"Things are different and sometimes scary and often challenging, and the vortex of the things we cannot control is wide. So I come back to the grass at my feet, the sight of rain on the far hills, the voices of my loved ones still far away, the peace of nature and the resiliency of people. I sit in this pause and breathe."
Words & Photography by Aislin Fall | @aislinfall
More than ever, our lives have become about the little things:
The shadows of rain clouds on the far hills, streaks of falling precipitation against the darker sky; sunshine patches on the balcony; a friend’s laughter over the phone; the warm smell of fresh bread that you just learned to bake; yoga poses flowing in the living room; a walk around the block; communal songs erupting from apartment windows; buildings applauding every evening for the doctors and nurses and essential workers who cannot stay home.
It’s a bizarre time in the world. Those of us who are home-bound have been given a collective pause.
Although pause sounds peaceful—serene. And that is not the experience many of us are having. It’s not even my experience much of the time when I’m not actively seeking moments of beauty. It’s hard. It’s anxious; it’s lonely; it’s stifling. Some days feel more like a coma than a pause.
It is very rare that we are unanimously interrupted like this.
It all changed so fast, didn’t it? Everyone keeps repeating these words as we find ourselves suddenly within ghost town streets and walls that have never felt so familiar. Our normal lives exist within a cadence, vibrating in the hum of silver cities and the buzz of industry, marching to the rhythm of coming home and then departing for a weekend getaway. We get used to the song, accustomed to the dance, our feet seem to find their own way.
I was overseas when the borders began to close as I had been when the first mentions of a virus in China began. The Western media had started speaking more seriously about the outbreak just as I was entering Myanmar with a 28 day visa. I said, “it’ll all be over by the end of the month.” That seemed reasonable; my mother’s worries excessive.
We never expect the unexpected—often we never even expect the predictable. It’ll be fine. It won’t affect me. We like to think that we exist as masters of own fate, but in mythology, fate has always been held like thread in the hands of others. There is a reason for this.
You will always be affected by the things you can’t control.
The things I couldn’t control went like dominos. They went like this: The Canadian government announced that all residents abroad should return home soon; soon rapidly turned into immediately; the start of flight cancellations amidst the climbing anxiety of my friends and family...
So I came home. My family stopped worrying. Another door opened.
I bought the ticket, indecisively and reluctantly. I hadn’t foreseen coming home early; even three days prior to what became my departure date, I was hoping for at least another two weeks in Myanmar, telling my parents that I would continue to watch the news carefully while continuing on for as long as I could. Returning home felt like a fearful decision and I hate the idea of acting out of fear. I felt cowardly and boring. Was it the wrong choice? Should I have been braver, held on tighter, waited out the storm, pursued a path that would make for a more interesting story even if it was far riskier?
Travel has made me braver but I still worry so much about doing the right thing.
But travel has also taught me that it doesn’t really matter. It’s all pebbles really. Right and wrong don’t actually exist. There is just different. Different paths, different outcomes, different stories.
Homeward bound: the airports were quiet. That was the first time it started to feel like the end of the world. How often do you see a tarmac with no hint of activity, so many planes motionless and the sky empty? It felt like a breath held in.
It all changed so fast. Other travellers have similar stories and the emotions have ranged from rage to acceptance to heartbreak. Some decided to continue travelling—seeking countries with open borders and guest houses still permitting foreigners. Friends of mine have since been repatriated; others were on the last flights home. It all changed so fast. You run the risk of whiplash.
At the last airport, I saw my dad waving from across the parking lot before he threw a bundle of blankets and my winter coat into the back of his pickup truck. Once he had returned to driver’s seat, I clambered up, tossing my main 40L backpack and my Smith the Roll Pack into the bed of the truck where I wrapped myself in a blanket as the winter air passed through me, the truck slipping into motion.
Yes, my dad gave me a ride in the bed of his pickup truck. These are days of social distancing.
My world looks different now. Each day, I awake to a slow life. A waiting life.
I feel like I’m waiting for something.
In this space, I reevaluate. What does connection, friendship, passion, productivity, and play look like now? How does community and identity exist in quarantine? Can happiness thrive in isolation? What I am to do with all this time?
I’m lucky. Behind the apartment, empty hills roll against each other like solidified waves. As parks across Canada and the USA close and people everywhere are losing their ability to spend time in the outdoors, I still have access to this wide open space. Desert brown colours of winter, big blue sky, the must of pine trees. I’m free to wander, seek mountain goats or wild horses, forget about the rest, fear ticks instead of the consequences of a pandemic. Nature continues to be the same source of escape that it has always been, miraculously unchanged, consistent in its rhythms.
Here within a pause. That’s how it seems from the flat top of the nearest hill, this body of mine still Asia tanned (surely to fade in this tail-end of winter), sitting on a large lichen-hued rock, fresh snow on the far side of the valley, lakes a colour of dark stone, sprawling township below and a little white church. Nature is always quieter. It’s funny how here, silence feels like a detox while in the cities, it’s entirely haunting.
Here is grounding, bluebird song and grass whistle. I come here for perspective, to be reminded of the same things travel and nature always say: everything passes, nothing is forever, the seasons continue their cycles. I come here to look for the little things that feel bigger than any society-halting pandemic.
Honestly, I’m restless more than nervous. Restless is a seed in my palm that itches to grow with spring. Here in a pause, I wonder if I press it into the soil it will sprout patience instead.
What else is there to do?
I’m used to exploring with arms stretched wide, scattered everywhere. I miss the road, I miss roaming. So I seek to redefine what those are to me, seek to sink deeper and more deeply discover what is here at my feet. Find different ways to connect.
I can see a cave on the far hills. I save it for later. I count the trees, look for somewhere new to sit and watch the season slip into warmer hues. I wonder how long I will have to sit before the wild horses forget their fear. I try to avoid thinking about how reluctant I am to have a home again. I dream about pitching a tent up here. It’s about as far as I can go right now.
I name my blessings. I try to be as open as these fields, pretend to be no one and nowhere and nothing else, just a girl on a rock in the grass and wind.
Everything seems slower now so I am taking the opportunity to look around, to observe deeply, to absorb the details. My life has become about the little things: these small examples of beauty to find big joy within. Instead of thinking in months and years, I am taking it day by day and week by week. Things are different and sometimes scary and often challenging, and the vortex of the things we cannot control is wide. So I come back to the grass at my feet, the sight of rain on the far hills, the voices of my loved ones still far away, the peace of nature and the resiliency of people. I sit in this pause and breathe.