We’re all social distancing these days, and it’s unclear when exactly that will end. But Billy Barr has been doing this for almost 50 years. He’s the only full-time resident of Gothic, Colo.
“I’m the mayor and chief of police,” he said. “I hold elections every year, but I don’t tell anybody when they are, so it works out really well.”
He lives in an abandoned silver mine at nearly 10,000 feet in altitude in the Rocky Mountains. “The snow’s going sideways, it’s swirling,” Billy Barr said of the local weather.
Barr has tips on social distancing, but he’s the first to say they may well be entirely useless.
“When I first got here, it was a relief for me to be on my own, but that’s not necessarily what a healthy person does — isolate themself,” he said. “I mean, I’m good at it and I do it because I like it, but what works for me, it works for me. It quite conceivably wouldn’t work for anybody else.”
While Barr has been called a hermit, he doesn’t consider himself one. He occasionally interacts with skiers who pass through, he talks to his sister on the phone, and he works for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory nearby, which gets flooded with scientists in the summer.
But the man has been living alone in a cabin in the mountains for many years, and in the winter months, he can go many days without seeing a soul. So staying home during the COVID-19 outbreak?
So, without further ado, here are somerecommendations for the Billy Barr method of social distancing
Keep track of something.
Each day, Barr tracks the weather for a number of groups including the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. He started measuring snow levels in the 1970s, mostly because he was bored.
“Everything depends on the weather,” said Barr, who has skied through that “sideways” and “swirling” snow to talk on the phone from the laboratory. “It controlled what I did and so I would write it all down.”
He would also write down when he saw an animal.
“With the birds, especially the ones that arrive in the spring, it was exciting,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s sunrise and I can hear robins.’ “
Turns out, monitoring things that were important to his daily life had real value. As The Atlantic has written and the documentary The Snow Guardian has shown, his records have informed dozens of studies on climate change.
Keep a routine.
Barr starts early. He wakes up around 3:30 a.m. or 4 a.m., and stays in bed until about 5 a.m.
“Up until a week or two ago, I would listen to the news every morning so that I could start every day either totally depressed or furious. That’s always a good way to start the day,” he said.
“Now with the whole COVID and with politics and stuff,” he said he just can’t anymore. So, he listens to old-time radio instead.
Then it’s time to clear the snow off his solar panels and file weather reports to a bunch of different agencies. The rest of the day involves work and chores interspersed with skiing.
“I kind of follow a set time schedule,” said Barr. “Sometimes I forget what day it is, but I know what time it is.”
Most importantly, he said, is leaving a reward for the end of the day. He’ll read, knit something, watch a movie and then watch a game of cricket.
“It’s pretty much the same day after day. Most of it I enjoy,” he said.
Notably absent from his daily routine: keeping a personal journal. He said he used to, for about a decade or so, but then he went back and read it. “And it was so boring. It’s like, ‘OK enough already. Let me go watch some paint dry.’
“Celebrate the stuff that matters, rather than the stuff you’re supposed to celebrate.
Barr has mostly ditched holidays and birthdays, but he does celebrate Jan. 17, when sunrise goes back to what it was on the solstice.
“To me, that’s a big deal because I get up so early in the morning that the lighter it gets, earlier, makes my day a lot easier,” he said.
He also celebrates when he gets back from skiing 8 miles each way into the town of Crested Butte for supplies.
“Town can be kind of stressful,” he said. “So I save my favorite movies and I save my favorite meals and I save things to do so when I ski back from town and I’m home, it’s like, ‘Woohoo!’ Big party time.”
Embrace the grumpiness.
Sometimes, Barr said, it’s kind of satisfying to be grumpy about something.
“I do get sick and tired of snow, but I like kidding about it. I live in an area where people live for snow, but I’m not that carried away with it, so I like being grumpy about it,” Barr said. “You get older and you start saying ‘OK, I’m not going to necessarily be pleasant when I don’t feel pleasant.’ “
These days, Barr is feeling especially unpleasant.
“Ironically, I have been in contact with one person in the last nine days. That was eight days ago,” he said.
And then the guy got sick.
“I don’t know what he has, but for the last week, I’ve been sitting around wondering If I’m going to get it,” Barr said.