A Slap Upside The Head

Every once in a while, when I find myself slipping into the useless act of wallowing, I recognize my need for a figurative “slap upside the head.” A pop culture example of what I mean can be seen in the film “Moonstruck,” when Cher strikes Nicholas Cage in the face, shouting, “snap out of it!” Like so many others, I’m just feeling frustrated with the Omicron barrage. Afflicted with the curse of constant awareness, and once again spending the bulk of my conscious hours locked in my house with not a human in sight, I started to fall into the doldrums, not a positive mental state. I decided to change things up by reading a book about a topic about which I knew nothing. The Lost City of the Monkey God is the story of an archaeological expedition into a mountainous, jungled area of Honduras, where rumors of an abandoned city had been floating about for a few hundred years. What could be more distracting than a real life adventure story? Not much. Or so I thought. As I got into the last part of the book, the adventure receded into the recounting of how many people on the exploring crew contracted Leishmaniasis, a tropical parasitic disease which is categorized as a neglected tropical disease, a disease for which little efforts toward wiping it out have happened. Affecting over a billion poor people annually, that this parasitic nightmare commands little scientific attention is tragic. With multiple forms of the infection, which was transmitted by sand flies, the symptoms ranging from a hideous skin presentation to a life-threatening one, the intrepid crew made their way to the National Institute of Health for diagnosis and treatment. Suddenly I found myself reading interviews with Dr. Anthony Fauci, a scientist and immunologist serving as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was talking about the dangers of pandemics along with the perils of climate change. As the world warms, tropical diseases like “lesh” are making their way north into the U.S. So far, cases have turned up in Texas and Oklahoma. Tropical disease-naive people may have significantly more troublesome outcomes than our neighbors to the south. I mean, really? Our own beleaguered Dr. Fauci, the current Covid lightning rod, was jumping out of the book which was supposed to be all new and a diversion from the current day.

I couldn’t possibly have known the turn my distracting book would take, but clearly this read was not the best choice for putting some distance between me and the present state of affairs. I finished that book and moved on.

Black Hills, South Dakota
Badlands, South Dskota

What I don’t want to become at this stage of my life, is unconscious of all the privileges I’ve experienced along the way. When I was young, my family definitely scraped along financially. My parents didn’t really get comfortable until all four of us kids were basically out of their apartment. But I was never starving. We lacked health insurance and regular dental care but for the most part we got by. I didn’t get stitches for a big cut on my leg once and had a tooth pulled instead of repaired. Compared to the world’s poverty-stricken millions, that’s not much to complain about. Hence, the slap upside the head. I’ve traveled both in the U.S. and abroad. I’m not going to be able to do everything I dreamed of doing, but on a relative scale, I’ve done great. The sensation of being confined, which is what Covid has aided me in acquiring, melts away fast when I realize how much I’ve squeezed into my life.

Yellowstone, Montana
Yellowstone, Montana

The average American has visited just 12 states, according to a study conducted by Livablity.com and Ipsos Public Affairs. I’ve been to 46 states. South Dakota and Montana have been visited by fewer than 15% of Americans and North Dakota by fewer than 10%. I’ve been to all three. How lucky am I? Very. In addition, 27% of Americans have never been out of the country. Almost 31% have been to two or fewer countries. As there is a different country at both the northern and southern borders, that proximity probably accounts for a significant number of those visits. I’ve been to twelve countries, a couple multiple times, which puts me in the top 11% of my fellow citizens. I’m sure I’m not in the top 11% of the population income-wise, which means I’m really fortunate to have gotten in so much travel. Of course, I’d like to do more and I think going into the third year of the pandemic in my “golden years” kind of sucks. But on a relative scale? Shut my mouth. If and when this bizarre situation ends, I want to like myself when it’s over. I won’t be able to do that if I become a whining pest. Maintaining perspective is the only way for me to get through this time. After all, I managed to sneak away twice in 2021. That’s more than many people can say.

After sorting myself out a bit, I went back to peering out the windows and doors of my house. Observing the behavior of the animals who inhabit my yard is always interesting and was a boon during the winter months of 2020 and 2021. Today finally brought seasonal temperatures for January, rather than the mild ones which have lingered through November and December. The chilly air brought multiple bird species to feast at my feeders. The icy glaze on the glass through which I was shooting make for blurry pictures, but I like them anyway.

Carolina wren
Cardinal on the way to the feeder
Female cardinal
Sparrows waiting their turn in the lunch line.

I did venture out into the cold. Fresh air is a critical necessity in maintaining a healthy mental balance. Despite the biting temperature, the draw of my garden is still strong. I poked around, looking for bits of color, planning for the empty spaces which invariably pop up every year. I garden both economically and defensively these days. My back hallway is full of rhizomes and seeds I pulled from the ground in the fall. They’ll all go back in after the danger of frost is gone. So far I’ve been lucky with cannas, dahlias, milkweed and tithonia sunflowers. Each success feels like a small triumph over endless consumerism. I’m also trying to plant in a way that holds down the amount of weed pulling which always faces those of us who love the dirt. There are ways to subvert those pesky volunteers.

The juxtaposition of the winter and summer garden is somehow comforting. I hope I’m not around long enough to see my yard turn into a one season environment. I can’t imagine what the world would be like if there was never the pleasure of watching new blooms emerge as if it was their first time.

Back inside I pulled out the old standbys that help me while away the daytime hours. The thick book of challenging New York Times crossword puzzles. The art supplies. I remind myself that if I don’t practice I’ll never improve. My attempt to draw my beloved female cardinal Pumpkin, who disappeared from my yard a few months ago, is not satisfying to me. I’m going to give that rendering another go.

In a few weeks, the online classes I enrolled in will begin. Hopefully after those end, this latest surge will have run its course. Or if not, the weather will be mild enough for me to break out the digging tools so I can be up to my eyeballs in the open air and my dirt. This afternoon, the sun broke through what felt like endless days of gray sky. I was able to catch the moment. For the time being, that moment will have to suffice.

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