Midwinter is when cabin fever begins to set in. If it hadn't already set in months ago because of pandemic isolation.

And yet even an overcast sky has folds and shades of light, thin places where peeks of blue are visible. The sun sets after 4:30 now, and there's light until 5. Daylight saving time, with its promise of longer evenings, is just a few weeks away.

There will be more snowstorms and cold weather, but it won't be all that long before mud season and warmer days bring out trees and flowers. Vaccinations continue to creep in their petty pace from day to day, to paraphrase a famous author, but each week more people are protected against the novel coronavirus, and slowly it will be brought under control.

Who will we be when we come out of our lairs, like bears who have been hibernating for too long? Regardless of our attitude toward masks, lockdown orders and vaccines, we will not be the people we were a year ago, before the virus upended everything in our lives.

I wonder how long it will be before I'm able to go to a gas station or a grocery store without thinking about it, bring in a package without washing my hands afterwards, talk to a friend without paying attention to how far apart we are?

Will town meetings really take place this spring, or will the continued need for caution force town business to be handled at the ballot box?

When will I travel more than 50 miles again for something other than an emergency?

The feeling of holding my breath is almost more than I can bear.

And yet red squirrels scamper back and forth in the yard, chickadees and cardinals come to the feeder, drawing my attention outdoors to the life that goes on uninterrupted, apparently unaffected by the pandemic. The world's pulse beats on, untouched by the human fear of death.

Already we're starting to make plans for after we are both vaccinated, when it might be safer to venture back into human society. Maybe dinner with a friend in late March or early April, possibly a trip to New Hampshire at the end of June. Still, I think it will be quite a while longer before we retire our masks. Maybe we never will.

Imagine if we stopped taking clean water and air for granted the way the pandemic has forced us to stop taking our health for granted. How about the food system that makes nearly anything available at any time? What if we no longer took living in a free society for granted? Not everyone is so lucky.

There are so many things we Americans take for granted, and maybe this last year of living with the pandemic is an invitation to notice them. Make a list of all the things we rely on without thinking about them, things without which our lives would be so much harder and less pleasant. Not just popcorn or the internet. But animals, birds, trees, lakes, mountains, the experience of peeling an orange, a dog's joy when you come home, the smile of someone you love.

Maybe after I make my list I will feel more grateful, less impatient with the enforced isolation of my existence right now.

Sarah E. Reynolds is editor of The Republican Journal.