March, 2020 Archive

The New Routine

Monday, March 30th, 2020

30 March 7:23 A.M.

The big space in journaling accounted for by relative lack of change. Jan and I are still comfortable with social distancing, mitigated by her ongoing interactions on Facebook and my daily visits to the farm which include live interactions with co-workers Shane and Tree, fellow farmers Abimael, Javier and Katie, volunteers Claire, Gregg and Anneke. Continuing harvest for the Food Bank, reorganizing the field map, planting the thousands of starts donated by Green Heart, feeling the ground softened by mini-miracle March drought busting rains makes time there more precious than ever, though often exhausting.  Daily routine includes nap, dinner prep with harvest or dutiful restaurant takeout, and entertaining screen time. With students gone and populace on lockdown, the streets and freeway are quiet, the downtown empty.  The absences are filled with birdsong and screaming headlines, the most recent being that the national lockdown will continue at least until April 30.

The vocabulary word reminder:

  • Social distance
  • Self quarantine
  • Isolation and self-isolation
  • Lockdown
  • Shelter at home

Art in a Time of Plague

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

29 March [to Kathleen Balgley]

After the lockdown started I began a journal to record thoughts of what seemed like unusual urgency in the face of unprecedented transformations. But within a couple of days I lost motivation, thinking that even if some new insight emerged, who cares, since both audience and author are likely to be eradicated in the approaching tsunami. Better to just keep working in the garden, prepare good dinners and drink hard while watching movies.

That sentiment was captured in this quote by an Oxford Shakespeare scholar in today’s NY Times:

René Girard, the French critic, wrote in a famous essay that “the distinctiveness of the plague is that it ultimately destroys all forms of distinctiveness.” Mass burial pits for plague victims were one visible symbol of the way the disease erased social, gender and personal difference.

But then she goes on:

Elaborate plots, motives, interactions and obscurities focus our attention on human beings. No one in Shakespeare’s plays dies quickly and obscurely, thrown into a communal grave. Rather, last words are given full hearing, epitaphs are soberly delivered, bodies taken offstage respectfully.

Lots to learn from writers and artists these days after all.

Fear and Confusion

Friday, March 27th, 2020

Sunday March 22, 2020 10:08

Five days since the last entry. Not because there’s nothing worthwhile to record, but because it’s been busy enough at the normal rate to keep me away from dark thoughts and the need to write. But the sense of having purposeful activity to engage in is again being outweighed by confusion and fear.

At the farm this morning I discovered that the lock on Teresa’s shed had been broken and her power tools stolen. This complements the theft of Abimael’s generator and wrenches reported yesterday. An immediate sign of actual loss, as opposed to the theoretical horrors reported in the news, though one that could just as well have happened without coronavirus.

The positive developments there have kept me busy and high spirited for most of the week. With the suspension of all student activities at the farm and the reduction of staff, Tree, Shane and I have been able to work effectively to harvest 200 lbs. of produce on Tuesday and Thursday that was enthusiastically and photographically welcomed at the food bank, to map out a new plan for upcoming planting, and to get several rows of beans and peas into the still moist ground. The rain continues making up for the dry winter, but there’s not enough to prevent work in the well mulched and nontilled beds. Abimael has been out replanting starts after his early planting of bean seeds failed because of cold and wet, Corey’s cover crop suddenly came up in front, Katie is moving forward on planting her two acres. All of us agree that continuing to grow food is the most meaningful contribution we can make under the circumstances.

Jan and I have been shopping regularly for food and alcohol, the grocery stores apparently able to keep up all stock despite the runs on toilet paper. On Friday, projecting the need for more “home entertainment,” I finally moved on the resolve to replace our aging “new” tv and went first to Best Buy and then to Costco, bought a small cheap one, brought it home and tested it and found it wanting, returned it and bought a bigger and more advanced one that needed to be set up in the living room, spent many hours hassling with the instructions and software and finally got it working, so now we sit comfortably on the couch and use it like a monitor for the computer in front of the fireplace to enjoy a range of great content I hadnt before dreamed was available: 30 Rock, Suits, Miss Fisher for a start, and more flowing in all the time. A Thursday night phone call with Joe and Amy, lightened by booze and the first toke I’d had in months had us all laughing for close to an hour. Claire volunteered to take Sophie to the groomer, loaded with spare time now that she’s laid off and on unemployment insurance, while Lucas is out of school and assisted by Gregg in doing his online homework.

Reading the paper and listening to the news takes up quite a bit of time now, both because being “locked down” produces more leisure, but also because every hour brings refreshed reports of disaster regarding health, economic, and political threats that I still experience more as diversion than direct impact. SLO County is experiencing a rapid increase of reported cases and an absence of adequate medical supplies and facilities. The roads are close to empty. The neighborhood is quiet. But all real needs are still being met—including internet, more valuable than ever, electricity, water, garbage pickup, sewer.

That very affluence is becoming dreamlike. The waking reality of growing disaster gets closer.

Sinking In

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

Tuesday March 17, 2020 6:00 A.M.

What was unthinkable on Sunday, happens on Monday. The orders from the Governor, not contradicted by the President, being that “elderly” people should “shelter in place except to get food and medication, Jan and I—from now on “we”, decide to go to Trader Joe’s and possibly its low-class neighbor, Food for Less, when it opens at 8, rather than Costco, which we heard had long lines and empty shelves on Sunday. Its raining steadily. When we arrive, there are hand-lettered signs saying “Opening delayed until 9, and harried employees holding up hands while moving merchandise outside and others being let in.” Food for Less is open, Jan wipes the cart handle and inside there are piles of merchandise with new price mark-downs. We fill the cart with bargains for stuff on our list and find long lines at the cashier, but moving quickly. While Jan goes for extra strength Tylenol, the woman next to me says she really misses Jan as mayor. I say please don’t say that to her, she gets it whenever she shops and it causes pain each time. The clerk at the cash register is tired but friendly. They are working 12 and 14-hour shifts and getting overtime. Heading to the car with our stash, we see people with umbrellas standing in a line that reaches Starbucks waiting to get into Trader Joes. They aren’t six feet apart.

We unpack at home, storing surplus wine in the garage, taking three heavy bags of groceries up in the lift, constructed years ago to accommodate Jan’s knee surgery and allowing us to avoid stairs in anticipation of future accessibility problems. The news is a cascade of panic. Stock market “cratering” worse than last week, all schools closed, health authorities now predicting that US is two weeks behind Italy, where deaths are skyrocketing and health care system is overwhelmed. After a trip to feed chickens in the rain, leaving them inside the coop for the whole day and night, I return and contact Solarponics to see when the now installed Powerwall can be activated. End of the week or beginning of next. They are swamped. I’m eager to get it working after all this investment in backup for grid shutdown.

Jan calls to inquire about production schedule of the new mobile home we have ordered for Claire and Lucas with the one year stock market profits we cashed out back in December, when the virus was starting to work in Wuhan. He says they are still on schedule.

Claire calls Jan expressing concern for us and reporting that she has been laid off. The opening of the new restaurant in Paso, which she’s been frantically and ecstatically preparing for, is cancelled. She will apply for unemployment insurance. She and Lucas are now again staying at Gregg’s, combining care for their boys and coping. The 13th birthday celebration for him last Friday was a happy two hours among four adults inconceivable even six months ago, at least partially attributable to the crisis. They seem now to be bonding as a new family. It’s likely we wont be getting together in person for the foreseeable future.

As the trees in the yard leaf out and the hills turn green in the rain, I try to clean up back email and check the news continually. I confirm that Tree and Shane and I will work at the farm starting 10:00 this morning. We’d agreed that tending the garden still makes sense, though that too may change.

I sleep well afternoon and night, happy that the alarm clock interrupt dreams, that are now becoming easier to remember: all our chickens somehow tied up inside a basket and underwater, but probably ok, and being out in a hillside clearing surrounded by pristine redwood forest, as a surging sound gets louder, not feeling it but realizing its wind, looking up at the nearby slope and seeing a great red trunk emerge from the green mass and delighting in being able to watch it start falling and then waking up to the alarm.

In the dark bathtub, basking in the daily sensation of hot water easing the tension of muscles and joints, I’m overtaken with big picture imaginings. My anticipation of being grid independent when the Powerwall flips on is framed by the realization that if the grid really goes down, Diablo will blow up; my project of growing food at City Farm in case of shortages framed by the realization that it would feed only a couple of people and only while the pump was working; my desire to preserve a coherent archive of projects and pictures on a computer not dependent on the internet framed by the news yesterday that Microsoft will now require purchase of software subscription in order to provide future access to all previously saved Office Documents.