The Quarantine Diaries – Chapter 3

It’s been over a month since The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI). The New Normal is becoming a strange and odd journey into a world much different from the one we planned for at the beginning of the year. All of our social and organizational gatherings, workshops, seminars, practices, etc. have disappeared. The committees and boards of non-profits on which we serve have devolved to keeping touch by Zoom or email, with planning confined to pushing off dates for any events and activities to next year.

Our governor has extended the “shelter in place” order and business closures through Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you), and just announced plans for a carefully staged and gradual lifting of the stay-at-home order, opening some businesses a few at a time. Federal health officials are not so optimistic. The Federal government in general is in a flat spin, descending into chaos. The news is neither enlightening nor uplifting.

In our personal life, we’ve fallen into a routine. Both of us go to the produce stand once a week for fresh fruit and vegetables. Last week, we discovered they sell coffee beans from a microroaster, so we picked up a bag. The week before, we mail-ordered a bag of coffee from a Seattle company we get our espresso equipment and parts from, which turned out to be very expensive and a lighter roast than we expected. After going a week on instant coffee and Keurig pods, we now have an abundance of whole-bean coffee, in the darker roasts we enjoy, picking up another kilo on sale at the supermarket.

On Tuesdays, I go to the Safeway at 7:00am for Senior Shopping Hour. Since my last blog, where I lamented the lack of one-way aisles to reduce the chance of being blocked in by other shoppers, the store has made the narrower aisles one-way, which many shoppers, unused to or uncomfortable with change, ignore. Nevertheless, the early hour means fewer shoppers, so the 6-foot marks across the front of the store for metering the waiting line for entrance go unused. Our grocery list is simple and sparse: dairy products, paper products (when in stock), and any fruit and vegetables that were in short supply at the produce stand. After pointless arguments with the robot checkouts, and sharp admonition from the human ones, I’ve given up using our frequently laundered cloth bags, just overloading the plastic store bags and repacking at the car. Things we miss on the list or that are out of stock at the one store we patronize, we do without until the next week.

Our on-line orders have started to trickle in. Shipping times are a bit longer, so ordering early is necessary. Many items on-line are out-of-stock, so there is an urge to order early, but not in quantity or too early so as not to be thought of as hoarding. The list is growing.

Meanwhile, life goes on with some degree of normalcy. Judy continues to work on creating beautiful art journals, documented in her blog {here}. Her first shipment of three rather elaborate ones to a dealer in Tennessee sold within minutes, but the prices are low, so the income barely covered the cost of postage and materials. A second, and perhaps final (at least to this vendor), shipment went off last week. We shipped the previous batch by buying a shipping label on-line and dropping the package, but Judy went into the post office this time to see if there was a cheaper option (there wasn’t). Since our last visit, the USPS has installed shields above the counters to prevent exchange of droplets, spray, etc between postal workers and customers.

Designer mask from our quilt fabric stash. I’ve since trimmed the beard to fit under the mask… It’s fitting that the print depicts the life support system for getting outside on a small planet, long ago and far away, on the device now necessary on our own planet.

I did sew us each a cloth mask, two layers of quilt-grade fabric, pleated to fit, with a pocket for a nosepiece of rolled foil or craft pipe cleaners. Surprisingly, quilt fabric has the highest rating of any of the home-made options. The pattern came from Johns Hopkins University. Mine has long ties, Judy put elastic ear loops on hers. After each use, we pop them in the microwave in a zip-lock sandwich bag with a few drops of water as a make-shift autoclave. Everyone is supposed to wear some sort of face cover in public, but not everyone does.

Hiking the trails along the grid lines of streets the city never grew into, in the southeast corner of town.

The spring weather and uncharacteristically dry April get us outdoors almost every day. We’ve alternated walks around the neighborhood with short bike rides in the countryside. In the neighborhood, we get a good workout, with the steep hills around us. As the weather warms, more and more children (and a few adults) are out and about in the streets, so we’ve been exploring the many trails interconnecting the neighborhoods through the woods and down along the creek. The ones at the edge of town seem relatively free of homeless camps, but seem well-used, but, for now, not overly so. The most recent ones we’ve explored are heavily used by motorcyclists, but might be suitable for mountain biking, though too rough for our tandems.

Our “social distancing” also involves riding to the ends of the county roads that lead into the mountains.. 47.285350, -123.423979.

The on-line bicycle forums have had discussions about safe riding in the age of social distancing. Based on that, we have avoided the established bike trails near the city, as they tend to be heavily used. Riding in remote rural areas has some disadvantages, too. We normally like to ride a loop of 15 to 30 km, but, since we don’t have anyone local to call if we run in to mechanical trouble we can’t fix, and feel obligated to refuse the kindness of strangers, we have planned our last few rides to not get more than 8-10 km from the truck, so we could walk back in reasonable time. By April 15th, we had managed to bring the year-to-date mileage up to 100 miles, a bit at a time, and another 15 miles since, now having used up all the side roads accessible from our base across the road from the Matlock Post Office.

Realizing the economic shutdown and continued spread of the virus may extend the current crisis into full-blown societal disaster, we’ve begun to think about maintaining our food reserves while using from our current stored reserves. With the shutdown of food-processing facilities across the country, the next wave of shortages will not be due to hoarding or incompatible supply lines (i.e., between the surge in home cooking and virtual stoppage of restaurant and institutional consumption), but from simply lack of supply altogether. Public utilities: power, water, sewer, etc., continue to function, but depend on keeping the expert staff healthy and on-line. Preparing for When The S**t Hits The Fan (WTSHTF) as a consequence of TEOTWAWKI is necessary as well as adapting to the semi-permanent temporary measures. I decided to experiment with building a wood stove on the patio for when the natural gas supplies run out. We still have a perfectly good backpacking water filter, so, if we can capture water when the rains come, as they always do in this part of the world, we can have drinkable water.

Staging a mock tutorial on “defensive social distancing” on April 1.

As for weaponry, all we have are a few ornamental or prop swords and the knowledge to craft a quarterstaff, plus a pair of trekking poles that have come in handy for exploring the steep trails that wander through the greenways around our neighborhood. Then again, we have little that would be valuable to looters, having gotten caught unaware at the start of the hoarding frenzy, but those who would loot are unpredictable, so some sort of “why don’t you rob someone else” stick—pointy, sharp, or just long and solid—is a desirable accoutrement to the survival / “bugout” kit. After all, such a device is strictly defensive, being unable to commit violence at a distance, like the firearms that are so beloved by the more “conservative” members of society. Should more distance be required, renewable resources such as slings, atlatl, or javelins are more sustainable in a prolonged gap in civilization.

So, why a discussion that sounds like an outline for a wasteland movie? Well, the federal government is busy placing blame and making threats instead of proposing and gearing up for a unified plan to keep the nation safe and the economy working through the pandemic, a recipe for anarchy and dissolution of the nation as a functional entity. This is precisely the scenario by which the Second Amendees base their need for insane amounts of lethal weaponry—to survive an attempt by the state to try to make them do something they don’t want to do, namely, work for the common good instead of looking out for number one. As elderly citizens, we’re not good candidates for forced labor camps, and as educated citizens, we have too many inconvenient opinions about what constitutes a reasonable course of action, to be allowed to live when the barbarians are at the gate. In lieu of Earth Day celebrations, we saw mobs of armed and angry citizens storming various state capitals, asserting the right to die at work with the virus as an alternative to dying of starvation huddled in their homes. No shots fired, yet, but we expect spikes in Plague in those locales.

At the time Chapter 2 of this saga was published, there were about 100,000 confirmed cases across the United States, ramped up over about a two-month period since the first case was identified. A mere two weeks later, there were over 300,000. The “shelter in place” orders, business closings, and enforcement have varied widely from state to state, with no overall federal plan, so it will be difficult to tell if the application has been effective, over the next few weeks, as resistance to the closures grows across the country, even in the areas most affected by the rapid advance of the pandemic.

The resentment is fueled by the complete breakdown in the safety nets put in place to handle the usual one-or-two point variation in the unemployment rolls, as tens of millions of workers are either dismissed or furloughed without pay, and no support readily forthcoming. The much ballyhooed stimulus package of $1200 per tax-paying adult and $500 for dependent children has basically benefited those who don’t need it: families who file tax returns with direct-deposit banking generally are in better financial health than those who mail checks or receive paper checks for refunds, or who didn’t make enough to file last year. Meanwhile, desperately needed medical supplies go wanting, with tens of thousands of craftspersons raiding their fabric stashes and sewing makeshift face covers for personal use and to donate to medical facilities to extend the life of scarce medical-grade face mask. Vague orders issued by the White House appear to have encouraged (rather than ordered) industry to tool up to make masks and ventilators, with no apparent supply lines or specifications in evidence.

There is no “return to normal:” that bridge has been crossed, burned, and the abutments dynamited. What comes after will be a transformed society, even more changed than after 9/11/2001, which mainly affected travel procedures and the families and associates of the thousands who died and whose businesses were destroyed in the twin towers and surrounding buildings. The pandemic touches every aspect of living in America and in every other country that also failed to act quickly to stem the medical and economic burdens the pandemic imposed. Critical infrastructure has failed, safety nets have failed, changes will need to be made that have been obviously needed, but purposefully ignored for decades, in the name of profit and power. Cover-up and obstruction will not be tolerated, and obstinance on the part of government will be met with revolution.

Yet another end-of-the-road turnaround, on Homer Adams Road, Deckerville. Beyond the end of the road is a large bog, a common feature in the forests around the Olympic Peninsula.

On our last bicycle outing, as we were getting ready to head out on our loop, a local pickup truck driver yelled at us, in passing, “Go back to Europe, foreign bi***es!” We’re used to bicycle-haters, but this is the first time we’ve been accused of being alien invaders, in our spandex tights, helmets, and strange vehicle with no visible means of propulsion. We’ve become, in the age of heightened xenophobia, a UCO, or “Unidentified Cycling Object,” and a possible threat to The American Way, along with anyone else who can be classified as the “other,” meaning “not like us” in appearance, dress, or behavior.  Dangerous times are ahead.

So it goes, with the world lurching toward the next “re-opening” date, which is rapidly slipping into summer. Events scheduled for July and beyond are beginning to be canceled, or, hopefully, postponed to “same time, same place, next year.” Social order, tenuous at best in recent years, is breaking down. We’re starting to plan ahead to replenish our emergency stores, with longer and longer supply lines and possibly requiring alternatives for what will never come back. With the closure of most of the country’s pork production, we face increased competition for our normal vegetarian staples of beans and rice, and we may need to learn to compete with the birds, deer, and squirrels for the apples, plums, grapes, nuts, and blackberries that grow in our yard.

2 thoughts on “The Quarantine Diaries – Chapter 3”

  1. Good post, Larye. Dystopian but realistic. It’s early. Trying to imagine what life will be like a year from now is difficult. We have our little fenced bubble here with a huge garden in progress. Hoping we’ll still have electricity as much of our summer garden will disappear into the freezer. We’ll be back to canning and drying as well. Our globetrotting days are over!

  2. Larye,

    Well said. Mary forwarded this to me. I seem not to be on your mailing list, but would like to be so I don’t miss any new chapters.
    Thank you.
    Cousin Monette

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