Trail Runner’s Book Review: Stories from the Age of COVID

Stories from the Age of COVID, compiled and edited by Glenn Steckler & Larry Steckler. 2021. Reviewed by trail runner Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.

We all have our personal COVID accounts detailing how we strove to remain connected to parents and grandparents when hugging and visiting was risky if not downright impossible. But rather than resigning themselves to endless phone calls and Zoom meetings, 87-year-old Larry Steckler and his son Glenn, former publishers of the magazine “Modern Short Stories,” took a rather unique approach to staying in touch. Rather than resign themselves to the standard phone calls and Zoom meetups, they compiled a book of shared narratives from this unique period of history and donated the profits to food banks in their local communities. They chose this approach, wanting as Glenn outlined, “… to make a big impact in a small community rather than make a very, very small impact in a big nationwide organization that will go unnoticed.”

Lending immediacy to this brief snapshot of a unique period in our history is the diversity of offerings, with a mixture of verse, essays and reflections and even recipes, photographs and drawings by folks from all over the country, each grappling in their own way with the devastating effects of the virus upon their everyday lives. More telling, is the wide range of ages and occupations of the authors, from schoolchildren, college students, mothers, business people, retirees. All have a story to relate from their own unique perspective. Saddest, of course, are those who are struggling with the life-altering impact of this disease as well as the unexpected loss of a loved one.

Seemingly overnight, previously unheard of and sometimes contradictory phrases like social distancing, an abundance of caution, family pods, curbside delivery, governed our waking moments. Abruptly, familiar patterns were trampled, comforting routines destroyed. If we were lucky enough to still have a job, we became remote workers, with a possible side gig teaching our children. Homes shrank as no one went anywhere.

The reflections included in this narrative mirror the myriad ways folks tried to cope with their new reality. Most relevant to us runners and hikers is the explosion of enthusiasm for all things outdoors. Heading into the woods was the premier opportunity to escape the confines of the four walls in the relative safety of freely flowing air. Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv once again takes center stage as we realize how important nature is to our physical and emotional development. With team sports pretty much on hold and gyms closed, folks hit the trails and sidewalks to get in their exercise fix. Virtual races became an actual thing.

Exercise seems to be the one reliable method to jettison the Groundhog Day rinse and repeat cycle. Sarah Lavender Smith, author and distance phenom, and her family experienced COVID in the early days, when nothing was known and everything out of control. While she and her children recovered easily, her husband almost died. During the hiatus she experiences a forced time to rest from training and traveling, but eventually realizes that the healing process for her will also include easy runs for stability, not time trials or races.

In “Lost and Found” Sam Morton, forced by finances to move back home, eventually recovers mental health by becoming a trail running hobo, healed by the Appalachian Mountains and then progressing to the Colorado Rockies. Less extreme, but perhaps more like most of us, is Paula Gordon Lepp’s poem, “One Moment” where she celebrates the adventure to be found closer to home, escaping to the woods to loosen the constriction around her heart where

Some days,
That moment is
everything