Reflections | My mountaintop quarantine

A group of young people climb a tree in the forest.

A summer day in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. (Rebecca Emerson)

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My pandemic quarantine experience was unlike many others. It was idyllic. 

In that fateful spring of 2020, when spring break ran long — and then school disappeared into a zoom screen, my roommate (and childhood friend) and I headed to a community called Tate, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. We met there as children. Over the course of that spring and summer we were joined by other friends and family. We completed our classes for the year in the peace and serenity of this place. It was one of the happiest times of my life.

Two friends smile at the camera on either side of a tree covered in orange mushrooms.
Chicken of the woods mushrooms.
(Rebecca Emerson)

When we first arrived in March it was still chilly. We made fires and bundled up. Moving into the house we noticed that the sunny dining room that faced the lake was crawling with ladybugs. Though they were inside they didn’t bother us as they kept to themselves.

Soon the weather began to warm. In the first days of April, I stumbled upon the only morels I have ever laid eyes on. They were delicious with some butter, garlic, ravioli and pesto.

We would often sunbathe on the hillside the house sat on top of, facing the lake. While hiking we found many patches of pink lady slippers, a type of orchid. The yellow variety would show up later into summer. 

Morel mushrooms laid out to dry on concrete.
Morel mushrooms laid out to dry.
(Rebecca Emerson)

My roommate and I had two pet rats, Remy and Stilton. We let them play and wander outside (supervised of course!) and they had a great time running up and down the sturdy vines in the garden and underneath the flowers and ground cover. Other pets made appearances — my roommate’s two elderly dogs, Wendy, a toy poodle (that we found as children on the side of the highway that leads to Tate) and Roxy, a dachshund. My brother brought his two cats up as well, Ziggy and Koshka. They had been living in an apartment in New York, so they had no idea of something called, “the outdoors.” My elderly family dog and cat also visited from time to time. 

Walking through a field one day, we encountered a baby deer curled up, left there in the safety of the tall grasses while its mother was off looking for food. Going down the mountain to the nearest town one day I noticed the cars in front of me were slowing. When I reached where they had been, I saw a large mother bear and her two cubs, playing and relaxing in the grass of someone’s front lawn. 

A baby deer lies, curled up in tall grass.
A sleeping fawn in tall grass. (Rebecca Emerson)

On multiple occasions while swimming at the dock, I noticed tiny turtles swimming by the shoreline, and I was able to pick them up. We also saw bunnies and adult deer, as well as snakes and salamanders, swimming and in the woods. The frog population exploded one day in early summer.

A pink lady slipper orchid in the forest.
A pink lady slipper orchid.
(Rebecca Emerson)

During this time, we hiked through the woods to the little lake where a miniature dock and canoe were located. Looking out through the cattails and vegetation, we noticed clusters of abandoned frog egg jelly everywhere. My friend scooped up a handful of the jiggly substance. At night we hung out at the dock – along with a legion of flying insects and daddy longlegs. 

As summer continued, we would canoe and swim every day, and play at the dock like we were kids again, racing up to the top of the 22-foot wooden tower and jumping off to determine who was last and would therefore be “it” for a Tate staple called, “dock tag.”

The author spends part of her quarantine arranging mushrooms on a table.
Chicken of the woods and chantarelle mushrooms.
(Rebecca Emerson)

We went hiking often, sometimes for leisure and sometimes to forage. We found chantarelle mushrooms frequently, and one day we hit the jackpot with chantarelles along with pounds of “chicken of the woods,” a bright orange and meaty fungus with a texture similar to chicken. That night we went to the dock and grilled many of them up with lemon, butter and garlic. They were delicious. 

Throughout this whole experience I never lost sight of how extremely lucky I was to have had the quarantine I did. I never wanted it to end. Immersing myself in nature for months alongside my friends and siblings was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Night falls over a river wear a dock is.
Dusk over the lake. (Rebecca Emerson)
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