Three Buffaloes and a Pandemic.
I wrote this piece in April 2020. It is now August 2020. These are some images from my time at home again.
Three buffaloes just moved in next door to the house I grew up in. Even for a small town in Southern Idaho, that is bizarre. I’ve always thought of my home state as indestructible. Most people forget Idaho exists, or they confuse it with Iowa, or both. It’s a landlocked state, so tsunamis can’t destroy it. It's not on any major fault lines so earthquakes aren’t a worry. Tornadoes are a mythical legend. So few people live here that nothing bad could happen. I always joked that should the apocalypse ever arrive, I would be safe in Idaho, surrounded by the Mormons with their basements resembling miniature Costco’s in a state most people couldn’t even locate on a map.
So when a week ago I sat in my parent’s kitchen and glanced at the headline blaring across the front page of my small town’s newspaper, “Idaho’s Blaine County Reaches Highest Rate Per Capita in the World,” I felt a screeching halt in the world’s never ceasing rotation. Blaine county has a population of about 22,000 people. It’s a rural mountain town, a popular tourist destination for ski vacations led by rich Californians and celebrities alike, indeed Tom Hanks and his wife had been there just two weeks ago. For every 10,000 people Blaine County has a rate of roughly 141 positive cases of COVID-19. Compare that to NYC’s rate of 60 per 10,000 or Italy’s rate of 19 per 10,000 residents per capita.
It was these numbers that removed me from the quarantine I had placed myself in mentally. I had been back at home living in a bubble, 2 miles from the nearest house, removed from my world for two weeks now. My precious home, that with all my dislikes and trauma that come with having grown up here, was under attack. My untouchable Idaho had been touched.
About a week later after reading this headline, I was again sitting at that same kitchen counter when the lights hanging above me began to sway. I felt my first tremors of the earth shaking as Idaho experienced a 6.4 magnitude earthquake, the largest earthquake to hit the state since 1983. There’s no way to accurately explain, describe, or paint the picture of the world we are living in right now. It is a textbook definition of the word surreal, “marked by the intense irrationality of a dream,” a dream we are all begging to wake up from. Therefore in my mind, it can only be understood through the comparison to feeling the earth shake for the first time or having three pet buffalos in your backyard. There is no room for elegance or explanation in the recordance of a surreal time, only explicitly truthful documentation. Andre Breton perhaps describes it best,
“The revelation of the immediate, bewildering irrationality of certain events requires the most severe authentication of the human document conveying them.”
“Bewildering,” and “irrational,” are adjectives that fit rather comfortably in our current understanding of the world. It’s strange though, because as shockingly different as all our lives have become, a sort of normalcy has been established amidst the chaos. You see someone on the same side of the street and you cross to avoid closer than 6 feet of contact. You wear gloves and a mask when making a trip to the grocery store. You have happy hour with your friends via Zoom. You go to sleep and you wake up, the only difference for me is I wake up in my childhood bed. Our bodies still ache with the memory of being touched, of being in a crowded room and talking to someone face to face. Saying “hello” to someone with a hug instead of a wave through two screens separated by thousands of miles.
I watch from 3,000 miles away this city that I love, drowning in the silence of deserted streets. I think of my roommate alone in our apartment, and wonder if she has trouble sleeping at night, with no sirens to sing her a lullaby. I am 3,000 miles away from that ghost town, and it still manages to haunt me because I don’t want to be here, I left this place for a reason. But where are you supposed to be during a time like this? With the ones you love, it’s just unfortunate that the people I love and the place I love cannot coexist.
Ian Walker defines the Surrealist artist as one who, “works from the subjective and makes it real.” Certainly it is surreal to think of an empty Times Square, just as surreal as it is to think of the buffalo sleeping next door as I write this, and yet both exist in reality. The word that seems to fit more appropriately to this fluctuating anxious world we exist in right now; is unsettling. It’s unsettling to feel as though I’m back in high school sitting at my kitchen table doing homework. It’s unsettling to imagine my aunt quarantined in her bedroom as she rides out the virus and prays her children don’t get it. It’s unsettling to think I could have passed it on to someone. It’s unsettling that so many people are forced to return to homes where they do not feel safe. It’s unsettling that thousands of people are unemployed now. It’s unsettling that more people of color have died than the white majority. It’s unsettling to think that our hands have become weapons to our own existence. It’s unsettling that there’s nothing we can do, except stay inside and wait. Perhaps most unsettling is our connection to reality, or rather the dismantling of it. We are existing in a world where fact and hallucination are convoluted, subjectivity is documented, and reality and surreality become indistinguishable.
It has now been four months since I wrote this. Four months and somehow nothing has changed, but everything has changed.
The buffaloes are still next door.