Social Distancing/Quarantine: Days 39-45

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Day 39: Monday, April 20

Every spring on seedling day I set up at the picnic table on our patio with potting soil, seedling trays, masking tape, permanent marker, and jars of seeds.
I’ve been delaying because of the cold, but it’s getting to be too late to delay any further. I set up today in the kitchen instead.

Later in the garden I plant 10 rows of carrots, and turn under another plot.

Eric read aloud a list of how best to mentally survive the pandemic.
It includes things like limiting media intake, including social media. Each time he reads something off that we’re already doing we congratulate ourselves.
One of the things on the list is about being gentle with yourself when you can’t accomplish as much. I remember this again when I’m in the gardens and I struggle to get as much done as I’d hoped.

We sit on the porch and watch the light shining on the daffodils.
I’ve memorized our favorite poem and recite it daily now as a mantra.

“In time of daffodils(who know
the goal of living is to grow)
Forgetting why,remember how…”

The grass needs cutting already.
We eat nachos on the patio.
We walk around the neighborhood. A group of kids is roller blading two feet apart even though they don’t look related. People are stopped and talking too close.

At night before bed I stare at the detail on the wooden dresser and feel a deep sense of gratitude.

Day 40: Tuesday, April 21
Today I see a lot of Darwin memes about people protesting covid-19.
The memes would be funny if covid worked like that, but it doesn’t and it makes me sad because it’s just more misinformation.

If the people out protesting were the ones likely to die from this virus that would be one thing, but they’re not. They’re more likely to be asymptomatic or get mildly sick and then give this virus unknowingly to their diabetic aunt or their brother fighting cancer or their elderly grandmother who weren’t protesting. The people standing shoulder to shoulder, flouting social distancing rules, refusing to wear masks, insisting their freedom is more important than someone else’s life probably won’t die.

Day 41: Wednesday, April 22

Watching a show Eric pauses it and strains his ears. “Is that an airplane?”
We listen intently. All I can hear is the furnace. The bark of a dog.
“I don’t hear anything…” I can feel my ears open up. I pause. “Oh wait… yes…. there….”

We have a newspaper clipping from 1919 that includes my great-great grandfather’s obituary. He was the President of the Village for seven years. In the back of the paper there are several printed sightings of airplanes.
Notices like: “Mrs. Jeremiah Ward reports seeing an aeroplane flying southwest to northeast on Tuesday at approximately eleven o’clock …”

This feels like that.

Day 42: Thursday, April 23

I don’t even see it when I open the back door to bring the seedlings outside. It’s only when I turn to come back in that I notice it there, head severed and bloody.

“Is Jesse still alive?” I haven’t seen our neighbor’s cat since a warm day this winter.

“Because if he’s not we have a secret admirer.” I contemplate for a moment. “Do foxes leave presents of dead mice at your door?” The idea of a fox leaving us a dead animal was more magical than a neighborhood cat. So I imagine that.

We hike up to the waterfalls and come upon a young kid sitting among hemlocks that had blown over in a wind storm a few years ago. He’s just out of high school, young but calm when he sees these grown ups. We talk among the trees, standing on pine needles and hemlock cones, ten feet apart.
When we walk away Eric notices I’m crying.
“What’s wrong?” he asks me.
“I didn’t realize how much I missed people.”

As we pass tiny white pines and hemlocks I touch them, and it feels like caressing the arm of an old friend.

Eric gets ready to go grocery shopping. I hand him his mask, santizer and shopping list. A few moments later he comes back inside.
“What’d you forget?”
“Car’s dead. I’m not going anywhere.”

Day 43: Friday, April 24
We’ve been stuck in here too long.
I sage every room in the house and repeat: “purify this space.”
The air feels cleaner now I think.

My childhood friend lives down the street. He comes over with his young son to jump the car. He and Eric dance around, navigating the front of their cars and keeping a safe social distance. While the car juices up we stand in the driveway talking about quarantine life.

Day 44: Saturday, April 25
We open the garage door to get the tractor mower started. Eric reattaches the spark plug wires and I rev the engine. “Something doesn’t sound right,” I say. He disengages the transmission and we push it out of the garage. He pulls out the spark plug, checks the gap and adds more oil, twists it back into place, reattaches the wire, and I try again.
“It’s probably the spark plug. We’ve never replaced it.”
“It’s either the spark plug or the gas is stale,” he says.

Every spring Eric drives up to the tractor store whose owner reminds me of my late paternal grandfather. Every spring he buys an oil filter, air filter, and paper element. Every spring on a warm sunny day I sit in the driveway, dismantle the air filter and change the oil on the tractor. It’s nice to have a partner this year.
“Pick up a spark plug too, we’ll try that first.” Eric’s still under the hood of the mower.
“What’s this?” He points to another wire cap. “Is this another spark plug?”
“If it is, we’ve never checked that spark plug. Ever,” I open the owners manual. It only mentions a spark plug on the right side of the engine.

Eric returns with two spark plugs because Grandpa Cub Cadet gave him two when he asked for one. “He wouldn’t let me in the store, took my list and my card.”
“Remember last year when he asked if we needed a fuel filter?”
“Yeah, and we said we’ve never changed the fuel filter and he laughed and said ‘Then you’re definitely gonna want a fuel filter.’ “

Eric oils up the spark plugs and changes them out. The tractor starts up on the first try.
I let the engine run for a few minutes to warm up the oil so it flows more freely.

After spring maintenance is finished I take her out for the inaugural ride. It’s supposed to rain a lot this week and the field is already shin high. If I wait any longer I might not be able to mow until mid summer. The grass would be thick and wet with humid dew, clogging the blades and getting caught up under the deck, making it so I need to stop every few feet, turn off the engines and reach up under the deck to dislodge the sweet smelling clods. Paranoid that I’ve mowed over poison ivy and keeping track of each place my arm touches the deck so I can scrub it in the shower later. Even though I mow less frequently this way, I often end up using more gas, turning on and off the engine, mowing back and forth over the same thick patches. Early spring mowing is quick and easy. I’m finished with the middle field in less than an hour.

Having the sun on my face, watching the ground for snakes or voles or grasshoppers that I know aren’t yet catapulting themselves from the soil, watching blue sparrows dive, noticing a rogue thistle – it all makes me feel like life is normal. Like there is no pandemic. That we aren’t in quarantine. That this never happened at all.

Day 45: Sunday, April 26
The rains keep us inside again all day.
I pad back and forth from the parlor where Eric’s recording a new song, to the living room where I curl up on the mustard velvet couch underneath a crocheted blanket reading Dharma Bums for the tenth or fifteenth time.

Eric beckons me to the parlor to show me a section of song. We talk about instrumentation and timing. “These horns are perfect,” I say. “Extend this.” “Delete this.” “These drums are amazing.” We brainstorm vocal ideas.

He comes into the living room and sits across from me.
“Tell me more about what you’re finding,” he says. I’d been telling him how when I was younger and read this book I found peace in the shakti Jack Kerouac reflected. I hadn’t been practicing meditation or spiritualism other than contemplating my place in the world as most young adults do. I was intrigued by these Buddhist concepts in how they related to my ego, but nothing more. But I didn’t recognize that at the time. Now as I read the book it unfolds to me differently.

I identify with Ray, climbing Matterhorn, terrified. Matterhorn now presents to me as a metaphor for life and fear and awakening.

“I fell down and looked up and it was still just as far away. What I didn’t like about that peak-top was that the clouds of all the world were blowing right through it like fog.”

“I nudged myself closer to the ledge and closed my eyes and thought “Oh what a life this is, why do we have to be born in the first place, and only so we can have our poor gentle flesh laid out to such impossible horrors as huge mountains and rock and empty space,” and with horror I remembered the famous Zen saying, “When you get to the top of a mountain, keep climbing.” … I just nudged farther in my protective nook, trembling.” 

And then because of fear, he recognized the pointlessness of fear.

“Then suddenly everything was just like jazz: it happened in one insane second or so: I looked up and saw Japhy running down the mountain in huge twenty-foot leaps, running, leaping, landing with a great drive of his booted heels, bouncing five feet or so, running, then taking another long crazy yelling yodelaying sail down the sides of the world and in that flash I realized it’s impossible to fall off mountains you fool… Now when I went around that ledge that had scared me it was just fun and a lark, I just skipped and jumped and danced along and I had really learned that you can’t fall off a mountain. Whether you can fall off a mountain or not I don’t know, but I had learned that you can’t. That was the way it struck me.”

This confused me when I was twenty-four. Can you or can’t you fall off a mountain? I was thinking too much. It’s not about can or can’t. It’s about awakening through fear.

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