As a fan of the Hebrides, your lovely islands are never far from my mind.  I loved my visit in 2018 so much that I returned the next year with my mother, sister and aunt.  It was such a joy to share the beauty of the machair and to explore ancient sites.  I cherish the memories of our time at a charming B&B in Swordale, and I think I bought my body weight in Harris Tweed, says Bayberry L. Shah

What is it like sheltering from Covid-19 here in Georgia?  No doubt it is similar to Stornoway, but I’ll try to paint a picture of one American’s perspective.

When we had to move to Atlanta, Georgia, years ago, I was not pleased.  The massive city is known for sprawl and traffic.  Commuters spend hours in their cars on eight-lane highways and the summers are stifling. A local running group’s T-shirt says it all: “Heat, Hills and Humidity!”

However, Metro-Atlanta offers any cultural activity possible and the cost of living is low compared to other big cities.  We took advantage of this and bought a good-sized house in Marietta, just north of the city.  The turtle pond in the back was a main selling point for me and we have enjoyed hosting large family gatherings for Thanksgiving each autumn.

Unfortunately, Georgia is in the top ten states with the highest numbers of Covid-19, and Atlanta has the majority of cases.  Marietta is in Cobb County, which had some of the first cases brought over from Italy.  As of time of writing, there are almost 900 cases in our county and 43 deaths.  In Georgia, there are over 14,000 and 501 deaths.  These are scary numbers and we haven’t reached the apex yet. 

Initially, my routine wasn’t really affected.  As a Digital Project Manager, I had occasionally had projects on which I worked from home for long periods.  Thus, when my company initiated social distancing, I settled into my home office in front of my computer, enjoying the cat on my lap and the option to do laundry in-between conference calls.  We started team check-ins each morning to get the daily status. 

I pushed for having a little fun on Fridays.  We encouraged everyone to turn on their cameras and share their alternate personas.  Some wore funny hats, masks, university T-shirts, or showed off their collection of Star Wars ships. (These guys are UX Designers, coders and techies after all.)  I shared my Lord of the Rings action figures and said that a good PM needs the wisdom of Gandalf.  The team enjoyed it.  We made plans for upcoming Fridays to vary the themes, sharing our kids, pets or hobbies. Hey, if the virus is keeping us apart, at least we can make an effort to have some laughs. 

Regrettably, due to the downturn in the food-service industry, my project was put on hold and I joined a large group who were laid-off.  I had enjoyed my time at Focus Brands.  They own eight brands, some of which are global, such as Cinnabon.  I had helped launch a new mobile food-ordering app for McAlister’s Deli and then took over Moe’s Southwest Grill.  The irony is that these apps are crucial to their business now that pickup and delivery are the only options. 

Being let go was a mixed blessing. I had spent long hours at that job for the past year, so I was in dire need of a break.  However, the prospects for finding another job any time soon are grim.  Unemployment is high all across the U.S. and hiring is on hold. 

I tend to be a homebody, so on the surface, I don’t feel much impact.  I get my outside time each evening while running or cycling.  I have noticed many more people out for walks in the neighborhood.  At first, people would dart to the side and even turn their backs on me as I ran past.  Now, I see people still stepping aside, but they give a smile and wave.  It is sinking in that these interactions may be the only ones we have in a day.  It is also nice to see the community decorating their mailboxes and putting cheerful pictures in their windows to encourage their neighbours.      

I get the most solace from running in a nearby park.  It is an expansive, hilly area of dense trees, so even on busy days, I rarely used to see more than a handful of folks.  They’ve closed the parking lot but there are plenty of paths leading into the woods.  If the Sheriff wants to chase after me, he’ll have to be up to 7+ miles!   I certainly don’t see the harm.  It feels like a basic need to be able to roam in open spaces, particularly when we are confined to our houses.  All stresses from the day are shed when entering the green spring foliage of the forest, and my respiratory system sure gets a good, strengthening work-out!

I gave myself a week to take time to enjoy my leisure without a strict agenda, but now I’m trying to structure my days.  While working, you always think, if I just had one more weekend day, I could get so much done.  However, when unemployed, it is easy to see hours slipping by without tangible accomplishment.  I found myself reading emails I never would have before.  Generally, I deleted 90% and skimmed only half of the ones I kept.  Now I find myself being tempted into perusing articles like “Life thriving in 100 million-year-old rocks.”  Or “Meet the castaway who has lived alone on an island for 31 years.” I can also be guilty of scanning through limitless, beautiful images of Scotland on Instagram.

But it is nice to have time to explore items of interest other than food-ordering App designs!  Sometimes I’m deeply moved.  Recently, my attention was caught by the headline: “15 Eerie Photos of New York City during Corona Virus.”  We used to live just outside Manhattan and have many friends there.  Indeed, looking at those pictures brought the seriousness of the shut-down to heart better than anything else.  New York is such a vibrant place that brings people together from all over the world.  To see Times Square empty and the theaters closed seems so wrong.  Even the hotdog stands are chained up. 

This week, I am turning a new leaf.  I made a list of all the personal projects that were shelved over the past year and I’m determined to knock out a few each day.  I’m blocking out my time.  Mornings, I start out with a cup of tea, my notebook and Scottish Gaelic videos on YouTube.  I’ve been slowly picking up the language that I hope to use on my next visit.  I then tend to my email but am careful not to get sidetracked into intriguing rabbit holes.  In the afternoon, I apply to jobs but with little hope.  The last time I was on a job hunt, I was alarmed at how fast my resume could be scanned by a robot and rejected. It felt like I was spending my days throwing my hopes down a black hole. I only got traction after connecting with past colleagues. These days it truly feels like a futile exercise to hone cover letters and fill out tedious forms.  So, I’ll apply to a few and then turn to tackling my closet or sorting my numerous photos of standing stones.

Friday is my day to brave the outside world and do errands.   It feels great to put on colorful clothes and shed the long-sleeved T-shirt and nurse’s pants that is my dowdy home uniform.  I take off in my car with a burst of energy and switch on the radio. I used to get daily doses of National Public Radio during my 40-minute commute to the office, and now find that I’m not as informed as I should be.  I typically stop by the pharmacy and a boutique grocery store called Trader Joe’s.  I feel more comfortable going there since they only allow a certain number of people in at a time, wash down each cart and spritz my hands as I head inside. 

With necessities taken care of, my big treat is to go through the Starbucks drive-thru.  They’ve closed many locations around town, but fortunately there is an open one nearby.  I used to leave the office and finish out my Friday doing weekly reports while sipping a delish latte.  It has always been my treat, but now it feels like an extra-special indulgence.   

People are finding new ways to stay connected. I was invited to a video chat with close friends this week and several work friends are having one next week.   The Audubon Society is hosting a nature talk that sounds interesting.  My painting group usually meets for wine and snacks at member houses, but this month we’re going virtual for the critique night.  It doesn’t appear that I’ll be competing in my favorite road/trail running races or triathlons this summer, but groups are getting creative.  There are many fitness challenges to get involved with and plenty of online yoga.  I just heard that a local group is holding virtual pub-hopping runs!

We need these types of things to keep up our spirits.  What will really weigh us down are long-term challenges.  On the forefront of my mind is my Mom, who is fighting cancer in a rehabilitation center in Nashville, Tennessee.  Now that I’m not tied to work, I want to drive north to see her, but no visitors are allowed.  There is so much I could do to help with her recovery if I could just be closer. This is really tough. 

It is even worse for major events like weddings and funerals.  My Great-Aunt Dru just passed away and we were not able to come together as a family.   But I remind myself, “An ni a thig leis a’ ghaoith, falbhaidh a leis an uisge.” (“What comes with the wind, goes with the rain?”)    

Each one of us will experience our personal trials and have to learn to manage this unfamiliar landscape the best we can.  Whether in Stornoway or Marietta, the silver lining is that we will see the world differently after this crisis and appreciate what we have all the more.  Simple pleasures that we took for granted take on genuine significance.  We will be ready for a global embrace.

Sending a big hug across the Pond to you!  I can’t wait to come back and do it in person.

  • Bayberry L. Shah is currently in Marietta, GA. USA.  Follow Bayberry on Instagram:
  • Bayberrys for beauty, trail running, sheep sketches and eventually, travel.
  • BayberryDawn for her new painting series, “Dawn of the Creative Spirit,” which is inspired by Neolithic art.