The wind and waves are aggressively whipping the aluminum boat I’m sitting in with my family, attempting to cross one of the passages near Prince William Sound in Alaska to reach the city of Whittier. Suddenly, my 3-year-old daughter goes flying into the air, and I reach out to catch her just before she hits the water. I am relieved, but my heart sinks. It’s clear reaching civilization won’t be easy.
Our home, located at a remote salmon hatchery in the bush of Alaska, is far from any town or city. We will not have access to television, radio, or internet for three of the six years we live there, and our sole exposure to the outside world will be a trip by float plane into town, once a year when weather allows. We will have to gather a year’s worth of groceries, supplies, and see the doctor and dentist. Then we’ll go back to the wilderness, where I’ll homeschool the children and we’ll live in isolation with the threat of bears, bitter cold, darkness, and so much snow that it engulfs the whole house. It is a breathtakingly beautiful place, but a far departure from our previous life in Miami!
Now, in 2020, this Alaskan experience feels like a distant memory. My kids are grown, and we live in Pennsylvania. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring, and it was clear we would need to shelter-in-place for our health, this time in my life from the 1990s came rushing back. I went into Alaskan preparation mode and thought, “I can do this.” It felt like falling back into an old routine.
When I saw others who were struggling with it, including my colleagues, I started sharing what I’d learned from my experience.
As an individual:
- You can survive for long periods of time in isolation with proper planning. You don’t need to go grocery shopping every week.
- Go to extra lengths to stay healthy. Eating healthy foods, going for a walk, and getting sunshine can go a long way toward improving your mental and physical health.
- Use this opportunity to learn something new. We learned sign language so that we could communicate at great distances in Alaska, and we still use it today.
As a parent:
- If your kids are struggling with schoolwork, go back to the point where they got lost. Many parents are playing the unexpected role of teacher. I learned not to rush the kids forward. Instead, be patient to their individual needs, and they will thrive.
- Make a place and time for everyone to have their own space. Living in close quarters can be challenging, and everyone needs some time alone to process their thoughts, especially now.
- Have fun! Our family would put on plays, bake our own birthday cakes, and go for nature walks together.
Isolation forces us out of our comfort zones. Living remotely made me realize that I was stronger than I thought. It also made me appreciate what I had. In our current situation, it’s important to have the right attitude. Let’s view this time as an opportunity to grow and learn, and we may all be a little surprised by what we can handle.