Pandemic pondering

Don’t you love the creative face masks people are wearing? A shirt I bought from a homeless ministry in Fishoek, South Africa was sacrificed to make half a dozen for our boys.

If the global COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t accomplished anything else, it has given us something new to think about, often ad infinitum. Out of the overflow, I share a few miscellaneous ponderings in case anyone’s bored enough to read them and commiserate:

The news cycle never ends. I gave up on watching the news. With so much waffling and blame-misdirection from Washington, one has to hunt for reliable sources and be glad we have some governors who are willing to think for themselves and do what is best for their people. I check a news app or two once a day, usually in the evening. That’s enough news for me.

A gas war at the worst time. Can you believe gasoline is down to around $1.50 per gallon, even less in some places? But you can’t drive far enough to take advantage of the bargain price. My Prius usually goes about 650 miles on 10 gallons of gas. I haven’t bought gas since February, and I still have half a tank. By the time I need more and travel destinations are open, prices will probably be rising again. Bummer.

Who has time to be bored? Apparently, there’s not only a shortage of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but Facebook posts suggest that jigsaw puzzles have also disappeared from the shelves, and adult coloring books are not far behind. I understand that folks who are retired but still accustomed to getting out are looking for things to do while stuck at home. I’m fortunate enough to be still working at all of my jobs, albeit remotely. The only puzzles I do, as usual, are on the comics page of the newspaper. Today the News & Observer printed a full-page picture with a dotted grid across it, with instructions for pasting it to thin cardboard and cutting it up to make your own puzzle. I’d rather wash the dishes and try to fit them back into the cabinet.

Shouldn’t everyone plant okra and beans, radishes and squash in their front yards?

This is a great time for all those home-improvement projects. It’s a good thing that landfills are considered an essential business, because many people have finally gotten around to cleaning out their attics and basements and garages, and a lot of stuff is being thrown away, including things that would normally go to thrift stores, most of which don’t qualify as “essential businesses.” Susan and I haven’t tackled the disaster area otherwise known as our garage yet, but we did extend a flower bed in the front yard and made it into a small garden plot. Who knows? They may be hoarding squash and beans next. I’ve also ripped the rails from our deck. The floorboards are next. It’s about time: they’re 32 years old.

We’re eating more takeout than usual. Times are hard for restaurants, so we get takeout two or three times a week just to help the local folk stay in business. The biggest problem with that is that we can’t bear to throw away all those nice plastic takeout containers, and the already junky storage container shelves are becoming impossible: I suppose we should turn it into a 3-D puzzle and make a game of organizing the container bonanza.

A hawk with a fresh prize — a still-twitching squirrel.

The “COVID 15” and “Zoom fatigue” are real things. I’ve had days in which I spent five hours or more staring into tiny faces on my MacBook screen. I’ve talked to others who do that and more every day. It’s better than not seeing each other at all, but it gets old — one of many things that makes me want to eat. I’m not the only one: lots of people are worried about gaining weight, like the “Freshman 15” many gained in college. We normally cook dinner at home, but now we have lunch, too. Getting good exercise is a challenge because state parks and their hiking trails are closed to the public, reportedly because the facilities and trails there were too crowded. Unfortunately, that has  pushed more people onto greenways and county parks, where keeping a six-foot bubble around you can be difficult. When Susan and I hiked the normally lonesome trail at Swift Creek Bluffs, we had to park on the roadside because the lot was packed. Happily, we met a couple standing still and pointing their cameras, and discovered a big hawk that had just bagged a squirrel. The hunting would be better in our back yard.

One of many scenic spots on the Peninsula Trail at Harris Lake County Park. Fresh air is good medicine.

I’ll close with perhaps the most interesting observation of all: social isolation has led to increased community and meeting lots of new people. We tend to cocoon in our homes, but with most people staying home all the time, we get stir crazy and have to get out. Susan and I typically walk a four-mile loop through neighborhood streets at least four or five times a week, and we usually meet two or three people during the hour-long walk. Nowadays we run into people everywhere: we’ve met neighbors we’ve never seen before because they don’t normally come out of their houses except to get in the car. We’ve had nice conversations (from an appropriate distance) with folks in the neighborhood, on the hiking trails, and while waiting in the socially-distanced line at the grocery store. So many kids are out riding bikes and playing in the creek that you’d think we were in the 1950s. It’s been nice. In our cul-de-sac, we’ve been talking about setting up card tables in a spaced out circle and having a COVID-dish dinner.

These are strange days, harder on some than on others, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be days for growth. We’re learning new things, having new experiences, and thinking new thoughts. I’m not grateful for the pandemic — but I’m grateful for every good thing that might arise from our pulling together to meet a shared challenge. I hope we don’t lose the community we’ve gained.

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