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Self-isolating Islanders finding ways to keep from climbing the walls

It’s been 25 days in captivity. Are you still trying to figure out what to do with yourself?

A man in Pennsylvania built a tiny picnic table for the squirrels in his yard, posted it on Facebook, and now people all over the country are following suit. Clearly this is good news for squirrels, but is this the right way to fill the empty hours when people are getting sick and dying?

While first responders, medical workers and employees of essential businesses are holding it together for the rest of us, people on Shelter Island are keeping themselves from climbing the walls by going outside of them.

PAT and Bridg Hunt’s son Martin showed up at the house on a recent sunny Saturday with a chainsaw and a lively black dog. The four of them removed such a vine-laced tangle from the yard that by the end of the day a conifer and a pile of firewood could be seen where previously there was only brush.

“How satisfying it was, liberating the evergreen, tackling the vines,” PAT said “a way for us to connect with the land.”

Cindy Belt and her husband Mark Cappelino are grateful to be able to work from home, and even more grateful to have their sons Matt and Andrew back in the house, even if it’s temporary.

In addition to working, and going for a long morning walk, Cindy pays attention to her spiritual needs. “The Pray As You Go app is awesome,” she said. “I normally set aside 15 minutes or so in the late morning to take a break and listen to the daily message. It encourages relaxation. I miss my St. Mary’s family, but do the weekly readings, and listen to Taizé music.”

Mark keeps his sanity by splitting wood.

Thinking of investing in firewood futures? Paul Shepherd joined the axe-wielding Islanders in catching up on his wood cutting, because it’s good exercise and makes him feel useful.

He worries about the business implications of everything being closed. “A lot of people are being mortally wounded financially. So many have always lived from week to week, even day to day. They need a miracle,” he said. “Eventually we’ll all have to come out and play together, but I’ll probably never feel O.K. at a party again.”

Tim Purtell was apologetic at the lack of creativity he and Robin Drake are bringing to the enforced at-home time. “We’re not doing amazing crafts or home improvement projects or putting on Zoom talent shows like Tina Fey,”

Robin is still teaching full time but, when many of the students in his graduate level course at the Fashion Institute of Technology flew home (to Turkey, Korea, Spain and Taiwan), he went from classroom to Zoom almost overnight,

“It’s online learning and I was really surprised at how well it works,” he said.

Tim is overdoing the garden clean-up and preparing to plant. When it’s too dark to garden, he’s watching old Rita Hayworth movies. “If you’ve never seen ‘Gilda’ with Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth, check it out. A strange, terrific movie. Twisted noir.”

John Kaasik has been spending a lot of time playing piano, “especially ragtime because it’s such happy music,” he said. “I was sure all of this free time would inspire me to get a lot of writing done, but that hasn’t happened yet. A silver lining of all this is a renewal of my faith in mankind, witnessing the thousands of selfless first responders and others willing to risk their own safety to help others.”

Even when there isn’t a pandemic limiting her ability to work, Linda Zavatto spends a lot of time cooking and sharing recipes with friends. With the enforced leisure of isolation, Linda has used the time to refinish a chest of drawers and mirror. An antique server is next. She’s also been raking the yard, taking down the deer fencing, cutting some “nasty brambles,” and probably generating some firewood along the way.

“I’m trying to wrap my head around how this will affect us moving forward,” she said. “Will people be wary of hugging, going out in public, walking next to one another? Will this change us forever?”