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It's A Slow Life, This Social Distancing Thing

Daniel Rivero
An oak tree, with a barely visible tiny branch of Spanish moss hanging off the power line.

I've been self-isolating since I got home from a trip to Grand Bahama, where I was reporting on sea-level rise. I came back through Port Everglades right as it was confirmed there were several COVID-19 cases connected to the port.

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For more than a week I’ve been staring at this oak branch. It’s a small branch, more like a twig, with Spanish moss on it. It's dangling from an electric wire a few feet outside the window where I work from home near the Miami River.

This is my life now. Working from home, staring at the branch with Spanish moss. It’s a slow life, this social distancing thing.

It’s the first time I talk about the branch, because if we’re honest, there’s not a whole lot of talking going on.

I see the cats congregating in the street, waiting to get fed. Wave to my 70-something-year-old neighbor who’s self-isolating. Yesterday we shouted to each other from a distance. He might go camping for a while close to Lake Okeechobee, and take some nature photos.

Nature, it seems, hasn’t read the news.

The sun is still shining -- a little too bright for my taste these days. I check the forecast, expecting a storm, but all I’m getting is perfect weather. 

Every night I still go for a jog, or take a walk to the river. Under the surface, schools of fish are still congregating in groups of 10 or more. I feel slightly jealous of them.

And then I grimace at the people passing by in crowded boats, partying like it’s 1999 and Y2K could end life as we know it.

I retreat back to my hole, where I’m slowly letting myself go. Old Hooters t-shirts and sweat pants are now proper work attire. Sometimes, the sweatpants are optional.

My beard is long and my neck unshaved. It’s like I’m in a Bizarro World version of "Cast Away," only I’m "Locked Inside."

A plane passes overhead every five minutes. Less often at night. Or maybe I only notice it less because that’s when I turn on the TV, or put on a record.

I find myself doing things I never did before. I cleaned that closet. You know, that closet. I slow roast some meat, and make a broth with the bones, just letting it simmer for hours and hours and hours.

I read the news, which is a funny thing because I’m also writing the news from home. And I try to internalize the lessons that I myself have been repeating to the public.

Don’t touch your face. Wash your hands. And then sometimes I convince myself that, hey -- this is my house, and I can’t get myself sick, right? And I feel a momentary comfort in the fact that at least I’m in my own home.

Then my wife comes back from her job at the hospital. The world closes in on me, and I walk myself to the bathroom once again, to wash my hands.

The thing about all this time alone, is that while it’s a lot, it’s also a little. When you cook three meals a day, there’s surprisingly a lot of dishes to clean. You end up sprawling out, using every single part of the home, and leaving little messes here and there. The chores stack up, and it ends up feeling less like a vacation from the world, and more like I’m grounded for a crime I didn’t commit, a crime I’m actually trying to prevent.

The world has gone crazy, I tell myself. I’m not crazy, I’m just trapped in a box trying to help the crazy people from me going crazy on them.

And then I glance outside the window, and see the little branch with the Spanish moss, waving on the electric wire everytime it catches a draft of wind. And I wonder to myself, when is it gonna drop?