Sheltering with the Alaskans 

Lady B made the drawing below of her situation (that’s Baby Brother playing with trucks nearby). But I’m a little doubtful that her speech bubble contains a meaningful comment, because we hear tales and see photos and videos of a giant pile of snow in the back yard for snow caves, and of great cross-country skiing.

Lady B is learning to skate ski, but on the downhills, she gets her skis in the tracks, tucks, and hurtles around bends. Baby Brother rides in a trailer behind his dad (a handle on the back allows Lady B to also catch a ride). Luckily, good weather and plentiful snow fill these quarantine days!

She sees her class on Zoom – she tells us they each log in with something to share and the big screen fills with the classmate talking, the others appear in little boxes at the bottom. We are all pixels now.

But there must be moments like below.

Flattening the Curve

The other day I thought, well, we have a new routine, and the whole situation seemed easier with a routine, changed for sure, but knowing what’s next in the day brings comfort.

That didn’t last. On our island the closures grow, a week ago there were brave emails from the museum, library, and art center about staying open for solace. Now they are closed, and bars and restaurants, and pretty much everything. The schools sent everyone home to distance learn. Our storied yarn shop will take orders on their website to be handed out the door for knitters. With a photo of Hilary Mantel’s new book, “The Mirror and the Light,” Mrs. Hughes wrote: “might help social distancing.”

The grocery store makes heroic efforts. Workers clean carts after each use, checkers wear gloves and wipe down the keypad after each customer. These employees are on the front lines without the protection of social distancing, standing all day with whoever faces them. The recent report, about an infected person “shedding virus” at a higher rate before symptoms, worries everyone. A favorite checker said her asthma reacted to the sanitizer (being used, not being purchased because there is none). Customers are grateful. And anxious.

On Saturday night we tried a virtual dinner party with our old friends on Bainbridge – and it worked! At six p.m., setting up the devices across the table for FaceTime felt surprisingly like our familiar dinners together. No standing around the kitchen island for starters or sitting by the fireplace for dinner – but laughing and rehashing old times, and this strange new time.

Now I wish I could think of a way to be with the grandchildren virtually – an activity to do together. How about you? How is it where you are?

(But here is good news just received! Sweet Brother is growing and thriving – now looms large in the picture!)

Getting One’s Affairs in Order

On our island, across Puget Sound from the coronavirus epicenter, normalcy and strangeness coexist. Grocery store shelves emptied (but only briefly), patrons at the gym wipe exercise equipment with newfound diligence, and schools make plans to close. I’ve heard of just one confirmed case of COVID-19 on the island, but, given our close relationship with Seattle, it’s just a matter of time.

A few weeks ago before all this started, my old friend who lives on Bainbridge told me that she was in the midst of serious dostadning  (the Swedish word for “death cleaning”). My friend’s an orderly person, not a hoarder of the useless, so I couldn’t imagine she had much to do. We laughed about some of the items encountered, and moved on to discuss the political frets of the week. That was a lifetime ago.

Yesterday she sent a link to a poignant but realistic essay by Mary Pipher, “If I’m Going to Die, I Might As Well Be Cheerful About It.”

My old friend also told me how thankful she is that the coronavirus, so far, had not come for children – or even their healthy parents. I think of that with each piece of grim news – how terrifying to be worrying about the children or their parents – and I, too, am grateful.

And, as the acknowledged target demographic for this virus – being aged and having compromised lungs – it’s probably time to pay attention to what one would leave behind.

Recently, two different friends, after experiencing the sudden loss of their partners, strongly advised to organize what each of us knows – to share knowledge about passwords, bank accounts, bills, tv remotes, repair people, on and on – the unnoticed details of daily life. Oh yes, I thought, and then did nothing.

But now, gathering all this information seems an urgent task – not technically dostadning – but another way to make things easier for the left behinds. And be cheerful about it!

Gardens, Books, Unease

Does life right now seem a sort of “Choose Your Own Anxiety” game? Spin the arrow inside one’s brain, and settle on worries about the spread of coronavirus or the (now diminished) smorgasbord of candidates confusing efforts to defeat the incumbent. And then, another set of frets (rightly louder) provide real-life concerns like children or work or health – things one might do something about.

I try and interrupt the head spin with books. So I was glad to get Penelope Lively’s new book, “Life in the Garden.” I have been looking forward to it – a memoir by a favorite writer structured around gardens – her own and literary. Describing her tiny London garden now, and the limitations imposed by a chronic back problem, she says, “This is old-age gardening, and like all other aspects of old age, it creeps up on you, and has to be faced down and dealt with.”

In my favorite parts of this book (aside from the beautiful cover and black and white illustrations inside) Lively considers “gardening as an element of fiction.” She writes, “This is a book in which fictional gardens act as prompts for consideration of what gardens and gardening have been for us, over time.”

And I loved it that she reminded me of books I hadn’t read including her own novel, “Consequences,” a perfect book for escaping the present. Beginning just before the hardships and tragedies of World War II, it opens with a romance that echoes through generations. It ends in this century with changes wrought by modernity and a satisfying linking of the generations.

I really care about Lively’s characters – and relish their observations (which seem like Lively’s voice). On books in a library: “they offer a point of view, they offer many conflicting points of view, they provoke thought, they provoke irritation and admiration and speculation.” A library would be noisy, “with a deep collective growl coming from the core collection…, and the bleats and cries of new opinion, new fashion, new style.”

Such a pleasure to read this book, and to surface and realize that a daffodil, ignoring our national discontent, blooms in my tiny garden.