By Lexie Folkerts
I have now lived in Montana for 5 weeks. During my stay here, the threat of COVID-19 has become increasingly near and increasingly more serious. As the weeks have gone by we’ve watched countries shut down, states close everything, and thousands of people have died. But here in Montana, we’re moving just a bit slower. Our threat isn’t nearly as high as a state like New York where some residents are practically living elbow to elbow, nor do we have nearly as many cases of COVID-19. I remember being interviewed for this Energy Corps position by people who’ve lived in Montana for years and being asked if I like the outdoors. They phrased this to me as if it were a requirement to love the outdoors if you want to live in beautiful Montana. My view of Montana as a whole has become quite skewed because of COVID-19.
This isn’t my first time moving somewhere completely new where I didn’t know anybody nearby, but this is the first time that a global pandemic has impeded my ability to get to know the people and places around me. I’ve come to realize that moving somewhere new is always accompanied by a lonely and difficult transition period. But here now, even when I go outside it’s lonely. There’s no hustle and bustle, the city feels lifeless. The town has transformed into a bit of a ghost town. There are occasional runners, people walking out of the post office, a family playing on a tennis court, but when I bike around the town I get to dominate the street because there aren’t many cars on the roads. COVID-19 didn’t alter my social schedule, but it did slow its growth. It feels weird to live somewhere completely new, a state I had never visited prior to now, and not really be able to explore.
As of today, many of our small restaurants here in Livingston are closed. For about a week or two we had some coffee shops and restaurants open for take-out only. I was happy to leave the house to go get some delicious coffee and enjoy the outside air. But now most everything is closed. There isn’t much leisure to be had out in the public world. Social distancing has led to loaves of bread being baked, daily homemade meals, freshly baked cornbread, a finished 1,000 piece puzzle, bike rides around town in the 40 degree weather, and far too much Netflix. I feel so grateful to be with Energy Corps at a time like this. Just five weeks ago I was working at a restaurant in Oregon and would have watched my income go to zero, living with college students who would have all been sent home to continue the term online. Instead, I get to live in a brand new place and work on projects that fuel my soul. I graduated college almost three years ago and am still trying to find work that I enjoy and that serves the community. I feel content with the service I’m providing the City of Livingston and Park County while we’re all in a form of quarantine. I have a list of projects that can all be done remotely. I can gather and analyze energy use data for city and county buildings, I can research the feasibility of implementing city-wide composting, I can help promote 2020’s Solarize Livingston campaign, and the list goes on. Energy Corps has provided me a safer place to serve and thrive during a global pandemic. I have enough projects on my to do list that even when I’m staying home I can serve the community.