It has been a month since Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order limiting public and private gatherings to fewer than 10 persons, and more than two weeks since a “stay at home” order went into effect statewide. Just a couple of days ago Abbot announced a “phased” reopening of businesses across the state.
Arguments rage across social media bout whether it’s too early, or too late.
Travis and Williamson Counties, which together make up the bulk of the Austin metro area, issued orders closing non-essential businesses, banning public or private gatherings of any size, and limiting citizens’ travel to “essential” activities. Some of those local businesses have pivoted with admirable agility: more than a week ago we ordered the “red meat” package, a six-pack of local beer and a bottle of wine from Mesquite Creek Outfitters (click on the “Groceries” tab), and we’re still creating delicious meals from those boxes, which were delivered to our front porch.
My local fly shop, Living Waters, has continued to keep staff employed by offering mail order and curbside deliveries (not to mention some really fun Saturday Instagram and Facebook Live presentations). And even though they were, belatedly, given a variance as an essential business, they’re still being admirably cautious when it comes to letting folks in the store.
Most will re-open this week for day use with social distancing and face mask guidelines strictly enforced. Hard to see the logic in face masks outside, if the other rules are being followed, but there you have it.
Williamson and Travis County parks – wisely, I think – were closed for Easter weekend, but most are again now open, minus amenities like restrooms, playscapes and potable water (take lots of water!).
Access to streams via public road crossings – more than 40 of the 101 access points listed in Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas are still available. Some Texas counties, such as Kendal (upper Guadalupe River), have put up signs and caution tape to dissuade river users. Anglers there should use their best judgment.
Meanwhile, at home…
At our house, either we are on the world’s longest Spring Break, or we are home schooling. Sometimes both in the same week, or even the same day. I’ve been fishing about the same amount as usual, but usually with a purpose: one day it was a photo shoot (media activities are deemed “essential”) on the Guadalupe River for this pretty awesome Texas Monthly story, which also features my friends Donovan Kypke of Reel Fly, Davin Topel of Whiskey River Chronicle, and Matt Bennett of Fly Geek Custom Flies.
On yet another afternoon, I turned a creek stomp with middle son into the week’s school science module. We studied riparian habitats, entomology, herpetology and of course fisheries science. We counted it as PE for the week, too.
There have been moments of extraordinary grace: friends calling just to check-in and say “how are you holding up?;” the face masks a fly fishing buddy’s wife made for us after hearing we were having a hard time finding them anywhere; a birthday party with family members spread across Texas, via Zoom; quiet talks with the boys on the back porch; games of catch in the back yard.
We’ve been having more fun in the kitchen, baking bread and cookies and cakes and creating stews and fancy(ish) dinners we don’t normally cook. We’ve been enjoying the enforced family time, mostly, but missing our friends – some of whom are in the neighborhood and we can wave to from a safe distance. Handshakes and hugs and whiskey on the porch are out, though, and that sucks. My wife’s work calendar suddenly went from gratifyingly full to scarily empty, and that sucks, too. My day job is still considered essential. We still have health insurance. For those things I am extraordinarily grateful.
With all book release events canceled or postponed indefinitely, I’ve been doing podcast interviews (check out Episode 63 on So Fly and look for episodes on The Itinerant Angler and Fish Untamed in the coming month or two). Next week I’ll be signing stacks of books for pickup or mailout April 24th at Living Waters Fly Fishing in Round Rock and Reel Fly in Canyon Lake. If you haven’t ordered a copy yet but plan to, please consider supporting a small, local business – in your community, or mine. If you did order online already, thank you, and I’ll be happy to sign it when we can meet-up again.
Getting back to normal?
Even as we inch back toward restarting the economy in Texas, I’m guessing that we’re not yet done with this pandemic. There are huge data gaps, mostly related to the testing that is not yet available for most people, and it seems that many of the most credible experts think we may have bumps along the road: additional stay-at-home or social distancing orders as infection rates climb again in some areas.
One thing that has occurred to me over the past six weeks, is just how thin the fabric of our society is. Turns out, that for many of us, we were just one, undercooked bat away from financial ruin, or at least financial stress. Turns out our social safety nets are full of holes, and our healthcare system is a mess, and our politicians (of both parties) are mostly bozos. Of course, we knew some of these things going in.
Turns out that a lot of things we thought were necessary for a good life were not in fact necessary – and a few things that are became really scarce when the supply chain was stressed.
I, for one, hope we never completely go back to the consumerist, celebrity-driven “normal” that existed before the pandemic. And even if society as a whole does, I may just try to find even more ways to opt-out to concentrate on what I’ve been reminded is truly important: family, friends and fishing. Fresh air and good books. Yeast. Dried beans. Toilet Paper.
In these uncertain times, a whole bunch of people have found an extra $25 to pre-order Fly Fishing Austin. Thank you so much for that. I am truly humbled. And I hope that the book does for you what I intended: helps you get outside to some moving water, with a family member and – soon, maybe – a friend or two.