I just got a little distracted from my train of thought. I was watching a news show which was emphasizing the positive efforts being made by entertainers to help people to stay at home, to “flatten the curve,” in an effort to curb CORVID-19. My screen flashed to John Legend at his piano, belting out a lovely song. What I didn’t get was why his wife, Chrissy Teigen, was sitting on the piano in a towel, her hair wrapped in a turban, ultimately reaching for deodorant, which she then mimed applying to her armpit. I’m just not sure about that message but I guess I’ll just put it aside in light of other thoughts.
With the social distancing admonition firmly planted in my head, I’ve decided to work on my list of assignments. I don’t really mind being by myself which is a definite advantage in these times which demand that we stay away from people. I have my outside work and my inside work. Outside I went. I started with picking my way through the bits of debris that lay scattered through my yard after having my house sided. Nails, shards of vinyl, and cigarette butts pop up everywhere, even after a first pass through each section of grass and driveway. I figure it’ll take quite awhile to get everything picked up. I worry about animals getting cut or ingesting something harmful. Not to mention my deep desire not to step on the absurdly painful roofing nails that are sneaky and hidden in covert places. While enjoying the spring air and sunshine, I also spent some time removing the weeds and grasses that already were pushing their way up between the bricks on my cobblestone sidewalk. I do love the way the bricks look but when they get overrun by opportunistic greenery, they get slick and dangerous. It’s a never ending struggle. Left to its own devices, nature has its way. While yanking away at those, and eventually turning to feeding my March blooms that are poking up, I can’t help but ponder how despite our efforts to bend the world to our plans, the natural world is quietly doing what it will, permission granted by us humans or not.
I check out a little pile of the many rocks I’ve collected throughout my life. Shells, too. They’re scattered everywhere, different colors, shapes and sizes. I’ve always been greedy about picking them up, having a hard time thinking I have enough already. Kind of like trying to eat just a few potato chips out of a full bag. They’re not just pretty little baubles to me. With the￼￼ rocks, I wonder how old they are and what happened near them before I scooped them up. What lived in those striations running through them? Where did they come from, through glacier movements and flowing water? Who touched them besides me? They￼ all bear silent stories. And the shells. All once occupied by sea creatures. What was their life span? Were they eaten or did they die of their version of old age? Why is there so much variation in color that is fundamentally invisible? Or is that my human egotism, assuming the color has no purpose because while alive, that color isn’t visible to me? Only by death and the shells washing ashore, empty, can any people besides scuba divers enjoy the fabulous rainbows of the￼ depths. I know there are people who study all these questions. I don’t want to be scientific about my collections, though. I just want to feel the textures, note the diversity and muse about them. If I get too serious, I don’t think I’d have as much fun as I do in my gathering.
There are some of these beauties that I’ve used to decorate pavers in my garden. I’ve written the places they came from on the bottoms of the bricks so I can enjoy the huge variations from different parts of this country and other places I’ve traveled. And of course there are similarities I’ve noticed as well.
While ruminating about these gifts from the earth during my outdoor assignments, I find my mind drifting to the sea change in people’s lives sinc￼e the novel coronavirus swept into our consciousness and around the globe. I’ve heard it referred￼ to by my country’s president as “the Chinese virus,” in a hateful, xenophobic way. This virus has no nationality or ethnic origin, any more than my rocks or shells do. It is an outgrowth of nature, an organism doing its thing, albeit a frightening and destructive one for us humans. It has no intent. It replicates and transfers itself to hosts. It is opportunistic. In a very short period of time, it has altered life as many people knew it. Its effects are producing frightening scenarios of pain, death and even economic disaster. I think of the enormous asteroid that struck the earth, darkened the sky and blotted out countless life forms. This event is tiny compared to that, but to us, it feels huge. Yet I can’t help but think of some slight positive effects on the planet as human activity is curtailed by the virus.
Pollution over China and Italy has dropped precipitously. In the canals of Venice, usually cloudy and tainted by the constant traffic of gondolas, the water has cleared. Swans and dolphins have appeared for the first time in a long while.
Maybe the world is doing a little balancing, if only for a brief moment. Certainly the cost of human life right now is frightening and tragic. But we impose our needs on the natural world in destructive ways on a regular basis. Does nature get its way every now and then? Feeling things￼ out of control is scary for us cognitive types. Nature just gets overrun. No one us making a deliberate attempt to foil us. But sometimes I wonder if our sense of control is all a fantasy anyway. I know that for me, trying as hard as I could to control parts of life came to nothing in the end. It’s not easy to surrender to those things just beyond our control. Choice isn’t always an option.
I go into the house. It’s time for indoor assignments. Today I need to write my grandsons about what they are currently living through in these days of COVID-19. I have tasked myself with taking notes about their lives during the course of each year and writing them each a summary letter on their birthdays. I did the same thing for my two kids who opened them all on their 18th birthdays. It was fun for them to read all the little things and some big ones too that they didn’t remember. I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to write each of them 18 letters or whether I’ll be around to see them read any of them. That doesn’t matter. I’ll do them until I can’t. So far, I’ve handed nine for one and six for the other to my daughter who’ll turn them over to her kids when it’s time. But this moment in time deserves a letter of its own. We are living through a moment in history which is unique and important. I don’t know what long term changes may come from this worldwide event. But I want the boys, who will likely have some memory of it, to have a bigger picture, albeit from my point of view. So I wrote it.
March 18th, 2020
So that was today, filled with my thoughts. Many years ago, my beloved and very humorous husband, would look at me bemusedly, and quote a line at me from the film ” Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
“You just keep thinking, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.” Yup. Still thinking, Michael.