Take an hour or so and walk through Logan. It’s a very different place than when old COVID-19 changed our lives and we had to go through one of our valley’s driest years on record.
Walking the streets of Logan these days is much different than any I remember from the half century or so we have lived in Cache Valley. During our first hitch (1959-1963) Jenny and I bought a little bungalow about half a mile from my USU office. It is now near the center of the current campus.
We liked it here, but when Texas Tech offered me an opportunity to head their new natural resources program, I jumped at the job. Jenny and I thought we wanted to raise our kids to be Texans. A few dust storms and a new baby daughter later, we knew leaving Logan was a mistake. In 1970 I was appointed Dean of the College of Natural Resoures at USU. We returned to Utah and built a house in River Heights about two and a half miles from my new dean’s office.
I hadn’t realized that a dean served as a middleman caught between students, faculty, university administration, alumni, governmental organizations, his family and the community. Little time was available to think, plan and direct my college. I found that by walking to and from my office I could get an hour or so to think and be me.
Even then I had to vary my time of departure and routes between home and office to prevent someone from joining me and chatting. Walking together can be an important platform for two people to discuss in depth an issue that affects them both, but a good walk should not be damaged by chatting.
When I retired as dean in 1990 I thought it best to get out of Cache Valley so the new dean could establish his leadership without the old dean around. I accepted an endowed chair at New Mexico State in Las Cruces and bought an old adobe house in La Mesilla. Although my house was only two miles from my university, it was separated by an interstate highway and a network of narrow streets.
I tried walking to my college office once but promised myself never to endanger my life again by working my way through such crazy traffic. Just the opposite, wandering through the village of Mesilla was delightful. My neighbors tolerated my poor Spanish, showed me how to grow chiles and appointed me to the town council.
My parents and Jenny’s mother moved to our little farm. Dad died in a small adobe house we made for my parents. Mother went to Texas to live with my sister. When Jenny’s mother died in our little adobe house, we decided it was time to sell our farm and come home to Cache Valley. That was a quarter of a century ago. But living in La Mesilla changed us forever.
We bought, and still live, in an historic house over a hundred years old. USU provided an office for me and I became a viejo assisting students and faculty as directed by the new dean. Most every day I walked to and from my college office, taking a different route each time.
Time passed, deans changed and I no longer walked to USU several times a week. But, weather permitting, I still strolled three or four miles a day in Logan and adjacent communities. To my surprise, a walk in Logan was not greatly different than one in La Mesilla.
People working in their yard often stopped and talked with me. Sometimes a child would bring me an apple that had fallen from the tree. Others out for a walk exchanged in small talk. Logan was a collection of communities (or wards) that spoke the local language. They, like my neighbors in Mesilla, care about people like me even when we speak a different language.
But old COVID-19 changed the lives of all of us. Doors are now closed and few people are outside their houses. Most people out walking are wearing a mask while taking their dog (or child) for a ride in a stroller. They do not take time to chat or even look around them.
Meanwhile, our town changes. Traffic separates downtown and overpowers the best of intentions. The historic district is being worked over. Buildings five or more stories rise from areas where teenagers drew chalk pictures.
In the past I wrote poems, essays or columns in my head as I walked and put them to paper when I returned to my computer. But my ability to store things in my head is changing. And COVID-19 has found easy picking in Utah.