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2020. COVID. FIRES. ELECTION STUFF. As a semi-retired geologist, fly shop owner and hopeless artist, I found myself waking up every morning in a normal state of mind and then, before I could even make it to my coffee pot, a gray cloud of something like depression descended on me. Then, I went to work at the fly shop.

In the beginning of this pandemic, as each state tried to figure out how to react to COVID and people were being offered unemployment, stimulus checks, I had to evaluate what I would do as a shop owner. I closed in March until I could make a decision and I reopened in April. Lemme tell you - I got quite used to being home with my house chores, animals, books to read, cooking, etc. I had no idea I could live as a homebody. Now, I know I can.

Then, the rules changed. People were urged to GET OUTSIDE. This meant recreational oriented business were allowed to be open. I couldn't get my regular, reliable, knowledgeable people to work in the shop because no one wanted to be exposed to COVID. Multiple of us are compromised. I also care for my 88 year old mother. So, I reopened as a sole shop clerk - myself, with limited hours: 7 to noon. I was devoted to running my shop in person every day.

My shop / our community / public lands were INUNDATED by people from all over the USA - people from out of state traveling to Colorado in a wave of what we locals called the "Corona Virus National Holiday." Joe Schmo was being paid to work at home and this situation resulted in JOE ON THE ROAD traveling - not staying home - because either Joe Schmo didn't believe in COVID and he was getting a sweet unemployment check plus additional +$600 a week. We were still learning what 2020 was going to be. I learned that Americans do not like being told what to do. Americans abide by the rules for a while. Don't ask us to bear a burden long term, though. We don't have the tolerance for being inconvenienced.

Summer of 2020, my shop (this whole district) FILLED UP to the brim and spilling over with people who have never gone camping before, never fished, didn't know where they were. All they knew was they had money and time off and they wanted to go to the woods and make campfires. Public land up here was trashed. The natural habitat and wildlife had NEVER seen this degree of impact - trout included. Cars were parked higgledy-piggledy in the woods, which filled with trash, poop, campfires, and off-trail tire tracks.

Happy Meadows on the South Platte River about 2 miles from my shop was a grand melee of humans and cars occupying that habitat without a break every day all summer. It was a circus right down to the banks as cars drove across the open ground and turned grass into dirt.

In this state of stress, I did 2 things: I adjusted my mind to be open, to be accepting and to live with compassion for all the other people who are also stressed. Tolerance. I chose to live daily without judgement because people, (like me) are not themselves these days. You can't measure people with the same stick as you were used to before COVID.

The second thing I did was to design personal escapes. I accessed topographic maps to look for high alpine creeks that were off the popular grid. I explored little blue lines on the maps (creeks) at elevations above 11,000'. I drove on questionable 4-wheel drive roads (legally, not bush-whacking). When I found a creek that spoke to me, I'd park and fish.

In this alternate reality, I felt my soul become recharged, realigned, and my mental state relaxed into appreciating my place in this universe, my right to be alive and part of the wind, sky, water and trees and rocks. I found my place of balance.

Now that we are moving forward into the next year, I know how to greet and welcome Joe Schmo who seeks their own place of balance. Joe Schmo needs to get out, to howl, to prowl, and to sleep in the woods. I get it. I think the forest will heal. At that point, all of us will have grown and learned and made new, hopefully well-founded, goals for the future.


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