In 2020, the arrival of spring coincided with the rise of an unprecedented American public health crisis. As it is in other nations fighting the coronavirus, life here is profoundly changed, and we don’t know for how long. For the duration, though, Yankee’s longtime editor, Mel Allen, will be posting weekly dispatches from our home in southwestern New Hampshire.
March 25, 2020
The snow fell heavy and wet on Monday night, and we woke up to trees wearing a blanket of winter white. It was really quite lovely, and even though spring had arrived and I would have welcomed having grass to mow and a garden to till, there was something comforting in being out at 7 a.m. shoveling. The sheer normalcy of flinging snow off the car with my mittened hands and clearing a landing spot in the yard for Rudy, our fiery Jack Russell terrier, made the world seem, for that hour or so, quite ordinary. And for that I was grateful.
My colleagues here at Yankee are now working on our July/August issue, and our daily newsletters, and our constant outreach on social media. Sometimes it may seem as if this stuff just happens, as if by magic, but it doesn’t. And I want you to know the names of two of the people working hard behind the scenes: Aimee Tucker, our senior digital editor, and Katherine Keenan, our associate digital editor. They understand that they are building a bridge that spans the country, even farther, and whenever someone takes joy in making a recipe they send out, or scrolls slowly through the beautiful New England photos they feature on Instagram — well, in moments like those, they have given all of us a kind of landing spot.
The May/June issue, which we finished last week, will soon arrive in mailboxes around the country, filled with stories about paying a visit to Atlantic puffins on their rocky Maine island home, experiencing the magnificence of a windjammer under sail, celebrating the tradition of New England summer theater. These stories seem as if they belong to a different place, another time. And we all know they do. When we planned the May/June issue so many months ago, we talked in the halls about the summer ahead, the Red Sox, and whether Tom Brady could win one more Super Bowl.
So here we are. We remain at our post, but our task has shifted. We are looking for that delicate balance between acknowledging that we all feel anxious about what happens next, while still working to bring the beauty and blessings of ordinary life to you, wherever you are.
A few days ago, I heard from one of Yankee’s contributing writers who lives in northern Vermont. He wrote that he saw the year’s first red-winged blackbird in his yard, and that the maple sap was still running, and that a friend who was anxious about the headlines also had lambs on the way—and lambs won’t wait until the world is on an even keel again. This writer was saying when you simply look around, you can find timeless comforts even in the most trying times.
I also recently came across a Facebook post by a gifted local singer-songwriter, Wendy Keith, who plays all through the Monadnock region and beyond. Her new CD just came out — Wendy Keith and Her Alleged Band — and yes, I plugging her record here. Why? Because when my wife read her post, tears welled in her eyes and she shook her head, and I realized that even these dark days bring unexpected bursts of light. Here is some of what Wendy wrote:
It’s been 30 years, no, maybe 40 since I rode a bike. I’m not sure. It’s been a long while.
Today, here on Sanibel Island in Florida, where although it’s the month of March, it feels like July back where I come from in New England.
But today I made the little extra effort to do something that frightened me, and I know this sounds a bit silly, but hey, I’m 65 and almost 66, and falling has greater ramifications than it did when I was 20 or 30 or even 40.
Today I felt like I was 10 or 12 again and I tried something that felt virtually new again. I got on a bike and rode. And it’s true; it’s just like riding a bike.
When I was a child, my dad taught me how to ride the amazing two-wheeler…. He talked me into feeling confident, gave me a running push, and did the hardest thing parents ever have to do, he let me go. I was feeling so excited and adventurous that once I got going, I spontaneously thought I might get tricky and began to waggle my handlebars back and forth. I vaguely heard him say I shouldn’t do that because I might fall, when the pavement came suddenly up to meet me…. Boom — I crashed. This I remember well. I don’t remember getting up again, but certainly I did. I lived to ride another day.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped riding bikes. I grew up, went through college, met a man, married, and had children. I taught children how to ride bikes, how to drive cars; they grew up and moved on.
Now I am older. I have a grandchild who has yet to ride a two-wheeler. He will before too long and sometime he may fall.
And this season is radically different…. Radical and unfamiliar changes are taking place constantly, daily, minute to minute. Courage, faith, and simple daily tasks have become challenging, and being far from home right now is surreal and unsteadying….
We are in a small, private cottage on a long-planned trip, taking precautions to isolate and physically distance ourselves to the best of our ability. We drove on this trip, which gave us a sense of security and control at least over our transportation. Not much else has been normal. Restaurants are shut down now and an order has just been given to close all lodgings in the Florida Keys, not far from here, so we could be next to be told to pack our bags and go home.
But today we put on some sunscreen … and went outside and got on bikes and went for a ride. In a remarkable way, I was suddenly 12 again. I felt the wind on my face. I pedaled and balanced and loosened my grip and rode down the road like a pro…. I found myself riding all around the neighborhood, then down the bigger road and all around and around the nearby neighborhood. And it had a bell. I rang the bell.
Life is often so much about context and perspective. You, my friend, can draw any conclusions you like from this tale of my day in this troubled time. Today I got back on that bike.