Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Post from Pandem-onia

I’m pretty good at putting a Pollyanna veneer on dang near anything, but I gotta admit…this Covid-19 has me positively spin-less. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a Ray Bradbury novel, and sometimes all I can do is sit with my hands in my lap, mouth agape, thoughts spinning like a 45 (that’s a tiny record for you young’uns). We're only on Week 1 of XSD (Xtreme Social Distancing), but right now there are already 7000+ cases in the U.S., all 50 states, 11 in South Dakota, and that number could jump by the time I finish typing this. It was 5000+ YESTERDAY.

Here are some observations I’ve made so far in Pandem-onia:

1.     Teaching – The next time you think teachers are overpaid or lollygag on their “summers off,” remember that right now, teachers who’ve had two week’s notice or less to reinvent the wheel are working almost non-stop to transition classes to completely online. They’re prepping for two, four, fifty-two, seventy-five weeks online—no one really knows how long. I’m incredibly grateful to have taught online before, so the transition is less daunting for me than for countless colleagues across the country, now working long hours at kitchen tables, on their third pot of coffee, as they learn new software, revamp lesson plans, modify activities, keep in contact with scared students, and remain calm.

2.     Working – Ray is still going to work, a good reminder that not everyone has the option of working from home. He works in an in-house print shop for a large healthcare system. He is careful. He doesn’t touch anyone. He maintains his personal space. He comes in at night and washes. If we had a futuristic disinfecting shower at the back door, he’d be using it.
3.     Risk – Did I mention that Ray and I are BOTH in the at-risk category? We’re both over 60, and we have a smorgasbord of “underlying medical issues” between us. I’m not visiting with my kids, both because Ray is still “on the outside” and we don’t want to infect them, and because they are young and healthy, and we have no way of knowing if they’re infected—life was normal until it wasn’t: slobbery kids at birthday parties, long, lazy dinners at busy Burger Kings, K-12 schools (those petri dishes of childhood togetherness)…
4.     Economics – In spite of the obvious risks, I’m thankful Ray can still go to work and I can work from home. This pandemic will surely deal a near-fatal or fatal economic blow to people who can least afford it—people who will lose their jobs as a result of social distancing’s impact on the small businesses they work for, or because their kids are home from school and they must choose between work and watching their kids, or small business owners who will have to shut. Bernie Sanders’ redistribution of wealth will happen in spite of his campaign probably ending, because we will have to feed each other.
5.     Hermiting – I’m a hermit anyway, so working from home is comfortable for me. But we’re human primates, which means—think of troops of chimps—we need each other. In spite of my love/hate relationship with technology, I’m grateful for the many ways we can keep in touch with each other, check on each other, and reach out to buoy spirits and ease fears. And we need to keep doing that.
6.     Chefery – I’m getting pretty creative with food. Like curried stockpiled beans and carrots over stockpiled brown rice. Or Cajun stockpiled lentils and stockpiled vegetable pasta. The 35-year-old dehydrated mixed veggies in my freezer, the ones you all laughed at me about, from my Earth Mother hippie days, are gonna make some fabulous Pandemic Pilaf.

7.     Coping – I’ve sorted my troll doll and PEZ dispenser collections. I’m repotting plants. I’m washing and dusting things I haven’t touched in months. My laundry is done, and it’s mid-week. I’ve reconnected online with old friends. I’ve learned new songs on the guitar. I write down in my journal each day, three things for which I’m grateful. I’m revising poems. I’m knitting face masks (kidding…but not). I will stay busy and NOT give in to despair.
8.     Family – My 84-year-old mother is safely tucked away and social-distancing (a surreal new verb) in Kansas with my brother. My 88-year-old father, who has prostate cancer, is home with his wife, who is 82, self-employed, and must still work. They are both at great risk. Of our four kids and their partners, one has been at least temporarily laid off when the restaurant he works for closed, one is in higher ed administration and is still going to work every day, one is a nurse still going to work, and the rest are working from home. All kids are out of school.
9.     Fear – We are all afraid. Statistics are helpful in terms of knowledge and preparation and taking this seriously, but they also generate fear. We Humans of Earth are all standing along the tracks, watching the train wreck. We can’t look away. But we can hold each other’s hands.
10.  Continuity – you know what ISN’T affected by this pandemic? Spam and solicitation, that’s what. I’m still getting a gazillion emails a day from folks offering incredible just-for-me deals on leggings, reading glasses, hair dye, human growth hormone, vacation destination, mascara, “fair trade” jewelry, and wing chairs. And trolls.
11.  Optimism – Right now, as this pandemic ramps up to its peak in the U.S. and the numbers taper off in China, I BELIEVE we will come through this. Not all of us, maybe not even me, but enough of us. And in the meantime, my 116-year-old house will be hyper-organized and cleaner than it’s EVER been. ;)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Spring in Little Town

Every early spring, I remember why I live in South Dakota. There’s nothing like Spring in Little Town. We aren’t quite there yet, but I see the signs.

Little Town is on the river, and this morning, just after dawn, I took the dogs outside and HEARD spring. Two grackles chittered, bickering over a squirrel’s nest from last year. This year’s squirrels sat in the walnut tree, scolding the dogs. And then, from below the bluff, a chorus of honking, distant at first then louder and louder, until moments later three huge V’s of geese, and a dozen or more stragglers, flew overhead. While I was watching the geese, half a dozen pelicans, far above the low-flying geese, ambled from east to west, their white wings lit up in the early morning sun. Behind me, woodpeckers tapped at suet blocks, while goldfinches crowded our feeders, reminding me that the buffet needs restocking.

There’s something here about the SMELL of spring, too. Winter dulls the senses, covers up smells in its snow blanket or locks them in ice. But spring! The first smell is dirt, that rich top layer of humus defrosting as the snow melts. Then, the bouquet of smells on the wind, up from the river valley: water, dirt, cold, green, buds, animals, farmland.

Another sure sign of spring is shorts. When the temperatures start drifting into the 40s, then 50s, the students at Little Town U don their shorts. They wear them with boots, socks, hoodies, jackets, sometimes even parkas. My legs would turn some horrid shade of blue, but their young, high-metabolic flesh, their stubborn nose-thumb to winter, is a welcome (and pretty funny) promise of spring.

All over town, people are coming out, buzzing like bees just out of their hives. We walk dogs, clean around the edges of gardens still too frozen or muddy to work, take down bicycles from their winter garage hooks, head to the car wash, hike the bike path along the river, jog around town. And at our feet, through the greys and browns of winter lawns, sparse patches of grass hint at the explosion of greens to come. Cabin fever melts into euphoria—we’re stretching and shaking off winter’s semi-hibernation.

 I’m not sure how people manage without seasons. For me, summer is time to do play and do MY work; fall is back to school; winter is time for retreat & reflect; and spring is time for renewal & rebirth. Every spring in South Dakota is for me a time to re-create—a new garden, the yard, our little village, myself.

A friend once said we like South Dakota seasons, especially winter, because it keeps out the riff raff.
Maybe our friend is right; South Dakota is #46 for population density in the U.S. But we’re also #17 in land area, which means those few of us who make this our home have loads of room to roam, and to dig, listen, watch, smell. From my backyard, I can see across the river into Nebraska. Yes, winter means shoveling, white-outs, blizzard warnings, icy sidewalks. But spring is like childbirth—once you hold those miraculous daffodils in your hands, you forget winter’s long labor.