Susanne Sener

Alone in her mountain home for 38 days, she didn't want to ask for help

Updated 12:01 PM ET, Fri April 17, 2020

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In a series of essays called The Distance, Thomas Lake is telling the stories of Americans living through the pandemic. Email thomas.lake@cnn.com if you have a story to share.

(CNN)She lived in the silence above the clouds on a mountain in Colorado. "Go Away," said a sign near her house. The Old Lady on the Mountain, she called herself, or at least imagined that others did. Susanne Sener was only 56, but she'd lived there half her life. Not running from anything. Not hiding from anyone. She just liked it up there: the fresh air, the vast horizon, the way it felt to see a mountain lion in the morning light. Then the pandemic came, and the solitude felt necessary. By Easter Sunday, she'd been alone for 38 consecutive days.

THE DISTANCE

Americans living apart and together in the age of pandemic

This is a brief story about a small thing that happened next. About what it means to help each other, and the American ideals that stand in our way.
The mountain woman was not completely isolated. Her closest neighbor was nowhere in sight, but she lived in a planned community called Woodmoor Mountain, which has about 60 homes on 1,100 acres. It is large enough to have its own discussion group on Nextdoor, the social-networking site for neighborhoods. Sometime after the pandemic began, a resident named Naomi Cramer Overton sent out a message offering to pick up groceries for anyone who needed them. No one accepted her offer.
Thomas Lake
But it was Easter Sunday, and Overton had watched a virtual sunrise service in which someone quoted the Epistle of James, reminding her that, "Without works, your faith is dead." She decided to try again.
"Also, the offer stands for grocery/supply pickup," she wrote to her neighbors on Nextdoor. "Do you need anything?"
It had been more than five weeks since Susanne Sener's last real conversation with a real person without the aid of technology. (She had briefly seen a person when she dropped off her dog in a veterinarian's parking lot.) Even for a woman accustomed to solitude, this was a long time. Normally she would have driven to the office in Colorado Springs four days a week, would have shopped for groceries and visited friends, but now she did her technical writing from home and survived on the boring food supply in her spacious freezer. The mountain woman was safe from the virus, but she found herself craving fresh produce.
Susanne Sener
Still, she didn't want to impose. You don't want to impose. I don't want to impose. Americans are proud, and fiercely independent. She had thought about what an imposition it would be if she got seriously ill and had to be rushed to the hospital, what peril the ambulance workers would face on the steep and icy roads. One more reason not to get sick. And what if she died alone up there? Even then, she hoped to impose as little as possible. She found the key to her safe-deposit box and placed it next to a conspicuous sign in her house with instructions on where to find her will and how to relocate her dogs.
No, she didn't need anything.
Well, maybe—
"Hi Naomi," she wrote, "if/when you go to the store let me know, I would appreciate up to $20 of fresh fruit...2 pineapples and the rest tangerine-types or oranges. That's only depending on road conditions. There's no urgency. I have cash available."
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