Return to Caldwell

I’ve been back in North Carolina for 10 days, and when I would have been blogging about the nostalgic second part of the Idaho trip, including the drive to Caldwell to see my childhood home, and the baseball field where I played catcher and second base, and the city swimming pool where I earned race ribbons, and the dinner and storian in Nampa with Peace Corps Vanuatu friends Doug Clegg and Pat Duncan, and the hike with Katherine and Anna in the Boise foothills, I’ve instead been at work, focused—like all humanity—on the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are extraordinary times. Nations are on lockdown, U.S. schools are closed and most large entertainment and business gatherings are canceled, and Duke has restricted travel, for a few weeks but also the foreseeable future. That means I won’t be attending the AAMC communicators conference or celebrating my fiftieth birthday in New Orleans, our family spring break on St. Croix is up in the air, and a summer cruise to Alaska canceled.

Now is a time to stay calm, stay healthy, and stay put.

In January, when I first read about the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, I thought back to my graduate studies. In the spring of 2003, I was taking Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases with Ralph Baric. One morning, he talked about the SARS illness that was in the headlines, and a phone call he’d just gotten asking him to get involved. He was, it turns out, one of the experts on coronaviridae. I wrote about his research soon after in an article titled Stalking SARS.

I keep thinking about this novel I read a few years ago. In a Perfect World, by Laura Kasischke, is about a family struggling to survive as the ‘Phoenix flu’ leads to the world falling apart. I found it on the bookshelf and handed it to Erin.

— You should read this, Erin. It’s a story about a woman trying to keep a group alive as society falls apart.

— Is it hopeful?

— Not really.

She tossed it back.

As I returned the book to the shelf, I paused to remember how the family in that story faced the hunger that eventually arrived.

The next day, I prepared two flats of seeds for the garden. My father taught me to garden in the backyard of that house in Caldwell.



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