Cowboys Had It Right
July 15, 2020 | View PDF
Cowboys knew what they were doing, in more ways than one. Remember those oversize bandannas they always wore around their necks? Just think, that big kerchief served a multitude of uses. Cowboys could use those fabric neckpieces as a cooling cloth on the neck when they wet the material, they could fix the bandanna over their faces as a shielding mask in a dust or snowstorm, wipe noses, mop up blood from scratches obtained riding through sagebrush, stem bleeding from a gunshot or arrow wound, or use it to disguise themselves when it came time to rob an unsuspecting stagecoach.
I look around Virginia City today and notice a partial return to the Old West. COVID-19 has contributed to this phenomenon, of course, as approximately 50% of the people who roam the street of Virginia City now wear face masks of some sort. Some of these masks are quite colorful and distinctive, while others of these face coverings are just ordinary face masks bought in the dollar store. Whatever people choose to use as way to cover their mouth and nose makes an impression.
Just think what wearing a mask allows you to do and become in your own mind. You can imagine you are the Lone Ranger’s newest sidekick, or walk with a swagger and think of Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and the shootout at the OK Corral, where you of course would be the hero, not Wyatt Earp. If your mind takes a nefarious turn, you can even conceive of yourself as a part of the notorious James gang, on the brink of robbing yet another bank. The old historic streets of Virginia City allow these imaginings to seem quite possible and genuine.
On a more realistic note, I think wearing a mask offers an ideal way to hide the zit that popped up on my chin overnight. It also covers a crooked nose, that mole on one’s cheek, or unwanted lines and wrinkles around the mouth and chin that those of us of a certain age are not happy to see in a mirror and are more than delighted to cover up. For me it also offers an interesting puzzle to solve as I often have to guess which local citizen might be lurking behind his or her mask when I meet them at the post office in the mornings.
Today we seem to face some sort of dilemma. Experts advise us to wear masks in public to help slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19. Others feel it is an infringement of their rights to have to wear a mask of any sort when out in public. Politicians have leaped into the fray and have made the wearing of masks a political issue; with the result that these elected officials have further polarized our nation. ‘Should I or shouldn’t I’ seems to be the question regarding mask wearing in public, with people making their decisions based on a variety of factors, including their political viewpoint.
It doesn’t have to be like that nor should it be. Courtesy and respect for others needs to be our first priority, regardless of our personal viewpoint. Of course, wearing a mask in public does not guarantee you won’t become infected, nor does it guarantee the stop of the virus. However, masks do help those who wear them to decrease the chances of spreading the virus to others and does go a long way to protect family, friends, and neighbors.
Masks can become difficult to breathe through, they get wet and soggy with extended use, they may not be comfortable after a short period of time, but it does seem like those in the know do feel that masks protect those around you. You do not wear a mask for yourself, you wear it in the hopes it will protect those whom you come in contact with on the street.
Most of us in Virginia City have been lax in wearing face coverings of any sort, myself included. We’ve been isolated through the winter, to date we have had no COVID-19 cases in Virginia City itself, none of us have strayed far from home over the past several months, and we respect our social distancing in order to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe and healthy.
However, tourist season has arrived with a roar. I notice on my nightly ghost walks that we have visitors passing through from Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida, to name just a few states. This is worrisome. Actually, it is rather frightening. About 50% of the people who take the ghost walk wear masks; each individual family group on the walk keeps a prudent distance between other family groups on the walk, and the entire walk remains outdoors, so I am reasonably confident no one will become infected while taking my ghost tour around town.
However, with all the strangers in our county, perhaps I need to play cowgirl on a regular basis, wear my trusty bandanna around my neck, and pull it up over my face when I enter a business establishment. After all, there are people in this town I care deeply about, and I would not want to infect or unwittingly pass on that infection to family and friends all because I was too lazy or indifferent to take 20 seconds to cover my mouth and nose. I want to protect myself as best I can, and I want to protect my loved ones. After all, that is the whole point of existence, is it not, having care and consideration for others?
I will keep one thought in mind, however, as I roam the streets with a mask over my face. A non-mask-wearing local resident made the joking comment to another resident who did choose to wear a mask in public, “Remember, the last time people wore masks in Virginia City, they were hung from the nearest tree.”
After all this is vigilante country, for better or worse.