On March 8th of last year I walked out of my apartment in New York for what would be the last time, although I didn’t know that then, and got in a car to the airport. I had bought my ticket back in February, when it was easy to believe, as an extremely privileged white person living in America, that everything would probably be fine. This was the first step in a carefully planned detonation of my old life: a month or so in Germany, a month or so back visiting friends in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, maybe a roadtrip, and then a summer contract working a season in Svalbard with M on the same ship where we met. I would stay off Twitter, do a lot of yoga, take careful notes on the ship, and shortly thereafter a prestigious imprint would publish my astounding, genre-bending book about sailing and ice and climate grief to widespread critical acclaim. The Arctic light would scour away the debilitating, impenetrable carapace of despair I had been constructing since 2016. My brilliant ice book would be reviewed in the Times (all of them). I would no longer have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life; the rest of my life would have arrived.
Even by March 8th it was still possible for someone like me to believe that everything would probably be more or less okay, although believing this took a little more work than it had a month earlier. The airport was nearly empty. I understood that getting on a plane was maybe not a great idea, but I didn’t know what else to do. Everything I owned was in storage except for a black North Face duffel bag full of Arctic clothes and Arctic books and a carefully curated selection of my very favorite decrepit band shirts that I also meant to take to the Arctic, a duffel bag that turned out to be so heavy I had to engage in an elaborate subterfuge to get it on the plane. I flew out of JFK at midnight and woke up on the other side of a different world.
A year passed. I looked at Twitter a lot. I didn’t go to the Arctic.
On Tuesday I got my first shot. The vaccine rollout in Germany is still slow. I was eligible only through a fragile technicality, and brought with me to my appointment a great many papers. The collection and presentation of paperwork is a particularly German experience to which I have now grown accustomed; one invariably brings the incorrect papers, or the correct papers but not enough of them, or the correct papers but too many of them, or one arrives with one’s papers and finds one has made an appointment with the wrong department entirely. I brought to my vaccine appointment several incorrect papers and not enough of the correct papers, and was missing several forms whose existence I had not been previously aware of, but three different extremely kind officials arranged for various exceptions in my case (the papers filled out there, the papers to be emailed after the fact).
After an anxious hour I made my way at last into a cubicle where a cheerful doctor distracted me (“English! American! Where? New York? Oh! Also a harbor, but not the same water, ha ha ha!!!! There you go, all done!”) and an efficient technician administered my vaccine, and that was it. I sat down in the observation area and, much to my surprise, started sobbing. Oh yeah, every single emotion I’d been repressing out of a survivalist instinct for the last year hit at once, have fun! a friend texted. The nice German soldiers overseeing the vaccination site looked at me and exchanged glances. Was the strangely dressed sort of feral-looking American lady having an Impfreaktion? Should a doctor be called? The strangely dressed sort of feral-looking American lady cried for fifteen solid minutes, and then it was time for her to go.
Fig. 13. The view from crying.
Last fall I talked M into getting a tiny apartment in the city for the winter (a shower! a shower inside my house! I am getting old, I guess) but the weather is heading at last toward springlike and we have been spending weekends again in the forest. The campground was open for the summer but closed again a few months ago; it is as empty now as it was a year ago when I accidentally moved here, which creates the eerie effect of no time having passed at all. This part of Germany has been in lockdown more or less continuously since November, but during this round the hardware stores were open for a while. A couple of weeks ago I bought soil and starts and a dinky plastic birdfeeder. Last spring I spent a great deal of time and a not inconsiderable amount of money installing a bed of kale and chard and mustard, the kinds of greens that are mostly impossible to find in Germany and that I long for daily. For several weeks I tended my treasures, grooming the earth for weeds, hauling water daily, watching them grow with delight—until one day they reached a precisely suitable height known only to Rodentia, and the field mice who reside in merry profligacy underneath M’s trailer emerged in the night and razed every one of them to the ground.
Fig. 14. Those little fuckers have no fear.
This year I did not make the same mistake. I bought sturdy herbs, a few flowers, didn’t spend that much money just in case. A mouse came out to look at me while I planted: a grandchild or great-grandchild of the generation that ate my vegetables, raised on incredible fairytales of the salad bar once installed for her elders by the furless giants who dwelt in the heavens above. “Go away,” I said to the mouse, who didn’t. Those little fuckers have no fear.
Even in the city every morning is a riot of birdsong.
I would not exactly describe myself as hopeful, but here we are almost to the point where every day will no longer exactly be the same. Wherever you are, I miss you.