Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Essential exercise during isolation

Due to COVID-19, the border to Mongolia is closed, so I can’t go there. Film festivals are not in person. I stay home. A friend gets my groceries for two and a half months. In early May when I have my annual exam by telemedicine, I tell my doctor I’m gaining weight because the pool is closed and I normally swim five days a week.
The water outside is too cold, I tell her. She says, “Why don’t you get a wet suit?” Being compliant, I looked into it, but find that they cost $250 and you can’t even try them on because of COVID-19. My doctor says gaining two or three pounds is not so bad, but we are in this for the duration and one pound a month over many months could cause health problems.
I haven’t left my half-acre property in Middlebury. I am getting exercise by doing my own spring clean up — raking leaves and piling branches.
A Mongolian shaman writes me a message. “When the water is clear, the people will heal.” This makes me think, maybe I could go a little farther back from my property where there are wetlands and I could clean up the land. When I venture out, I find planters, plastic containers, beer bottles, and a camp chair. Each day I bring some to the garbage.
And I hear about a two-mile walk on the Trail Around Middlebury that goes through woods and is not too mountainous. Whereas I used to go places so I would see people, now I am looking for places to go without people. I have been isolated for over two months. I find it hard meeting people on the trail. To avoid people, I go earlier and earlier in the morning. This is more in keeping with my normal exercise pattern anyway, since I like to exercise before breakfast.
When I find a tick embedded in my knee, I decide I am done walking in the woods and cleaning up the wetlands — for now. We have a heat wave and I figure the water might be warm enough for swimming. Branbury Beach is crowded when I venture out. I am nervous, even as I walk past everyone to swim. The water is cold. The strokes feel like old friends, though.
If you live alone for months, you might begin to say things out loud. I do. Driving out the dirt road from Kingsland Bay after the first time I swim there this year, I hear myself say, “I feel like a human being.” Water is essential for me.
I find out I can go to Branbury any time — they don’t lock the gate. That solves my problem of bumping into people. I begin to swim there before breakfast. Things are becoming harmonious.  
One day when my work is done and I feel more relaxed about seeing a few people, I spend an afternoon at Kingsland Bay. First, I paddle my kayak to the opposite shore and lie on a rock reading. On the way back I glide past turtles, frogs, ducks and a Canada goose. My kayak slides over pond lilies, known as lotus blossoms in Buddhism and in Mongolia. After I put my kayak on land, I take a long, smooth swim. I haven’t had a hug in six months. I feel hugged. My cells feel awake. Water connects with all water, the whole world.
On the way home, when I find myself singing Mongolian nature songs with lines like, like “peaceful nature waking up” and “soft, tender world,” I know I have found balance.
Sas Carey has finished the draft of her memoir during the social isolation and has sent it out to a consultant. Hopefully, it will be ready in a year or two.

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