I spent several years working and exploring in remote corners of Alaska as a young woman. This required transportation in floatplanes and small boats to rocky shores, arctic lakes, meandering rivers
and remote airstrips. The weather played an important part in determining departure and pickup times. It seemed that the pickups were often the most delayed. Maybe that’s because it was the end of a trip when I was tired, cold, and desperately in need of a shower and my own bed.
When the visibility drops or a front moves in, small planes don’t fly and little boats don’t navigate. So you hunker down and wait because there is nothing else you can do. There are no answers to be had when as there is no communication. At that time there were no cell phones and it was too remote for them to work anyway. You learn to surrender to the not knowing and make the best of it in a soggy tent, a primitive cabin or wherever your shelter is,
There is an abundance of time that you need to design in that uncertainty. You write letters, trade books, play cards, take walks and really notice the environment that is your temporary home- the flowers on the tundra, the fish rising in the water, the bugs, the calls of birds from above. You talk and talk some more. This happened enough where I gave it a name- the “Waiting for the Plane Game,” a zen exercise that can always be honed.
Usually by the third day then the food was quite skimpy and the toilet paper may have run out (not the end of the world- you improvise) you would hear the distant hum of a plane engine like a large insect approaching and spot a speck in the sky growing larger. The wait would be over and you could leave the wilderness to return to your life in civilization that seemed more under your own control.
This Coronavirus pandemic reminds me of those times years back- the uncertainty and the isolation. This time it is because of a storm unleashed by disease-bearing microbes that know no borders. Again it’s a time to be more frugal and more inventive with the abundance of discretionary time that has been suddenly bestowed upon us. If there is a gift in this global challenge it is the opportunity to slow down from the blistering pace we live our lives and really catch up with ourselves and others. This is our modern-day wilderness that we are stuck in. There is no way of knowing when it will end. The only strategy that will work is to make the most of it. Clean things out, plant a garden, cook, make, walk, write real letters to old friends and send them, talk on the phone- don’t text, take walks and learn to notice the things around you.
Stay well and learn to surrender to the waiting. It will end.
by Mary Oliver
Today I am flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten
And so forth
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.