Crestone is coping with Covid-19’s social distancing

The Crestone Eagle • April, 2020

by Larry Joseph Calloway

In some ways, the spiritual way in particular, Crestone is a community of people who want to be left alone. So for many the isolation during the first weeks of the pandemic was not that strange, except that all the spiritual centers were closed and food service was limited to takeouts.

As Bill Miller, a former engineer and Zen monk, put it, “Having been a Buddhist practitioner for most of my life, it is no big deal to shelter in place and be quiet. That said, my life has hardly changed from what it was two months ago.”

In comments I sought for the Eagle by phone or internet, other retired people expressed similar equanimity with the stay-home mandates of government and media. For younger people, however, it was more complicated.

Helena Wright, 32, of Moffat, who grew up in Crestone, said the global crisis means worrying about “half a paycheck” or being out of work entirely. “As to my personal life, the line graph progressing steadily upwards was suddenly halted.”

The COVID-19 virus raged through adjacent counties that have major winter sports developments, even after the ski areas were closed. Eagle, Gunnison, Pitkin and Summit Counties, in that order, had the highest rates of infection, initially accounting for a fourth of the state’s cases. But the virus was slow to spill across the Gunnison County line into bordering Saguache and Chaffee Counties.

Colorado had already reported 591 positive tests when the first two cases were reported in Chaffee

County (Salida). The state total was 720 when the first San Luis Valley cases were reported by Rio Grande County (Del Norte-Monte Vista). Those first four patients were quarantined at home.

The two hospitals immediately accessible from Crestone are San Luis Valley Medical Center at Alamosa with 49 beds and Heart of the Rockies Medical Center at Salida with 25. Public information officer Donna Wehe at Alamosa said the SLV center was studying consolidation with hospitals at La Jara and Del Norte for more beds in event of the worse-case scenario. The Salida public affairs office did not respond to messages and calls.

The groups that follow religious calendars were exploring ways to commune beyond closed doors. Ramloti of Hadakhandi Universal Ashram said that only “four of us” performed the March New Moon fire ceremony and would continue with related observations. Fr. Eric Haarer of Nada Carmelite Hermitage said he is  sending gospels and homilies to a digital mailing list and the diocese is live-streaming a daily mass.

Asked for his counsel in these times he replied, “Don’t get caught up in superficialities and fear. Find the depth of your soul, a place of security from fear.  There is a lot of fear and a lot that is unknowable, but it does not have to turn into panic. Panic controls rather than we control the fear.”

Tshering Dorji, owner of the Desert Sage restaurant, had similar advice from a Buddhist point of view.  “I always tell myself, ‘Be careful but don’t be overrun by fear. We have a saying in Bhutan, ‘If you can take care of the problem by yourself, why worry? If you can’t, why worry?’”

But as a restaurateur in a pandemic he listed more immediate rules:  only deal with one person at a time, listen to what scientists are telling us, wash you hands, be careful, be mindful.”

Matthew Crowley of Shumei International Institute said there is some talk of live streaming sampai, the Japanese group’s prayer gathering. He said a friend had reminded him “of the importance of positive thinking and not being in denial.” He said he fears for his family but he is not afraid. And, “I am trying to turn isolation into solitude, which can be precious.”

Kate Steichen, the local head of Sufi religion, said, “Our spiritual practices and our spacious, rural environment both are huge advantages during this pandemic. John (Loll) and I savor the extra quiet that we now have, feeling a luscious quiet within us as well as in our exterior lives. We need to be creative in adapting to this new world.”

Two retired medical doctors who live in Crestone were asked how they are coping with the epidemiological crisis, and they did not express anxiety.

Bill Sutherland said, “I try to imagine all the undone tasks/reading that I will accomplish. But if I can’t not do them and instead flee to the faces and hugs of friends. . .” he said, adding a question mark. “I miss the Desert Sage.”

Vince Palermo, 86, said, “I expect to be around for a while longer, to enjoy friendships and extend love whereI can. Choosing fear is not a useful option,”

Among those who are self-employed and can keep working, Patrick Moore (Tin Man Services) said, “I recommend people maintain some normalcy in their lives; go for walks, go into the post office/grocery store as necessary, keep in touch with your friends and plan for the future.”

Another, Michelle Shaheen (Queen of Tarts, a bakery) said, “We are smack in the middle of interesting times with social distancing and that nagging temptation to panic; we find ourselves suddenly getting to know our homes, our families and lounge-wear again. The  unfamiliar schedule full of no place to go or be, except with our thoughts, ourselves and the mountain air offers us new eyes. It is amazingly freeing and long overdue.”

Emma Savage, an artist and writer, observed after driving to Chicago and back on freeways: “We don’t have a slow lane anymore. But the pandemic has drawn us together, enforced a slowing down and taking the time to care.  We can see how a caring for others is a kind of self care as well.”

Gussie Fauntleroy, a full-time freelance writer, commented on how people are reaching out electronically. “We’re saying, hang in there. We’re saying, we’re ALL in this together. We’re saying, here’s a heartening message or video that lifted my spirits. We’re saying, here are healthy ideas for things to do while we can’t be busy with our normal lives. We’re saying: This will pass, and when it does, let’s hold onto the lessons of caring for each other in this very real way.”