I think of all the Irish who settled in the Adirondacks to work in mines, logging, tanneries, mills, schools, hospitals, road building, guiding, public services and law, stores, eateries, hotels and the Great Camps of the wealthy and well-known as domestics and caretakers. Their Irish culture and customs have influenced America greatly – our Christmas and Halloween traditions owe much to Ireland. Command of words for story-telling is a hallmark signature of my Irish ancestors. The Irish seanchaí (“storyteller”) traveled village to village earning a place to eat and sleep by telling stories to entertain country dwellers after their day’s hard work. Oh, the Irish love to turn words into stories. Joyce, Gregory, Wilde, O’Casey, O’Brien, Behan, Binchy, the McCourts, Friel, Rooney, Nobel Laureates Yeats (whose father the great Irish artist John Butler Yeats curiously reposes in the Adirondacks, an intriguing story itself), Shaw, Beckett, Heaney and so many other great writers and storytellers.
And these Irish words, “an bóthar fada,” loosely mean “the long road.” We all have traveled our own long roads since the COVID pandemic gripped our nation. This is our story. My wife and I logged over 5,000 miles crisscrossing five states during five months away from our home, carefully avoiding the virus and always quarantining along the way to protect others. We spent three of those months sheltering in our self-built, 30-year-old wee cabin in a vast forest halfway up an Adirondack mountain.
We left our home in Niskayuna, N.Y., in mid-February for a planned month-long visit with our daughter’s family on Chicago’s north fringe. We planned a long stretch to enjoy our grandsons’ school activities and outings to special events in and around The City of the Big Shoulders. Of course, that was the blueprint before the virus struck hard.
In March, life in America changed rapidly. Suddenly, Illinois and New York closed. Meanwhile, our other daughter and her family moved into the family home in Niskayuna to shelter safely in place away from their apartment in The City that Never Sleeps with its ever-threatening pandemic. The new living equations presented a dilemma: we couldn’t return to, and sequester alone in, our Niskayuna home. So, at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning in mid-March, we “got outta Dodge,” leaving Chicago for our Adirondack mountain hideaway, indeed a very long road.
Three months sheltering in a cabin in the Adirondacks without television, internet and phone service was an isolating challenge in itself, especially for obtaining provisions. But at least our entire family sequestering in Chicago, in Niskayuna and we isolated in the Adirondacks were all safe and healthy. In late June, our New York City daughter and her family were able to move from our home to a place downstate near The City for the summer and autumn. With a touch of sadness about leaving our Adirondack mountain hermitage in the forest and all its surrounding beauty, my wife and I looked forward to returning home for the first time since mid-February. But it was not to be, as suddenly our daughter in Chicago needed emergency surgery.
We started our long road journey back there at five in the morning, arriving that evening after her surgery. Near July’s end, she was progressing well enough that we could head home from Chicago. After five months since mid-February, we finally rested in our own home in August. Our journeys throughout those five months took us more than 5,000 miles back and forth over highways and mountain roads in five states. We sheltered ourselves each step of the way and carefully followed the CDC guidelines and Dr. Fauci’s advice over those long roads: masks and distancing always and everywhere, sanitizers, hand washing, and sequestering before and after getting provisions.
We survived, and we hope we’ve contributed to the survival of others by following these guidelines. But it’s not over. We all have the long road – “an bóthar fada” – still ahead of us. We all must travel that long road consciously changing our daily lives to take the precautions designed to protect ourselves and those around us. The safety measures developed by our country’s leading medical professionals, infectious disease experts, scientists and researchers save lives. My wife and I are proof that taking such safeguards has delivered us safely at the end of our five-month long road. For sure it’s been a slog (“slog fada” in the Irish), but it is a far, far better outcome than the alternative.