One early evening in late May, I was walking around my neighborhood when I found myself alone on a wooded road. I didn’t realize I was by myself until I came upon two white-tailed deer – a large piebald and a smaller, standard brown.
I spoke softly to them, asking if I could take their picture. The piebald stared at me, then twitched its ear in a seemingly playful manner, which I took as permission.
After I snapped a few photos, the three of us stood in silence for a few minutes, then I said goodbye and kept walking. As I continued down the road, I wondered why the deer weren’t startled by my presence. Then I realized I didn’t hear a sound, not even evidence of my sneakers making contact with the asphalt.
The neighborhood has been lively with walkers between 5-7 pm since the shelter-in-place mandates went into effect in mid-March. With gyms, restaurants, and shopping malls in New Jersey closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, people were walking daily for exercise, Vitamin D, and socialization. I was among them.
It was about a month earlier when I realized how happy I was. The feeling snuck up on me as I was logging off work email for the day. I chewed on it a bit, as I found it odd initially. ‘How can I be so content while everyone else is panicking about losing their job or getting coronavirus?’
Don’t get me wrong – I had my fair share of stressors since COVID-19 started. The pandemic came with unchartered leadership challenges and communications demands at work, balancing full-time work-from-home with monitoring my daughter’s full-time Distance Learning, concern for my mother, who despite strictly adhering to CDC recommendations, contracted coronavirus, and the loss of a family member.
But in addition to the daily walks, I also started making Sunday brunch with my family, tending to houseplants, baking favorite recipes, traveling less, and not yelling at my daughter and the dogs to ‘hurry up’ 10 times a day – generally moving at a slower pace.
Growing up, I didn’t have a lot when it came to money and material goods – I was the oldest of four in a former coal boomtown in Pennsylvania. But my 12-year-old self, who preferred dirt and dinosaurs to dolls and dress-up, was rich with wide open spaces to run, involved grandparents who taught me unconditional love and the value of hard work, and simple, routine things that brought me joy like pumpkin carving, church festivals, family Sunday suppers, and bike riding with friends.
New Jersey is slowly reopening now, and that’s probably why I’m traveling this road alone today. I know it’ll be easy to slip into my pre-coronavirus lifestyle, but I hope some of these new habits stick. In Native American folklore, white animals are spotted during soul quests; they believed their presence to be a sign from the spirit world revealing a major life shift. Mythology aside, Piebald deer sightings are rare – only 1 in 30,000 white-tail deer have the recessive genetic trait that results in lack of hair pigmentation. I’m just so happy I was in a place to not only experience, but appreciate it.