Yesterday I went for a walk. I have been going on a lot of walks ever since the word “quarantine” became a household term.
Sometimes, I like to be alone in the woods. I grew to become a big fan of the woods when I was a young man, growing up in a household full of females, waiting sometimes nine hours for the bathroom to be free. I visited the woods a lot back then.
One of my favorite secluded spots is near the water, in a big swamp.
When I arrived, I saw two men fishing. They sat on overturned buckets. One man was mid-60s, the other was about 19 maybe 20. Both wore surgical masks and they were sitting about 25 feet apart.
This is one of my all-time favorite fishing spots. But the funny thing is, this place has terrible fishing. That’s not why people come. They all visit for the same reason I do.
They come because these surroundings are a sanctuary. Large swollen cypress trees stand in swamp water that goes on for acres, dotted with billions of lily pads, croaking frogs, a few gators, and egrets.
I love egrets. Sometimes I stop by this little place simply to watch egrets. Egrets have that ice-cold glare. A look that says they are smarter than you are. A look that says they don’t give a rip about what kinds of problems mankind gets himself tangled in. All an egret cares about is eating.
I introduced myself to the two fishermen.
“I’m Mark,” the young kid told me. “And this is my dad.”
Dad said, “I’d shake your hand, but…”
Right. Social-distancing. I stayed about 30 feet away from them.
Dad has a weak immune system after having survived an infection following a surgery last year. When the coronavirus epidemic hit, Mark was away at college in northern Alabama. They told Mark to stay away from home for his father’s sake, until things settled down.
“I haven’t seen my dad in 93 days,” said Mark. “That’s probably the longest we’ve ever gone.”
They’ve had lots of telephone visits, but video calls aren’t enough. A dad and his son need to lock eyes and make sure the other one is still just as goofy as he always was.
A few nights ago, young Mark had finally had enough of being apart. He left Alabama and drove downward to Florida. It was an all-night drive. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.
“I just had to see my parents,” said Mark. “Even if I couldn’t come inside the house. I’ve been stuck in my apartment for so long that I’m going crazy.” He points to his father. “I miss this guy.”
They are taking lots of precautions. And I have to hand it to them, they were social-distancing like a couple of pros. Dad wore a bright red mask. Mark wore a Superman mask he ordered online. They were talking in loud voices so they could hear each other from far away. But mostly they kept quiet and fished.
The sound of the the woods was all around us. A great white egret stood in the distance, deathly serious. Looking for lunch.
I started to feel badly that I had invaded these two fishermen. Then again, I’m a columnist—sort of—and this is what I do. I’ve been invading family functions for years now, forcing my way into potluck lines everywhere from Pennsylvania to Florida.
Last night, when Mark got into town it was a tearful reunion in the family driveway. Mark’s mother embraced him. Dad watched from a distance.
Dad says it was difficult staying so far apart from his son.
“One of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Dad went on, “just standing there, not getting close to him, like he had the plague or something.”
Ironic choice of words.
Young Mark has not been sleeping in the house while at home. He is sleeping in a little shed his parents have outfitted with a cot, a lamp, and a window-unit air conditioner. There’s an outdoor shower with a garden hose.
“It’s not bad,” said Mark. “At least I’m home. But I wish I were inside with everyone else.”
This morning, Mark’s mother brought him breakfast and placed it in the yard. The family ate on opposite sides of the kitchen window, shouting through the glass.
“It really wasn’t bad,” said Dad. “Hey, I get to see his face, and see how much he’s grown in the last months.”
“Have I really grown?” asked Mark.
“Yeah,” said Dad.
After breakfast, they decided to go fishing together. They drove separately. They met here.
“It’s been so long since I went fishing with my son,” said Dad. “This is a pretty great day.”
After a few minutes, I decided to quit bugging them. After all, columnist or not, there is something sacred about a father and a son partaking in the sacrament of fishing. I’d give just about anything to fish with my father one more time.
Before I left, I asked each of them what they missed most during the coronavirus quarantine.
Mark said, “Normal life. Concerts, hanging out with friends. Being regular.”
Dad said, “Hugs. I wish I could give my son a hug.”
“Me, too,” the boy added. “I wanna put my arms around my dad, but, I guess fishing is the next best thing.”
Dad wiped his eye.
So did the columnist.