Finding home in the age of coronavirus
This short story commemorates the one-year anniversary of our move to Wyoming in March 2020. Written in the summer of 2020, but not previously shared.
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The phone rang loudly at 5:47 AM. I reached past Mrs. A|E’s sleepy shoulder to see who would dare disturb these precious few hours of sleep before we would resume the zealous defense of our clients’ legal interests. Our East Coast colleagues knew that we had both been up not too many hours earlier—me polishing a summary judgment brief and Mrs. A|E drawing up papers for a next-day SEC filing. But with almost a decade of legal experience apiece, we were both used to that by now. E-mails and calls often came through at odd hours. Coronavirus or not, each morning typically heralded the arrival of some potentially devastating new legal problem requiring a dynamic, bespoke solution.
'Get up! It’s 399! 4 COY!' said the voice on the other end of the line. My eyes widened and I was instantly awake. 'It’s 399! 4 COY!' I blurted. Mrs. A|E threw off the country western-themed comforter and was already out of bed. In the next moment, without so much as a ‘good morning,’ she was dodging elk antler wall art on her way to the coffee pot.
On this morning, 399-4COY was not a summary judgment exhibit number. Nor was it the dry title of an SEC template form. Rather, 399 was the numerical identifier of a locally famous quarter-ton grizzly bear, apparently awake from her winter slumber and spotted by an area photographer, with not one.. not two.. not three.. but four Cubs Of the Year. A rodeo of paparazzi in cowboy hats, pickup trucks and lumberjack flannel would soon descend upon the ursine scene with camo-wrapped telephoto lenses mounted on heavy-duty tripods. The fanatical local wildlife scene drew legendary National Geographic photographers, aspiring photographic talent, animal lovers, conservationists, retirees and first-time bear viewers alike. These two corporate lawyers had to be there too. Having recently relocated from downtown Boston to down-around-the-bend Wyoming, in the foothills of the Grand Tetons, this was our life now—and we were loving it.
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Our new life began on a different morning—the morning of Thursday, March 19, 2020—as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States surged past 10,000 and the S&P500 plunged toward its nadir, the two hyperbolic curves moving in opposite directions. On that somber morning, we finished packing the few remaining items from our Beacon Street apartment into a 12” trailer rented the prior evening from a U-Haul employee who was one pair of orange plastic pants short of a hazmat suit. We then briefly swung by our Boston office one last time, not to wax nostalgic with well-wishing colleagues as previously planned, but to quietly pilfer a few yards of toilet paper from an office restroom. With that act of brazen criminality behind us, we were officially Wyoming-bound, determined to fulfill our years-long dream of living and working as fully remote BigLaw attorneys in the last of the great American wilderness.
Of course, things weren’t supposed to unfold like this. When, a year earlier, our law firm granted our request to relocate to Jackson Hole in the spring of 2020, we had become water-cooler celebrities. Colleagues whom we knew, as well as some we didn’t, would stop to congratulate us for pursuing against the odds a 'life-first' philosophy in a profession not commonly associated with that sort of endeavor. Our hearts swelled with pride, and with gratitude.
But when moving day arrived, the triumphant send-off we were prepared for took on a different tenor. Our new ranch-ready pickup truck barreled down the freeway with possessions in tow, hoping to outrun the tsunami of local lockdown orders crashing behind us. Were we even supposed to be on the highway? Probably not, but an expiring apartment lease forced our hand. 'We need to get past New York quickly; they’re going to shut down at any moment,' we whispered nervously. A rumor about the National Guard ready to deploy at the Empire State border was circulating. Then with that obstacle in the rear view mirror: 'Do you think we need to re-route around Illinois?' 'No, let’s just push through and try to get to the red states quickly.' What strange things one says in the age of coronavirus.
Descending for the first time into Jackson Hole, our nerves would calm. That first sight of the snow-capped Grand Teton at dusk nearly brought us to tears. It was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen. That is, until we returned to the same spot the following evening and the scene repeated, adding a foreground mother and baby moose bathed in alpenglow. Coronavirus-related delays meant that our new apartment wouldn’t be ready for move-in for at least another two weeks. Or would it be two months? The property manager didn’t know, but that hardly mattered now. We were home.