By William Powell, contributing writer
I did not expect to see any snow this April, and not just because the weather in Northwestern Pennsylvania is so unpredictable.
I graduated from Saegertown High School in 2006, then moved away for college without plans to return for anything longer than a holiday visit. My childhood here was happy enough, but I always felt a bit like a city person trapped in the country. I lived on a farm but never cared much for farming. Instead, I aspired to become a sportswriter covering a major team, all of which play in big cities.
Since college, I’ve lived in quite a few cities across the country: New York, N.Y.; Atlanta, Ga.; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo.; New Haven, Conn.; and now Washington, D.C. Despite what you might have heard about the swampy seat of the federal government, my wife Rachael, daughter Mara, and I love living in D.C. Our neighborhood has tons of trendy bars and restaurants, with more than a dozen within a block or two of our apartment. We live a 15-minute Metro (the name for D.C.’s subway) ride from the National Zoo and its famous pandas or from Nationals Park and its World Series champion baseball team. These days, rather than writing about sports, I work as a lawyer at a nonprofit, and my wife is an advertising director at a corporation — both careers with more opportunities in metropolitan areas.
In early March though, as COVID-19 began to spread, things in D.C. started to feel pretty intense. I went to a Washington Wizards game, and a day later the NBA postponed the rest of the season. My office closed and so did my daughter’s school. We walked to the National Mall to see the cherry blossoms but stopped short when we noticed the crowds — sightseeing wasn’t worth the risk.
Facing the prospect of trying to work full-time while also parenting full-time in a small apartment, we decided to come back to Saegertown (really Hayfield Township) and temporarily move in with my parents on the farm. The grandparents could help watch our daughter, and we would (hopefully) be safer from the virus.
We’ve been back for four weeks now and will be here for at least a few more. Rural quarantine has pros and cons. In D.C., anxiety about the virus was palpable. Masked people hurried along sidewalks past shuttered storefronts. The streets were nearly devoid of traffic but packed with runners, since all the gyms were closed. Either in spite of or because of all the running, the whole scene felt a little post-apocalyptic.
On the farm, life feels more normal. Typical spring activities in rural areas — walks through the woods and fields or working in the yard — are social distancing approved. We’ve actually been saving some money, because of the lower cost of living. We picked up dinner for five at the Saegertown Dairy Inn (I looked up the name and was shocked to find that it’s not “the dairy isle”) for only $20, which is roughly the price of takeout for one person in D.C.
My daughter is more of a farm kid than I ever was and likes going to the barn to see the pigs. And our dog is in heaven. No longer cooped up in our apartment, he loves running through the fields on the farm, where he chases rabbits and plays in mud. He will never want to leave.
Of course, schools are closed here too, and trips to the grocery store still bring some anxiety. (Such trips are less frequent though, given my parents’ well-stocked deep freeze and basement full of canned fruit and vegetables.) Perhaps the biggest drawback of rural quarantine is that it feels especially isolating. It might sound silly, but it’s sort of comforting to look outside the window of our D.C. apartment and see people, even from afar. On the farm, we might go days or weeks without seeing anyone else at all.
Despite all that separates urban and rural — a split we often hear about in the context of politics — what farm quarantine has taught me most is that far more unites us than divides us. No matter where you live, it’s tragic to lose a loved one or lose a job. People everywhere want to feel connected to their communities. And we all want to feel safe too. Rural communities are smaller but especially close-knit. One of my parents’ friends has been dropping off activities for my daughter, and another friend sewed us a set of protective masks. We’re all just trying to get by.
Which brings me back to snow. This winter in D.C., it didn’t snow at all, at least not enough to produce any accumulation. And warmer spring weather had set in well before we came to the farm. Our trip north felt a bit like going back in time to winter. But while my wife and I were slightly dismayed at the prospect of snow, our daughter, who had complained about not getting to build a snowman this year, was thrilled. On Saturday, when we woke up to find a few inches on the ground, we built a snow woman and a snow unicorn and went sledding down the hill behind the barn. No matter where you are, I hope you can find some (snowy or not) silver linings in this difficult time.
William Powell graduated from Saegertown High School in 2006. He’s currently a legal fellow at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
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Journalism Adviser, Saegertown Jr. Sr. High School