Author, essayist, and retired English professor John Hildebrand of Eau Claire.
Author, essayist, and retired English professor John Hildebrand of Eau Claire.

Dogs are the chief beneficiaries of shelter-in-place in my neighborhood. They give us license to move about and expect, in return, longer walks and more of them. So instead of turning around at the river and heading home, my black lab and I cross the bridge to the other side, a pleasant walk now that the streets are empty.

One bright morning as we were crossing the bridge, a voice boomed behind us, “I am the ALPHA and the OMEGA Whaaaahhoooo!

The dog and I picked up our pace.

“I AM the Alpha and the Omega! Yee-hah!

Reluctant to turn around and see what sort of face would match the braying voice, I kept walking. Only after we were safely across the bridge did I turn to look. A young man, his face obscured in a hoodie, was bouncing down the other side of the street on the balls of his feet while shouting into a cellphone, “I AM the Alpha and the Omega! Whooooo-eeee!

Lately I cannot face the evening news without pouring a stiff drink to fortify myself against the day’s numbers – how many infected, how many hospitalized, how many dead.

Overheard cellphone conversations are often a source of amusement, but for the life of me I couldn’t imagine who was on the receiving end of such a monologue – a dealer? A therapist? And I’ll never know because the guy in the hoodie disappeared down Water Street.

Well, I thought, that’s one way to deal with a deadly pandemic, get so strung out that you’re the only reality. Gloomy thoughts of mortality? Not for Mr. Alpha and Omega!

I know the feeling. Lately I cannot face the evening news without pouring a stiff drink to fortify myself against the day’s numbers – how many infected, how many hospitalized, how many dead. Sometimes it feels as if you’re being stalked by the numbers – as they go up, your personal number goes down, edging ever closer to that big goose egg, zero. And euphoria, drug-induced or otherwise, is no match for such grim arithmetic. For one thing, it wears off.

One of the pleasures of dog walking is being tied to a creature that lives solely in the here and now, and when the black lab finishes his business we head home. At mid-span on the bridge I’ll lean over the railing to see if any fish are holding in the current. Rivers are good places to contemplate time. You look down into the moving water knowing there’s a source far upstream in some dark, reedy swamp and, many miles downstream, a yawning mouth, but what you see isn’t the beginning or the end but the continuous, unbroken flow of things. Looking at a river, any river, makes me feel hopeful. And hope is the bridge that allows us to cross from the awful now to the better days ahead even if we can’t quite see them from here.


John Hildebrand is the author of five books including, most recently, The Long Way Round: Through the Heartland by River. Read more by and about John here.

 

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