Letter from Eugene, Oregon

Anita Sullivan

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“How could this precarious situation come to pass? That instead of climate change we humans might instead be finished off a bit sooner by a simple attack of a highly infectious disease we failed to prepare ourselves for. But we don’t see it that way yet because even here in Oregon, which has a fairly liberal minded population, accustomed to critical thinking, we’re still entrenched in the earlier, older Story of Ourselves. The one where humans are the pinnacle of creation and therefore basically immortal as a species.”—Anita Sullivan

On the Other Hand

By Anita Sullivan

Willamette River and Coburg Hills from the Owosso Bridge, Eugene, OR.

The Willamette River and Coburg Hills from the Owosso Bridge, Eugene, Oregon. (Photo: Patrick Sullivan.)

Anita Sullivan

EUGENE Oregon—(Weekly Hubris)—1 May 2020—Dear Outside World,

I’m standing on a footbridge that crosses the Willamette River, halfway through a popular 3 ½-mile asphalt bike and pedestrian loop. I live about a mile from this trail, so it is my “local” one. I’m looking north at some gorgeous, purple-ish dark green-ish mountains on the other side of a highway. Behind me in the spring sunshine people are biking, walking their dogs, seriously striding along or, like me, just wandering with my binoculars hoping to catch sight of some herons later on in the wetland component of the trail. A few people are wearing masks, but everyone looks relaxed, as if staying alive hadn’t recently become a front-and-center daily chore instead of a familiar but invisible loping shadow.

We are still allowed outdoors. The death rate from the virus here in Oregon is still quite small. Nobody is keeping us locked up, nobody is forcing us to wear Hazmat suits when we go out in public. Not yet.

How could this precarious situation come to pass? That instead of climate change we humans might instead be finished off a bit sooner by a simple attack of a highly infectious disease we failed to prepare ourselves for. But we don’t see it that way yet because even here in Oregon, which has a fairly liberal minded population, accustomed to critical thinking, we’re still entrenched in the earlier, older Story of Ourselves. The one where humans are the pinnacle of creation and therefore basically immortal as a species.

I’m grateful to the Eugene for keeping the biking and hiking trails all over the city open during this time. Every single park and outdoor area is bristling with signs reminding us to stay six feet apart, even though some friends keep reminding me “it’s really ten feet to be fully safe.” I have already almost lost a close friendship by refusing to wear a mask when we take a hike together. 

The argument for continually ratcheting up the level of precaution is logical and full of facts. The argument against it is poetic and spiritual. There is no real common ground between those who think humans should become more like robots in order to be “safe,” and those who think the most important thing is to keep your immune system strong and your reserve of joyous love in good supply (not an easy task, I usually run out at about 4:00 in the morning).

So, I work in my garden, on my knees, hands continually cleansed by the dirt from pulling weeds and planting seeds one by one into carefully prepared holes. I read poetry. I read mystery novels. I talk to my friends and family on the phone and send endless emails and text messages. I visit select friends who are willing to take the risk of sitting within six-to-ten feet of one another for wine and direct conversation.

I miss hugs. I miss the Library. I miss the Earth, which is tipping away from us into its next big shift, at the end of which Homo sapiens sapiens may no longer be among the extant species, and very likely the viruses and bacteria that have plagued us for so long will be settling into their next million year stint.

To order Anita Sullivan’s books, The Rhythm Of It and/or And if the Dead Do Dream, click on the book covers below.

“The Rhythm of It: Poetry’s Hidden Dance,” by Anita Sullivan.

Sullivan And if the Dead Do Dream

Anita Sullivan

About Anita Sullivan

Born under the sign of Libra, Anita Sullivan cheerfully admits to a life governed by issues of balance and harmony. This likely led to her 25-year career as a piano tuner, as well as her love of birds (Libra is an air sign), and love of gardening, music and fine literature (beauty). She spent years trying to decide if she was a piano tuner who wrote poetry, or a poet who tuned pianos. She traveled a lot without giving way to a strong urge to become a nomad; taught without becoming a teacher; danced without becoming a dancer; and fell totally in love with the high desert country of the Southwest, and then never managed to stay there. However, Sullivan did firmly settle the writing question–yes, it turns out she is a writer, but not fixed into any one category. She has published two essay collections, a novel, two chapbooks and one full-length book of poetry, and many short pieces in journals. Most recently she published Ever After, a novel that takes place after life but before death, mostly on the Greek island of Ikaria. Every incident in the book happened to her in a slightly different form: she always writes from direct experience. Even more recently (November 2016) Sullivan published a chapbook of poems, And If The Dead Do Dream. True to her Libra roots, it has a theme of parallel worlds.
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3 Responses to Letter from Eugene, Oregon

  1. Avatar judy pearce says:

    Wearing a mask is an indication that the wearer cares for her community and realizes she is not “entrenched in the earlier, older Story of Ourselves.”

  2. Avatar Anita Sullivan says:

    Thank you, Judy, I certainly agree. But obviously there is a limit to what social distancing and masks can accomplish on the prevention side of the equation, and since we have no vaccination or cure, we are left confronting the prospect of being forced to choose between equally valid principles that just plain contradict one another. I simply cannot go for a hike wearing a mask. If the hiking trail is as crowded as a grocery store, then I would go find a more deserted place, but I would never subject my body to the risks of not getting enough oxygen when I am exercising outdoors. To me, this is not a “selfish” choice, but one that honors the whole principle of what the natural world is about.That’s an example of one principle vs. another, and making a careful and deliberate choice between them.

  3. Avatar Mihai Radulescu says:

    Interesting what I knew about Willamette Oregon was Pinot Noir that sometimes comes close to California’s Carneros – in fact Willamette hired away the best Pinot Noir maker from Carneros – what a horror!
    Now Willamette shows me you. You are hungry for “laughter and here ever after…” and also for “hugs” – that is why Kenny Rogers had such an enormous success; his songs were actually stories… You do this too.

    That is why I am shaken by “In this terrible time, marginalized people—homeless people, LGBTQ people, old people living in congregant communities, poor people, mentally ill people, undocumented people, simple people, ignorant people—are all especially at risk.”
    You tell us a story and more so in your subsequent paragraphs… Again, it’s the STORY that makes your writing powerful.

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