Travel in Covidtime
I live in Maine, a perfectly nice place. One of the more picturesque entities in the United States, with acres of uninhabited land, an extensive and sensuous coastline, old-growth forests, granite-veined mountains, bears and moose. I love where I live; I also love to travel. Don't most of us yearn to push our boundaries? Tell us there's a deadly virus circulating and, seriously folks, it's best if everyone just stays home. And what is our reaction? We immediately want to go elsewhere. Anywhere.
In February 2020, my daughter-in-law needed to attend a conference, so I flew to Houston, Texas, to offer back-up for my son, temporarily the sole caretaker of their young child. On my return flight, it dawned on me that the virus we were hearing so much about was of grave concern. I was seated next to an Asian woman; her reflexive attention to adjusting and readjusting the medical mask she wore spoke silent volumes.
For the next two years, my husband and I went nowhere that involved mingling with unmasked people. Plans to visit friends in France and Italy were put on hold. We stayed home, took long walks in the woods, grew fond of our local birds and the woodchuck, so chubby he could barely hoist himself into the garden to eat our strawberries.
Spring 2022 crept up the Atlantic coastline. Whatever perfumed whisper it is that hitches a ride on the soft moist air of early April, the seduction was effective. No wonder they call it wanderlust.
One pale-grey morning, I got in my car and drove to Rockland, 50 miles north. The early mist lifted. In its place, a fog-like rain came and went. It was lovely and I was transported, happy to be away from home, happy traveling. The streets and sidewalks were almost empty and it was a simple matter to find a parking space. I walked to a café that I'd been to before, the one with the bookshop in the back, where you could order coffee and tea, buns with raisins and thick slices of banana bread. I was slow to notice that most other cafés and sandwich shops along the pedestrian shopping street were empty, their doors unyielding.
I knew this town quite well; it's not that far from where I live now and in a previous marriage I had become a frequent visitor. My then-husband's family had owned a cabin 10 miles away, and whenever I felt like it, I'd drive to Rockland and visit the thrift shops. It's how I dealt with boredom or conflict, getting lost in aisles of clothing and worn-out furniture. The town was interesting because it was not a summer destination for the wealthy, like nearby enclaves directly fronting on peaceful coves. It was a longtime, year-round working port. The houses were not fancy; to most eyes it was rundown, a working-class, purportedly drug-infested town, best skirted quickly en route to the picturesque hamlets scattered up and down the coastal peninsulas. There, well-groomed privacy and inherited cottages beckoned, not shabby quarters in multi-unit buildings, shingles pummelled raw by salt-laden storms.
After my snack, I strolled a few blocks toward a shop that I especially liked; the owner had a great eye for odd and inexpensive beauty. Her selection of household goods, vintage clothing, and amateur artwork was always fun to explore.
The door was locked. The large storefront window was empty, save for one serviceable but uninteresting rocking chair. What happened? Where was the window of temptations, which used to flirt so coyly with passersby? What about the wondrous assortment of fancy nightgowns, 1950s dinnerware, wooden toys crafted by grandfathers and sailors?
And that was the bellwether; the town was practically deserted. Empty storefronts with dust-mottled windows or ratty curtains lined both sides of the street. A few grim-looking bars remained, and a lone breakfast joint served meals for early-rising lobstermen heading out to the bay to set their traps.
I was disappointed, but even in the absence of unfulfilled expectations, I still gained the freedom to let go of my usual ruminations. Other people's needs and the never-ending to-do lists vanished. I walked the nearby streets, looking closely at each building and letting my thoughts ebb and flow. I sat on a wooden piling near the harbor, watched the fog thicken, and admired the squawking seabirds and their refusal to accept that there would be no tempting sandwiches to snatch off the nearby picnic tables.
There were memories here, though, and beauty; I had my camera with me and I took some pictures, like the tourist that I was. But I wasn't tempted to buy postcards and send them to friends; I've never been good at that when I travel. I always get lost in the moment.
Susan T. Landry lives in Maine, USA, and is a writer and semi-retired line editor, specializing in editing medical writing. She has worked at the New England Journal of Medicine as a staff manuscript editor as well as a freelancer, editing articles by researchers hoping to submit to medical journals. Her own writing has been primarily short memoir pieces. She has recently published a book for children WE (A story about us) and even, when the muse speaks, the occasional poem. Much of this writing can be sampled at her website: susantlandry.com. In other work over the years, and primarily for pleasure, she has been managing editor of several independent journals focused on other writers' memoir pieces. These journals include the print journal Lifeboat and the popular online journal Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie. Both journals eventually folded, victims of unexpected popularity.