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Paul Keller, author of his monthly column 'Beneath Wy'east,' offers his reflection on our shared pandemic reality.

COURTESY PHOTO: PAUL KELLER - For all of us out here in our Sandy/Boring/Mount Hood area, the sprawling Mount Hood National Forest is just a pine cones toss away. All of its trails lead us away from the coronavirus.I like to tell my friends that you can't beat my commute. It's about 10 feet from my bed to my office work desk.

PAUL KELLEREven though I am permanently employed as the writer-editor for a national outfit based in Tucson, Arizona, I do so out of my house that is — very gratefully —located deep inside our remote Zigzag area woods.

I've had the good fortune to be teleworking here from my Mount Hood home the past two decades. Therefore, thankfully for me — someone who lives alone — when it comes to "social distancing" in the work environment it's totally operations normal.

In fact, on yet another real-time video teleconference call this morning with my workmates, as I interacted and focused on their faces talking on my computer screen. I also gazed out my window to see two "spotted" deer meandering down the trail that emerges from the woods right behind my house.

Back in the 1970s, the old-timers at the Zigzag Ranger Station used to talk about a special breed of "spotted" deer that ranged the Bull Run Watershed reserve. This 139-square-mile expanse of wild forested valleys and ridges that has been off-limits to the public since 1892 is basically next door to my backyard.

Yes, I am a lucky man.

While my trail cameras, located farther up the ridge from my house, have recently taken photos of these unique, beautiful white-patched animals, this is the first time that I have ever had the honor to actually hold one in my eyes.

COURTESY PHOTO: PAUL KELLER - This rare spotted deer, known as a piebald deer, is shown here on the ridge above Paul Kellers Zigzag area home in which he has teleworked and practiced social distancing long before it became a required COVID-19 pandemic mandate.Jeff Goldberg, the Mt. Hood National Forest's West Zone Biologist, recently informed me that these rare critters are known as "piebald" deer. "They can pop up in deer populations occasionally," Jeff explains. "Then they can blink out for a while until that recessive gene presents itself again."

I didn't share this celebration-of-the-moment piebald deer epiphany with my workmates. We were actually smack-dab in the middle of discussing the ramifications of our unfolding coronavirus crisis universe. It just didn't seem appropriate for me to suddenly bellow out: "I've got two piebald deer here!"

But, for my own mental survivability, deep inside my soul, I was cheering out loud.

We need each other

If you are a conservative Republican or a liberal Democrat — or find yourself anywhere in between — I'm absolutely positive that you can truly appreciate my piebald deer anecdote from this morning. Let's face it. Some of life's most important truths completely transcend politics.

The older I get, the more I realize that small yet often significant gifts of "good" can also come along hand-in-hand with the oftentimes unfortunate, overwhelming "bad."

I have sincere confidence that this can be the case with our brave new COVID-19 world.

Perhaps the coronavirus pandemic has brought us to an important crossroads. Today we find ourselves living in a country in which we have become so politically polarized. A country in which we have defined and minimized ourselves by "Blue" and "Red" state labels for goodness sakes.

The reality of our current emerging public health crisis has finally — and rightly —reminded us that we're all fellow passengers aboard our spaceship earth. Together.

No doubt about it, people. We need each other. Especially now.

Up on the mountain, we already have a fairly recent legacy of people being compassionate and considerate during a widespread emergency.

I'm reminded of the winter of 1980. That January a brutal blizzard dumped from 3 to 4 feet of snow down at the Welches elevation. Initially, most side roads were impassable. For more than a week, people were skiing, sledding and snowshoeing to get places. For several days there was absolutely no electricity anywhere on the mountain.

Hoodland Thriftway, bless its heart, despite these emergency conditions and the fact that it had absolutely no heat, stayed open throughout. The only windows in its building are all located up front. Thus, that cavernous facility, even during daylight hours, was "you can't really see anything" dark. So when you entered the store, you were handed a flashlight.

There was a limit on how many candles and batteries one could purchase. Everyone respected this new rule. The electronic cash registers, of course, weren't working. Not to worry. The plucky checkout folks, using their flashlights, were adding up your purchased items on hand calculators. All transactions therefore took much longer than normal. People stood there in long lines garbed in their head-to-toe outdoor winter apparel, looking more like they were waiting for a ski lift than purchasing the family's next meal. But no one complained. We were all in bless-your-neighbor mountain survival mode.

We realized that to successfully endure, we needed each other. And, guess what? It worked.

Reach out

As I write this today, our local restaurants and bars are closed. Our schools are silent. Our mountain's ski areas have been abandoned. Consequently, in this locale where the economy depends in large part on the hospitality and service trade, our neighbors' businesses are suffering and many of our neighbors are suddenly without work and income.

As we hole-up, as instructed, inside our homes we need to be reaching out to these folks. Thankfully, here in 2020, we have the appropriate technologies to communicate virtually among ourselves without fear of spreading potentially harmful invisible microbes.

And let's not forget to thank our neighbors who are providing our vital medical and health care services.

For our local restauranteurs who have been restricted to solely offering "take out" orders, let's give our own kitchens a respite and bring already prepared delicious restaurant cuisine home with us today. Remember, we're in this new reality together.

The tonic of wildness

I truly believe that in the midst of unsettling, challenging and emotionally turbulent times such as these, it helps to appreciate all that we have to be thankful for.

We are all so fortunate to live out here in our Sandy/Boring/Mount Hood area. And, right now, we are also fortunate to be blessing the arrival of spring. If the coronavirus had confined us to our homes in the middle of winter with her short gray days and constant threats of ice and snow, our cabin fever quotients could be skyrocketing up the bad vibes chart.

We share the common privilege of being surrounded by woods. For all of us, the sprawling Mt. Hood National Forest is just a pine cone's toss away. All of its trails lead us away from the coronavirus.

As Thoreau once reminded us: "We need the tonic of wildness . . . We can never have enough nature."

Like I do at this time every year, each morning the past few days, I have walked out my door into that ancient silence of cedar, hemlock and fir. I have followed the twist of centuries-old deer trails back up into the places I know—from past explorations—where, just below my boots, trillium seeds now push new life up through the weight of the earth. These native plants are remembering their way, once again, up toward the pull of March sun. With enviable grit and faith, they are renewing the beginning of this miracle we call spring.

Blood turns to wine

There's something else we all share here. And that's our faithful, ever-present, glorious public domain Cascadian peak, Mount Hood. The great Wy'east.

Here's another enlightening quote that I'd like to leave you with.

When John Muir first saw Mount Shasta he wrote: "All my blood turned to wine and I have not been weary since."

While I don't know Shasta that well, I do know exactly what old Muir is talking about.

Your darned right I do.

May you and your loved ones be safe and well as, together, we all continue down our trails into our collective futures, right here beneath the intoxicating majesty and promise of Mount Hood.

Longtime mountain resident and former Sandy Post editor Paul Keller pens his "Beneath Wy'east" column once a month.


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