulties of navigating the pandemic from our perspective. It was relieving to find that she was aware of it and cares about it.
So when we had our first meeting to discuss concerns and come up with solutions. Jessica took a minute to express her fears and anxiety. She talked about seeing body bags on the streets on the news in Africa and her voice began to break. She talked about her husband and her daughters and the fear that they may get sick. Her sincere compassion and eagerness to be truly good at her job – both on paper and in practice – makes her a wonderful person to work for both now and under normal circumstances.
So I agreed to clean the bathrooms at the walk-in sites to help ease the burden placed on Jesse and Kaci, the other campground hosts. They’re a couple in their early 40s from Missouri and they’ve been covering the whole park for the lat month or two on their own. By cleaning one bathroom block Monday through Friday it eases their burden a little and makes me feel less guilty.
They’re great people too. We’ve had them over a couple of times to hang out. There’s enough space down here where we can sit our chairs a good 8-10 feet apart and just chat. They’re fun, easy to talk to, and we have a lot of similar interests. It’s nice to socialize from a safe distance in person and be distracted from all this for a little while. It’s only been a couple of weeks but I already feel like we’ve made some solid friends here.
Aside from hosting, life is pretty good. The weather has been beautiful so, when it’s quiet during the week, I’ve been taking Junior and Devon on some little hikes around the park where the trails are quiet. On a busy weekday we might encounter another person, but we’re able to pass at a safe distance.
We’ve come to love the lake trail. It’s a good way to kill an hour or two on a beautiful day when the sun is warm on my skin but the mountain breeze is crisp. It’s beautiful and peaceful down there. The short, flat trail is easy, but the budding forest floor and the increasingly active wildlife provides plenty to enjoy for all of us. Junior gets a real kick out of the two ducks and now quacks to coax them out of hiding, exclaiming “DUCKY” and laughing maniacally when they appear.
The grassy dam on the West end of the lake is a great spot to stop and let Junior run around chasing Devon, quacking at the ducks, and throwing rocks in the lake. Earlier this week Chris picked up some pizza and came and met us on the dam where we sat in the sun, ate our dinner, then fed the crusts to the ducks. It’ll remain a warm and happy memory from a time of darkness in human history. It made me feel very lucky.
Earlier this week Junior and I hiked the Tennessee Rock trail. This fairly short hike will remain a favorite of mine in North Georgia. It’s a somewhat unique trail in that in it’s short (approximately) 3 miles it traverses a variety of landscapes; starting as a dirt trail scaling the steep mountainside, tracing the narrow, rocky ridge of the park’s highest peak for a half mile, then dipping back into the canopy, winding through mossy mountain springs surrounded by mountain laurels, and passing through a 10,000 year old Appalachian Boulder field.
The views from the summit are spectacular; looking out to the North across a lush, fertile valley and onwards to the 80 miles of peaks in North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. While spring is a little slower to make an appearance up here at 3,500 feet, the wild violets and seas of emerald ferns flooding the forest floor are early signs of the mountain awakening after a long, grey winter.
After a few hikes I saw how abundant the wild violets are here. Their vibrant pops of purple hug the banks of the lake, surround the campsites, and speckle the grassy hillsides. I decided to harvest a few one afternoon with Junior and used them to make a batch of homemade wild violet jelly. Junior loves being outside and is equally fanatical about trying to help (even when he does more damage than good most of the time). So this was an activity that combined two of his greatest loves and, even though he spent most of the time bringing me rocks and sticks instead of flowers or laughing at Devon rolling in the grass, we all had a lot of fun. The jelly came out great and tastes like sweet spring in a jar.
We’ve all enjoyed having Chris around more. Even though it carries financial implications for him to be home, it sure makes family life a lot better. On days when Chris is gone, Junior often spends his time walking around calling out “Papa!” And patting his leg like he’s calling a dog. Junior awoke from a nap in a cranky mood a few days ago and, despite pulling out all our usual tricks, we couldn’t get him to calm down from his tantrum. So we went outside onto the grassy hill and Chris and I threw a ball back and forth until Junior’s tantrum ceased and he joined in, giggling uncontrollably every time he threw the ball down the hill to me.
We’ve used our newfound time productively too. Making use of our sunny, private site, we’ve planted a small container garden. Soon we’ll have tomatoes, peppers, green beans, squash, cilantro, and basil – all a few feet from our door.
Chris and I have also spent a little time (mostly Chris) on a few “camper-improvement” projects adding a little storage for Junior’s clothes and our shoes. This has freed the cupboard under Junior’s bed up to become a toy cupboard, though he now uses it as a reading-cave. Devon has also taken to laying in the 4 foot deep cupboard, and Junior practically dies laughing at this and repeatedly slams the door then opens it again to see if Devon is still there.
While there are days where I feel like a ball of anxiety from all this chaos in the world right now, I’ve found some fun and productive ways to silence it for a while and tune it all out. Though there are many things that make this time seem like a living nightmare, I find that when I turn the news off and focus on what’s right in front of me I am at peace. It’s those moments that make me wish that life this way would never end.