• Ken Ilgunas

Essay on pandemic life


Illustration by Astrid Jaekel

[I've written an essay for the Wigtown Book Festival on my pandemic experience, where I've found myself marooned in North Carolina, living among preppers, doomers, and survivalists. Here's a few paragraphs, or just read it in full on the website.]


I’m an American who lives in Scotland and who got stuck in America because of the pandemic.


I was on a short speaking tour at high schools and colleges in North Carolina when America was locking down and my flight home got canceled. It just so happened that I used to live in North Carolina and that I had a friend here, so I suggested to my wife that we head to my pal David’s home in a half-rural, half-wild part of the state in the forested foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. I knew it would be the perfect spot to hunker down.


David lives in Stokes County, near the Virginia border, about an hour from the mid-sized cities of Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Here, there are about three “No Trespassing” signs per capita, the median age looks like it’s about 67, and one-syllable curse words are drawn out into raspy haikus. Imagine rolling country roads, woods colored every shade of green, clay-red soil soon to sprout rows of cabbage heads, and farmer-tanned arms dangling out the windows of well-polished pickups. It’s thoroughly Southern, Christian, and conservative. In 2016, 76 percent of Stokes voters voted for Trump.


On a dead-end gravel road, David has five acres of land. He moved out here about thirteen years ago to live out his retirement in a small, steep-roofed Gothic revival cottage that he built, which he calls “Acorn Abbey.”


Acorn Abbey has the feel of a monastery, if a heretical one. Books have been written here (including all three of mine), periods of silence are voluntarily observed, and the names of Augustine and St. Patrick are frequently mentioned, but only with contempt. There are teetering towers of books, a Rodgers organ that booms Bach and show tunes, and a vegetable garden and orchard. [Keep reading.]