AAkin to other things that “can’t happen to me,” there’s the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. It seems so far away, like it can’t strike any of us. Especially not here, in Jackson Hole.
Our town is marked by a stereotype that the person who moves here is evading a more traditional reality in exchange for a slower pace of life punctuated by two or three summer months of absolute and total chaos. That chaos is most obvious in town, where millions of tourists swarm to eat out, take photos with the antler arches and buy trinkets.
Here, if we fail to read the newspaper — or choose not to simply because the privilege of living here allows us to check out of the struggle of people elsewhere in the world — we could avoid any news that might lift the veil.
We can live our lives believing the most frustrating, challenging thing about life is dealing with the mundanities of ignorant tourism.
Reading the news presents the threat of sending us back from the second star on the right, straight on till morning Neverland we have created here (full of Peters, but not many Wendys). It would force us to take the red pill and catapult into the harsh reality of life.
This year in particular, the luxury of intentional ignorance has been made overly apparent. COVID-19 aside, without the news we would have little to no contact with anything going on outside our wonderful little bubble.
Three weeks ago a friend of ours tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, our roommate, who counted as a close contact — which means she spent more than 10 minutes with the positive case — was mandated by the state health department to stay at home for 14 days.
She then tested positive, and because of that I, along with our other roommate, was also required by the state health department to stay at home for 14 days.
Our first night of quarantine we sat in the yard 6 feet apart around a fire we had built and didn’t speak much.
As we let the reality of our next two weeks set in, we listened to the sounds of our neighborhood. People walked their dogs, neighbors sat outside and drank beers and talked, and kids squealed as they ran around playing tag. Above it all we heard the din of the rodeo. The announcer belted into the microphone, and all 600 attendees at the sold-out event roared and applauded the riders as they put on their twice-weekly show.
The three of us exchanged despondent glances across the firepit. The irony was not lost on us.
Jackson is a haven for many people, myself included. There’s a reason why I came here for “just one season, maybe a year” and have remained here for five years with no intention of leaving. It’s a tale as old as the Hole itself.
I love calling this place my home. I love my weird compilation of jobs. Most of all I love the friends that have become my family here. I love that in Jackson many of us choose long walks in the mountains over participating in the rat race.
I love that the norm is to be a community: to bring your injured friends the present of your presence, as one example. It’s strange to not smile at your neighbor here. It’s morally corrupt to not offer a cold beer to a house guest.
But in the midst of the desperate moneymaking madness of the summer months we have forgotten that we as a community are not exempt from the pandemic that shut down the whole world for at least three months. March and April were erased from the collective memory, and businesses became so desperate to open that our town essentially returned to normal.
Businesses here depend on the summer to support themselves throughout the year, global pandemic aside.
So we haphazardly wear masks, because for some reason that’s a political issue that tourists berate us for. Recently a raft guide was admonished by a guest who demanded they not wear a mask on the public boat ramp. Visitors drink at bars and eat at restaurants and do everything to pretend that the harsh reality of the world has not made it to vacation.
Visitors: We’re glad you’re here to play in the mountains, but this is our home, and this is a problem. This is where we live, and we need to stay healthy. Treat us, your humble summer servants, with the same respect you would expect from guests in your own home.
We’re happy to share the place we’ve fallen in love with, but we won’t be able to anymore if we don’t do everything we can to stay healthy.