Happy new year, everybody. I hope you had a cozy holiday and got to exchange presents and eat all the figgy pudding and share the specialness of the season. I’m certainly grateful this year that I have someone to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with and rub my feet — that special someone with whom to share in the existential dread of the daily news cycle.
Nestled in our stockings this year were COVID-19 rapid tests and N95 face masks. “We should tell the kids that test kits are quickies.” I said prepping the swab to pierce Jay’s sinus cavity with.
“How heartwarming,” Jay said, setting his swab sample into the tester. “This is almost romantic. It reminds me of a pregnancy test. Oh, the nervous anticipation.”
“I remember. You kept asking if it was a boy or a girl,” I said.
“Congratulations, Ms. Midge, it’s COVID!”
It wasn’t of course. We were just joking around, hyper from the candy cane sugar cookies.
Jay was getting ready to have dinner with his family. Everyone was testing beforehand and wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Did they know how to rev up for the Christmas season, or what?
I wasn’t feeling up to it because I felt weird about bringing along my portable oxygen and holding conversations with a tube up my nose. I’m still recovering from COVID-19 pneumonia. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I always feel weird; large gatherings disorient me. One Christmas my mom slipped me one of her pain pills to relax and I ended up singing German folk songs with my grandmother. In German! I didn’t know that I even spoke German, let alone sing folk songs.
I saw articles in Vogue and Glamour online advertising N95 face masks — which types are the best, how important upgrading from cloth is, how to prepare for the new variants surging through the population. I feel bad now for wasting my money on fashionable, fun face masks made from cloth. What the hell was I thinking? I bought mermaid cat prints and diva homages, and a Tyrell Corp. owl logo. Maybe when these lethal viruses dial it down to Defcon blue or green we can wear the old masks — the ones that match our outfits. Or something.
It’s moot at this point anyway since I have avoided leaving the house. Between The Snow-pocalypse and omicron AND my oxygen tank, the outside place seems triple stacked against me.
Jay teases and says “what are you saying? You never go outside, anyway.”
“Well, sure. But now I don’t even have the option. I mean, that’s probably worse,” I said.
One bright feature of the new year is that I started a new job writing a column for High Country News called “Heard Around the West.” It couldn’t be a nicer writing gig. Because while the rest of the daily news teams will be researching and reporting on disasters and climate change, car wrecks and COVID-19 fatalities, I will be combing the internet for stories that make readers laugh. Stories that spark joy. Stories that uplift the human condition. And this really couldn’t be a better way to ring in the new year — with a kind of resolution towards holding space for joy. Which will be an intentional practice, a routine.
So let me leave you with this: One story I’ve been following is about the Grand Teton mama griz, Quad Mom #399, and her four cubs. She was tagged at birth in 1996 and over the years has birthed three different sets of triplets in addition to her current quad. She is mama and grandma to two dozen bears. Photographs of her and her current brood show them foraging on public land through Grand Teton Park, Teton National Forest and in the National Elk Refuge. Cams have recorded the family roaming through downtown Jackson Hole.
I spent three summers and early falls in Teton Valley and seeing these bears would have been akin to a religious experience, depending on whether I was in a car or in an open field.
I’ll keep thinking of those bears, snug and asleep in their den this winter. Just as I am tucked away and snug in my own. I am glad that they don’t have the daily news or Twitter updates to bother themselves with. But I also hope they stay out of trouble and get enough to eat.
Midge is a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and was raised by wolves in the Pacific Northwest. Her book of essays Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s was a finalist for a Washington State Book Award. She enjoys composting and frisky walks through dewy meadows. Midge lives in Moscow.