Day 60: Monday, May 11
Saturday I spotted a woodchuck in the crawl space beneath our back deck. She’d poke her head out and munch the plantain and yarrow growing wild there, then stick her head back in when the winds and rain were too stiff.
This morning I hear her digging underneath the pantry. We used to have woodchucks under there every year until we sealed it up. Apparently it has become unsealed.
I spend the day stomping on the floor at irregular intervals and every time I go to the fridge. “They” say woodchucks don’t like vibrations. I only hear her digging twice, but just like washing my groceries I don’t think I’ll give this up for awhile.
When the rains let up I go outside with the garlic-pepper spray I use on my vegetables as a pest deterrent in high season. “They” also say woodchucks don’t like garlic or pepper, and honestly I don’t blame them. I nearly vomit when I open the sprayer. Year old fermenting garlic and hot pepper is vile. I squirt it around the base of the porch and all of the openings I can see. Her tiny muddy footprints trail across the porch directly to the hole in the foundation under our pantry.
Living on this farmstead is a delicate balance between making this space hospitable to wildlife, but not so hospitable that they’re living with you.
Day 61: Tuesday, May 12
I keep waiting for the weather to shift but it won’t.
I still have plots to turn, potatoes to plant, paths to lay but the weather doesn’t cooperate.
I spend the morning grumpy. Covering the plants the deer like to eat with reused bird netting. It’s hard to see and easily tangles. It just makes me grumpier.
I purposely avoid social media on Mother’s Day, because it’s too heartbreaking for me and the millions of other women for whom this holiday, instead of being filled with cuddles and flowers and handmade cards and breakfast in bed and praise from husbands and children, is instead filled with pain, and shame, and trauma. Painful memories of lost mothers. Painful reminders of lost children. Haunting traumas of children that never made it. Reminders of the longing for what could have been but wasn’t. Flashbacks of pain mothers inflicted. Flashbacks of pain children inflicted. Estrangements. I don’t know if society is changing, or if quarantine is helping us to slow down and acknowledge that this is the reality for so many women, but when I finally open social media today I see a handful of posts expressing this perspective, and for the first time I feel like the narrative is shifting. I feel less alone.
I reattach a sheet of aluminum to the base of the shed that blew off in a windstorm a few weeks ago. It was covering a hollowed out space that looks like a nice place for our woodchuck to move to if we flush her out from under our porch and I don’t want that either. There’s plenty of room for her in the collapsing barn, the banks of the creek, and the multitude of woodpiles scattered about the property.
The aluminum was a cheap, quick fix someone made maybe half a century ago that we’ve never gotten around to fixing properly, and although I daydream about doing it this year it’s looking more and more like it won’t happen. Trying to tackle projects during a quarantine feels like a constant reevaluation. “How important is this?” is a question I find myself asking repeatedly.
At night we water the vegetables to protect them from the freeze. My grandfather always said never to plant anything cold sensitive until after Memorial Day. We’ve only got cold weather crops in the ground, but wet soil stays warmer than dry soil and the layer of ice (somehow) acts as insulation and helps protect even cold crops from dropping temperatures. It’s all magic to me.
Day 62: Wednesday, May 13
“When I turned 20 I told people I was having a quarter life crisis,” I say to Eric. “So I guess this means this is my mid-life crisis?” I turn 40 on Saturday.
Eric begins to laugh. One of his loud, belly laughs that come from deep inside. This thought truly brings him joy.
“What does this mid-life crisis entail? How does it make you feel?” he asks.
I pause in contemplation. “I feel… agitated… restless… scared…”
“So, like, a normal day.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
We watch a mouse rustle between the daylilies. It comes out of hiding and munches down the leaf of a dandelion.
“I’ve never seen mice here… outside,” I say.
“Well, Jack’s gone. And Jesse too.”
“We should rent a cat,” I say.
I found three baby moles in the potato patch I planted today.
Day 63: Thursday, May 14
This whole journaling thing has lost its luster.
Has it? It’s hard to tell. I’m getting sick of myself. Are you getting sick of yourself? Are you getting sick of me? How long will this go on? Will I be journaling about quarantine for the rest of my life? Sometimes it feels like we will be in quarantine for the rest of our lives. And even when we’re not in quarantine we will be changed. We’ll have a piece of quarantine in us forever just like Eric’s grandma who saved every single packet of saltine crackers and every single napkin that came with every single meal in the nursing home because she survived the Great Depression and once you survive something like that you can never let it go even if it means leaving behind giant boxes and bags of napkins and saltines when you die and your children and grandchildren throw them in the garbage.
That’s what the people who come after this quarantine will be like. We’ll be old and still hoarding toilet paper and pasta and flour and they’ll roll their eyes and be like “Aunt Jenny’s crazy. She’s still prepping for another quarantine.” But they’ll be sorry. If we were all more like Gramma at least we’d have flimsy napkins to use instead of toilet paper and we could grind those saltines into flour and we’d be ALL SET.
Day 64: Friday, May 15
It’s warm enough to drink our coffee on the back porch.
“What’s that monster?” Eric points to the field and the treeline near the stream. We strain our eyes. It looks like a dinosaur or an ostrich.
“Must be a turkey.”
“It’s freaking huge.”
We creep up the path to the driveway and into the field. The turkey struts behind our giant woodpile and while we’re out of the line of sight we rush up Uncle Luther’s tractor path. I creep to the left, under the pear trees and crane my neck. I can see it pecking the grass. I beckon Eric and he comes over but gets distracted by bluebirds dropping to feed and blue swallows collecting materials for their nests.
“That turkey is as big as you,” Eric says. “It’s got to be 100 pounds.”
“How big are those Thanksgiving turkeys? 20 pounds. Maybe it’s 20 pounds.”
“Is that 20 pounds after processing?”
We work through details of pre-processed turkeys vs. post-processed turkeys but neither one of us knows what we’re talking about.
“That thing would murder us if we got too close. It could if it wanted to.”
“It would take you down with its giant talons, and then once it had you down it would peck your eyes out with its sharp beak. Maybe that would help your aching neck. It would be like a massage,” Eric proposes.
“Should I offer myself to him?”
“Lie prostrate in front of it and see what happens.”
Eric points to the tree line where two scarlet tanagers are sallying off the tops of a maple. We creep back to the tractor path so we can be out of the turkey’s sight and get closer to the tanagers. Electric red flitting in fluorescent green growth of the young maple leaves. I keep having visions of the turkey running full speed at us and the fox jumping out at the last minute to kill the turkey before the turkey kills us. As we come around the wood pile we see that the turkey has headed out of sight to the creek or over the railroad tracks. We watch the tanagers flip and dive for breakfast.
On our way back to the house a male cardinal flies directly at our heads before turning at the last minute and landing in the locust to sing. We refer to all male cardinals around here as Uncle Joe. Just ten seconds ago I’d been telling Eric about a dream I had about my late uncle and his young granddaughter, without knowing it was the night before my cousin would give birth to Joe’s second grandchild. My aunt always says that Joe speaks to them through birds and he even appeared to me as a pheasant on the anniversary of his death when I’ve never before and never since seen a pheasant on this property. I think he’s here this morning too, celebrating through the turkey and bluebirds and tanagers, the swallows, the cardinals, not to mention the purple + yellow finches, nuthatches, titmice, red bellied woodpeckers and flickers darting and singing their festive morning songs. Welcoming Molly into the world and maybe even, if I could be so selfish to think it, me too, as I was born 40 years ago tomorrow.
Later, while disinfecting groceries, I find myself crying.
“Are you crying?” Eric asks me, turning from where he’s washing a sink full of oranges, avocados and bananas.
“Yes,” I nod.
“Why are you crying? Because you’re turning 40?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know,” I say. And I don’t know. I could think of a lot of reasons to cry. I could also think of a lot of reasons not to cry. But I don’t. I just let the tears come, and then go. I’m finding it’s easier this way.
Eric says something about sugar water and I quote the only good quote from Men in Black and Eric says he loves the fact that I always quote that quote from such an un-Jen-like film.
“Well that was back when it only cost $5 to go to the movies, so you saw all of them, whether they were good or not…” I pause. “Remember when it cost $5 to go to the movies?”
“Remember when you could fill up your gas tank AND go to the movies for a ten spot?… Throw in a pack of cigarettes and call it $20…$15 even.”
“Keep it coming Jen,” Eric eggs me on.
We light some Hanoi incense and honor my 30s.
Day 65: Saturday, May 16
There is something incredibly beautiful about celebrating a 40th birthday in quarantine. We had plans of trips to Portugal and Spain. Grand schemes of doing something fun every month. A big double 40th birthday bash. But now, as things are on pause and we’re forced to slow down even more than we thought we already had, the smallest things are bringing me more joy than I thought possible. Two different sets of friends bust out of quarantine to deliver me flowers. My parents come over wearing masks and bearing lilacs and we wander the property 10 feet apart. My sister and niece compile a list of traits the family came up with to describe me and the number one thing people said about me was “strong” which amazes me because of how often I feel so weak.
My two favorite gifts are:
1.) toilet paper (Eric bought me toilet paper and never in a million years would I have thought that it would be at the top of my list of 40th birthday gifts).
2.) a mustache (my friend surprised me with a dirty mustache he grew for my birthday, but the better gift might have been how much the rest of my friends hated it. We spend hours on a zoom call and it’s all anyone can talk about -how ugly Ryan’s mustache is and it brings me such joy because it’s all for my amusement).
My friend Dave, after playing part of the song “Buddy Holly” on guitar over Zoom (nearly inaudibly) puts on a sweat band to match Ryan and lounges on the couch with such an epic stance that I can not stop giggling. My friend Kevin pulls up a picture of me with a black eye I got in a bar fight at my friend’s wedding 11 years ago (it’s a long story that I recount again to my guy friends. Some of their wives hear it for the first time and maybe it helps them understand a little bit more why I’m the only girl in our group of friends).
For dinner Eric pulls out the hibachi and grills hamburgers and asparagus and it’s so simple but I feel like it’s one of the best dinners I’ve ever had.
I am filled with gratitude.
Day 66: Sunday, May 17
Eric buys straw from Agway and then vacuums the car. I repot the thyme and tarragon and look up care instructions for a beautiful bay laurel my parents got me for my birthday.
While Eric prunes the grapevines I plant the ramps he bought from the co-op.
I’m most excited to start a fire now that the burn ban has lifted, but the wind is coming from the east and it’s too dangerous to get it really going.
Instead of being bummed (which is how I spent my 30s) I know now that being bummed doesn’t do anything but ruin my day. Instead we sit in the grass under the cherry tree whose flowers have all but faded, enjoying each other’s company, commenting on the friendliness of the chickadees and the voracity of the mint. I clip branches of crab apple and lilac before the rains come tonight.
We go to sleep at 9:30.