Social Distancing/Quarantine: Days 88-94

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Day 88: Monday, June 8
In the morning I weed potatoes. Pinching Colorado Potato Beetles and rubbing out their orange eggs. They’re early this year and the potatoes are late. The single-petal dark pink peonies will wilt with the heat. Our other peonies haven’t opened yet. I’ve never seen this in 12 years.

While painting the kitchen door Eric shows me this. It’s hard to paint while you’re weeping.

I read an article about how a majority of epidemiologists surveyed said they won’t feel comfortable going to a concert until a year or more from now.

Eric takes a break from work and we walk to the post office to mail our board of election ballots. I feel less anxious going to the post office these days, but when I check online to shop for disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and N95 masks I can’t find any. It starts to make me worried about winter, even though summer hasn’t started yet.

Day 89: Tuesday, June 9
Last week I got rid of the drop ceiling, today I pull furring strips from kitchen and manage to preserve the sheet rock nearly intact even though the nails they used were ten feet long.

Today is the first time I feel comfortable not disinfecting groceries, except for the ones we’ll use right away.
“Did you notice the American Indian is gone from the packaging?” Eric asks when I put away the butter.

We watch the documentary LA 92.
“I wonder how the deaths in the LA riots compare to today?” I say.
We look up incidents of civil unrest in the US and are shocked at how many there are.
“Why don’t we learn ANY of this in school? This is our ugly history.”
Eric points me toward THIS article about Tulsa.
I am reminded of THIS podcast episode.

I realize how much our education system is at fault for the systemic racism that permeates our culture. We learn about Emmett Till and Martin Luther King Jr. but that’s where the dialogue ends. Throughout my entire public education experience I had one Black teacher and a handful of African American students walked our halls.

Day 90: Wednesday, June 10
We watched the robins hatch and fledge in less than two weeks. There is one final bird in the nest. The parents try to lure it out with worms and chirps. Their visits grow fewer and farther between. Have they given up on her? Will we watch her get weaker, and then die in the nest?
She has fledged by nightfall.

The reishi Eric harvested a couple weeks ago is finally dry. I grind it up in the coffee grinder that I only use for herbs and start a tincture.

There is a spider catching air on the peruvian apple cactus, the one that’s taller than me. Eric and I struggled to move it outdoors this spring and we wonder how we’ll ever get it back inside in the fall. While looking closer at the spider I’m startled by a dragonfly perched on the same cactus. Its abdomen throbbing and curling. I watch it, waiting. I rub my eye, it rubs its eye. Then I’m startled again by a fawn in our front yard pausing because of a few cars. I’m so startled that the dragonfly darts away and so does the fawn. I contemplate racing around the house to corral the deer, but I worry this would make it run through the street even more quickly.
Instead I go inside and look up the meaning behind each visitor.

I had just been listening to THIS.  The Zen koan of the man hanging by his teeth on a branch over a cliff with his hands tied behind his back. His teacher comes to him and says “Say the one true thing that will save your life.”

I sit on the porch and contemplate this koan and the spider, the dragonfly, and the deer. None of it makes sense, and then, suddenly it does and my jaw gives way and I release and I begin to cry.

Day 91: Thursday, June 11
Eric calls to me from the parlor.
“Jenny!”
Maybe the baby deer is back in the front yard. I rush to the parlor. He puts a finger in the air as if to listen and then I think: “oh no, the chipmunks have found their way back inside,” I wait for their scraping and nibbling but instead I hear the most melodic female Russian voice. Her tone and intonation makes it sound like she’s singing.
“Хорошая музыка! узнал благодаря фильму ” После полуночи”
Eric translates for me: “Good music! found out thanks to the movie ‘After Midnight’ ”
“How did you get her to sing like that?”
He shows me how he clicked the speaker in Google Translate.
We listen to it over and over and I try to memorize the melody.

I write back: “Большое спасибо за ваши добрые слова” but it doesn’t sound nearly as beautiful.

At some point during quarantine I stopped drinking. While I’ve been working out the knots in my jaw I’ve learned a lot about myself, including what triggers my eye watering. Alcohol (an inflammatory) is one of these triggers. I come from a big Irish family and I’ve been a performing musician for 20 years. Both are drinking cultures. Quarantine gave me the space I needed from these environments to try this experiment. It’s working. My eyes are better. Sometimes I forget I had this problem at all. I’m sleeping better, my mood is improved, and I feel healthier, if not a little more boring.

Eric gets a delivery from Empire Wine and while I unload it, all I want is a shot of tequila.
“It’s never too early to start drinking in quarantine,” one of his clients says over a conference call. My shoulders drop.

Day 92: Friday, June 12
“I thought you said it wasn’t a good strawberry year?” Eric says after seeing the 5 lb basket of strawberries I left on the kitchen table.

The past two years we yielded 30-40 lbs of strawberries. So many strawberries -even after making a year’s supply of jam, even after packing freezer bags full of them, after slicing and dehydrating them, after packing up quarts and giving them to friends and neighbors, after eating them with every meal until we had bellyaches.

This year a third of the plants died-back, but the daughter plants will regenerate the spaces where their mothers died. Eric leaves just a little bit of the fruit and a few seeds on the stem of each berry he eats. He collects them all in a container and sprinkles them around the bare spots in the strawberry patch.

“What will you do about jam this year?” he asks.
“Blueberries” I say. We’ve never seen our bushes so flush. “And I still have 3 giant bags of strawberries in the freezer from last year.”

Day 93: Saturday, June 13
We tear down the west wall of the kitchen to studs, exposing 1″ gaps in the walls where the cold seeps in, chipmunk holes in the floor where the critters get in, and two junction boxes buried in old insulation.
“Fire Hazard 101,” Eric says.

I put on the NIOSH mask I wear when I make soap, but the only other mask we have is a three year old N95 that is so battered that the elastic has snapped in three places and been tied back together. Eric had been going maskless, but I can see gypsum and insulation dust motes floating in the air and urge him to put it on. It snaps again.
“I can’t believe this is America and we can’t find an effing mask.”

I read an article about people getting death threats while wearing masks. Eric and I spend a lot of time talking about intimidation, which has been on both of our minds a lot lately.

Day 94: Sunday, June 14
In the morning we hill the potatoes. While Eric wheels back and forth from the compost I weed and squish potato beetles between my fingers and rub out their miniature caviaresque eggs. My fingers stain orange and brown.

We retrieve the fruit picking ladder from the barn that’s collapsing. The one we’re planning to replace someday. But first we must rebuild the tractor shed.
“How tall you think this ladder is?” I ask Eric as we prop it up against the lilacs.
“Ten feet is my guess.”
“So that’ll fit on the side of the new tractor shed.” This delights me. This ladder is useful but almost always inaccessible. It’s also heavy as hell.

We spend an hour pruning lilacs and cutting back the grapevines that had run wild through them. For the first time in years they are discernible from one another. Clearly four lilac bushes and four grape vines, not the tangled mess of bush and vine growing in and around and through each other.

We put two empty milk bottles into our backpack, grab our masks and set out on the train tracks, walking to the Agway in town. I imagine this was what it was like to live in the 60s. Eric exchanges our empty milk bottles for full ones while I wait outside staring at plants.

On our still weekly family Zoom my brother says the only reason his bar is able to be open is because it never rains anymore. I will remind myself of this when my plants aren’t growing. I will remind myself of this when I need to water every other day while the seedlings establish and seeds try to germinate. I will remind myself that one farmer’s suffering is another bar owner’s recovery.

After being separately quarantined since mid-March my Dad spent two weeks with my sister, her husband, and their two kids. It’s the longest he’s gone without seeing Emmaline (almost 6) and Brady (3). Dad recounted how on one of their daily wagon rides a neighbor walking by stopped to talk. They were each maskless, on opposite sides of the street. When my Dad started pulling the wagon again, Emma gasped for air as though Dad had been driving past a cemetery and decided to stop. When he asked her if she was ok she said “Papa, I tried really hard not to breathe because we forgot our masks.”

Nick and Donna told us a few weeks ago on a Zoom call that their 2 year old has started backing away from people in public and if he sees groups of people in picture books he shouts: “No people! No people!”

This pandemic is changing kids.

note: As of the publication of this journal, I find myself nearing 100 days of quarantine. This feels like a good place for me to pause, even though life is far from back to normal.  Next week’s entry will be my last in my series of quarantine journals, unless of course things change, as they so often do. Thank you for following along through the anxiety, the fear, the dread, the self-realization, the calls to action, the reckonings, the spiritual searching. This space has been invaluable to me.

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