I have plenty of choices of items to put in my CV-19 time capsule. A lot of them are things you’d probably choose, too, or maybe slight variations of things you’d choose. Paper masks. Latex gloves. Bottles of foul-smelling, no-name brand hand sanitizer, the only kind we could find when all the Purell was snapped up. Pots and pans that we banged when the ambulances and fire trucks went by. Unused commuter tickets from March 2020. Bottles of a very particular type of Irish whiskey or a Chilean red wine that nursed us through the darkest early days. Instagram posts of empty highways.
Any of those things would work, but nothing says “pandemic” louder to me than my humble Buffs. You might know the Buff by a generic name, like a do-rag. But Buffs are a real thing, treasured by athletes, especially mountain athletes, for their utility and durability. Picture a bandana folded over with the opposing edges sewn together to form a cylinder. That’s a Buff. You can wear it around your forehead like a sweat band or to protect from sunlight; higher up on your head to keep the hair out of your eyes; around your neck as a scarf-cum-gaiter; or over your nose and mouth as a mask.
It’s that last application that led me to my Buffs. I couldn’t find any masks in stores when we went into lockdown, so I turned to the Buffs I had accumulated over the years. There were five of them, gifts from friends or handouts from races that decided to forgo a more mundane T-shirt. I took them out of the drawer and left a couple of them around the rearview mirror of my Jeep to put on before I went into the grocery or on a beer run. When I’d come out of the store, I’d pull it up to keep the hair out of my face, because I sure wasn’t going to a barber shop any time soon. Or down around my neck to keep the chill at bay on evening walks, which I desperately needed to keep myself sane. Later, in the fall, the Buffs were a great way to keep my neck warm while standing around the Solo Stove fires that popped up in every suburban backyard.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all wistful for the depths of the pandemic. And I look forward to the day when the Buffs can go back on duty as glorified handkerchiefs on the occasional day hike. But I’ll always remember how a very simple thing, a mere piece of cloth, made a very complicated thing bearable. And for that I will be forever grateful.