The Quarantine Diaries — Chapter 5, “The New Normal”

Time marches on, and the Corona lockdown continues.  Some businesses are reopening, with restrictions, and “take-out” is the only way to get food you don’t cook at home.  Travel restrictions are still in force, but traffic is building.  The natives are restless.  The sometimes warmer weather brings people out into the streets and yards.  As the pandemic sweeps across the world, scammers are out in force: identity theft is rampant, especially in the unemployment assistance pipeline, with millions out of work.  It seems easier to get someone else’s unemployment entitlement than your own, in the confusion and enormous overload of the system.  Fraud abounds in fake relief agencies and charities.  We recently were contacted by a couple in Minnesota, who apparently thought they were giving a memorial in the name of a COVID-19 victim to a charity, which turned out to be a credit-card scam that used one of our email addresses as the support contact, in order to have a valid return address for a website that has surely disappeared by now.  Beware.

Early this month, we were contacted by another couple, bicycle tourists, who have been trapped in the U.S., staying with one of the other Warm Showers hosts in Shelton since early March, when the borders closed and the travel ban went into effect.  He’s from Spain, she’s from Argentina: they can’t travel to either country, because of “citizen only” entry rules in effect.  They were looking for another place to stay until travel restrictions are eased, hopefully in July.  Reluctantly, we had to turn them down, since we are in the “vulnerable” age group.  Even though we could take in a couple to become part of our “family” for a month or so, increasing the number of people in the household going out shopping increases the network of possible contacts, and we do break protocol every two weeks or so for grandkid visits.  The ‘Rona is turning us into people we don’t like very much.

Keeping with the spirit, if not the letter, of the “Stay at Home (but OK to go for walks in your neighborhood, with distancing)” orders,  we’ve been walking outside yet, exploring farther and farther from home.  It’s been a revelation, as we marvel over all the blooming things in peoples’ yards, and continue to trace out the many trails on the edge of town.  Having explored most of the off-road trails more than once, sometimes in both directions, and walked all of the streets in our 100-year-old Angleside subdivision and newer extensions, we’ve branched out into the Hilltop neighborhood to the southeast.  We also made some excursions into the downtown, following the now disused logging railroad from the entrance to the mill, along Goldsborough Creek, and to the crossing at Railroad Avenue, the main street of Shelton.

This week, we hiked up the newly-reconfigured Old Olympic Highway on the north canyon wall, looking for a trail shown on our map. We had seen the lower entrance last fall on one of our bicycle excursions at the base of the hill, on Franklin Ave., and were looking for the upper end, purportedly behind St. Edwards church.  Ignoring the prominent No Trespassing signs around the spacious church campus (whatever happened to the idea that churches were a place of refuge, open to all, in time of need?), we skirted the property boundary, looking for the trail.  Alas, it was blocked off with slash piles and overgrown, so we traversed across the top of the ridge on animal trails (the entrance to which was marked with a warning sign, faced outwards, as if deer could read), emerging back onto the upper street  a few hundred meters farther, through a vacant lot, heavily signed on the street side with dire warnings against criminal trespass.  Once again, we had managed to wander out of forbidden areas we had stumbled upon from the unguarded wilderness side.  At least this time, unlike one of our bicycle adventures on a dead-end trail along Semiahmoo Bay near the Canadian border several years ago, we didn’t have to climb over any fences to get out.  On return, rather than retrace our steps down the sidewalk, we took an old trail down the steep bank, ending up in a closed city park sports field, locked at all street entrances, which we had to escape through the city maintenance yard, through a gate marked “Authorized Personnel Only” on the other side.  Oops.  At least we had our COVID masks to shield us from face recognition on the surveillance cameras.

The weather turned cold and rainy for a while in the first half of the month, as it does here often, so we spent a few days puttering around the house, doing much of nothing.  I went on a baking splurge, turning out naan, pita, and banana bread in addition to our dutch oven artisan loaves.  We ordered a 25-lb bag of wheat through the farm stand, plus two different kinds of lentils.  The wheat arrived, but the lentils didn’t, which we might have expected, as the farms and distributors in eastern Washington and Montana were caught off-guard by the sudden demand for their products as meat-packing plants shut down across the country.

When we got the wheat home, it was in a bag, so I went rummaging in the basement storage room for a food bucket I knew we had.    When I went to pick it up, it was really heavy.  It was a full bucket of wheat we brought from Montana and never opened.  I found another bucket in the pantry: it was a quarter full of wheat.  So, I emptied that bucket into glass jars and put the new bag, unopened, into that bucket.  We have at least a year’s supply of wheat, possibly much more, with enough wheat for at least 150 loaves of half-whole-wheat mix, should the supply of white flour hold out.

Meanwhile, our daughter in New Mexico, responding to our lament about the scarcity of yeast and lentils, found a supply on-line and, when ordering for herself, also sent us 2 pounds of yeast, enough to leaven all our wheat supply with our usual recipe,  and four pounds each of chick peas and brown lentils.  I think we’re stocked for the rest of 2020, but reordered one of the lentil packages from the farm store anyway.

In addition to my weekly trip to Safeway for dairy and some staples, we’ve had a steady procession of UPS boxes of various sizes arriving every few days from Costco.  After having run out of a few items early in the Plague Years, we have learned to order early.  But, the New Normal is starting to catch up.  Items listed as available in the on-line catalogs are starting to arrive promptly, so we are suddenly flush with some long-term items.  Not hoarding, by any means, but the pantry is full.  Except for toilet paper, which is still in short supply and not available at all from Costco, our usual source.  We’re running out of the cheap, smaller rolls available occasionally at Safeway.  Disinfecting wipes, always a staple in our bathrooms, are also prominently featured among the missing items on the grocery shelves.

Fortunately, a 7:00 am run to the grocery this morning scored both items, along with clearance sales on a few other items we don’t need yet, but probably won’t be restocked.  Supply and demand is in rapid flux during this complete shift in The Way We’ve Always Done Things, not to mention that most people are running out of money and simply aren’t buying many things.  Our grocery budget has been huge, but should stabilize soon, as we shift from retirement to survival mode. Our April grocery bill was double the customary, but our dining-out bill went to zero, and it’s usually half of our food budget, so everything is balancing out, and may actually go down now that we’ve refilled the pantry with a two-month supply of most staple items.

We’ve worn a rut in the usual route in the remote county roads we visit on our bicycle, and on which we possibly come to the attention of those who disapprove of non-motorized vehicular transport and are easily offended by the sight of such vehicles manned by people arrayed in costumery seemingly ripped from the pages of Marvel Comics.  Accordingly, Spandex Man and Fluorescent Woman (who otherwise lead quiet lives as septuagenarian grandparents) have taken to hiding the White Knight–stealth transport for the Green Machine that inspires so many to road rage on sight–in the secluded restricted-use county park, and expanding our range.  As noted before, bicycling isn’t expressly forbidden in Washington State, but the trails and most parks remain closed.

So, instead of the usual group rides and club rides and clusters of riders on the trails, enthusiasts keep track of each other through various Facebook groups covering the exploits of older riders, tandem riders, tourists and bikepackers, folks who just like bicycles, and slowpokes.  One of our friends, a younger woman who lives a day’s bike ride west of us, with whom we’ve shared Warm Showers guests on successive nights over the last few years, saw one of our posts and planned to ride our route.  It happened to be on a day we were also planning a ride, so we made a date and met at the park, only the second time we’ve met in person.  We wore our masks while getting the bikes ready, and kept safe spacing on the road, but close enough to converse.  We took her on our usual 25-km figure-8 loop around the roads that follow Peterson, Dry Bed, and Rabbit Creeks around the southern foothills of the Olympic Mountains, after which she continued on to ride the longer 40-km loop down the Middle Fork Satsop River we took the week before.  Thus ended our first social outing since February.

Our weaving guilds have limited member contact to email and sharing photos of projects we’re working on.  We haven’t been weaving, and Judy has finished her last batch of art journals.  The journals sold instantly, but the outlet priced them so low that the proceeds barely covered the shipping cost and cost of printer ink, so she’s rethinking marketing strategy before embarking on another batch.  We actually don’t think the weaving guilds will be able to resume normal activities anytime soon, since the group meetings usually far exceed the new rules for occupancy limits for the final phase of lockdown, which will go into effect near the end of the year, if ever.  Judy is still going forward with planning for fall workshops, since those have limited attendance, but even those are in peril.  No one stepped up to volunteer to take over the chairmanship for workshops next fall, so she is saddled with the job for yet another year.  Her enthusiasm has waned beyond even wanting to continue participating.  We’ve enjoyed learning the skills and studying the lore and history of fiber, but end up spending more time in organizational management than practicing the arts.

The other organization to which we belong, Hypatia-In-The-Woods, which operates a retreat cottage for women in the arts, continues to be active, with board meetings via Zoom and email.  The retreat schedules have been canceled into mid-summer, but the cottage is being loaned out to a military family for their quarantine period on return from overseas assignment.  When the travel bans are partially lifted, the retreat schedule may have to be heavily modified.  In the Old Order, retreats of one to three weeks ran Sunday to Saturday, with Hypatia volunteers handling laundry, cleaning, and repairs on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.  Under the New Rules, the cottage would remain empty for a week between residents, with cleaning and repairs in mid-week.  Since the retreat schedules are usually a year in advance, this upsets the entire schedule.

In addition, the primary benefit to us, the members, is to have the residents present a public workshop or lecture on their work, usually at the library or county museum, and a potluck dinner and social evening with the membership during their stay.  With the libraries and museums closed and intimate social gatherings of unrelated people restricted, especially since most of us in Hypatia are over 60, some in their 80s, the whole house of cards collapses, though the primary goal of providing a residential retreat space for women in the arts remains.  The cottage shares a long driveway with another property, so we are in process of choreographing a socially-distanced work party to take care of our part of road maintenance in the next few weeks.

Goldsborough Creek, accessible here via a trail from our neighborhood, down through the woods. off Bayview Ave. between 13th and 14th Streets. that climbs steeply from here to 16th and Turner Ave.

Such is the strange new world, where social gatherings consist of shouting at each other across a road or moat, and purchasing transactions require a neutral space, where merchandise and money are exchanged in a carefully-choreographed dance, en masque.   What will the future bring?  One can envision the return of arranged marriages, where families negotiate the dowry by email and the newlyweds first meet on their wedding night, after saying goodbyes to their respective families at a ceremony conducted on Zoom.  We expect a revival of apprenticeships, where work-from-home jobs are passed from parent to child, and company towns: live-in factories, where the workers live in dormitories or company housing on the factory grounds and vacations include quarantine time on return.

This Memorial Day weekend, the population is being turned loose, with caution, and our county is scheduled to be one of the first to transition to Phase 2, limited retail and restaurant openings, soon. The tribal casinos have reopened, with limited facilities, to those addicted to gambling with their money and, now, their lives.  As for us, we’re into crowd avoidance for the long haul, waiting for the second wave, and perhaps the one after that.

Quarantine Diaries — Chapter 4

Sierra Pacific lumber mill on Oakland Bay, Shelton, WA.

Cinco de Mayo.  Today, the governor lifted some restrictions on commerce and travel. State parks are open for day use, except for the ones too close to Oregon, too tempting to border jumpers.  And, of course, the beach parks remain closed.  And, no camping, yet.

White dogwood and red rhododendron in our front yard, in late afternoon sun

The weather cleared, so we went for a walk today.  Traffic was almost back to normal, and many people were out in the streets or also walking or sitting on their porches.  The Stay At Home orders become difficult when the outdoors beckons.  It’s hard when you live in a small town with few cases, but we personally aren’t ready to expose ourselves just yet.  We’ve been hiking in the wooded trails surrounding our neighborhood, but have exhausted most of them, and the good weather brings our more users.  The flowering dogwoods and other flowering shrubs are in full bloom, the camellias are nearly done, and the rhododendrons are starting to bloom in earnest. so wandering the neighborhoods seems a better option.  We have often been gone on walk-about, bicycle touring or adventuring in other parts of the continent this time of year, so it is especially gratifying to be forced to enjoy the beauty of our own home town.

Pink dogwood above our driveway.

Last week, we ventured into a seldom-visited area south of Arcadia, and threaded through barricades on old roads closed years ago, back into our neighborhood.  This week, we ventured down the hill to the east.  First Street, which is Washington State Highway 3, was filled with cars as it was in the old days, and we joined clots of pedestrians waiting–at a respectful distance–for the traffic light to change.  We took a detour to avoid being in a queue up the hill.  We donned our quilt-fabric masks a couple of times meeting others headed down the hill.

At the first cross street, Fairmont, which follows Oakland Bay at the top of the high bank above the railroad toward Hammersley Inlet, we turned east until we reached the last street, then threaded our way through the east side of the Hilltop neighborhood, climbing to the summit before angling back across Hwy 3, past silent Bordeaux Elementary School, and back into our neighborhood again.  On the residential streets, we walk down the middle or shift sides to avoid other people, which is better than the busy sidewalks along high-traffic roads.

Grocery shopping remains a bizarre exercise.  We’ve departed a bit from the rigid schedule of last month.  I went on Thursday last week, and we held off a visit to the produce stand until Sunday.  Even though Safeway still observes Senior Shopping Hour, there are a number of younger, maskless folk wandering the wrong way up the aisles.  The rules may have relaxed a bit, or maybe because of fire rules, both entrances were open today.  Today, there was tofu, for the first time since this started, 50 days ago.  I picked up two of the four packages.  I forgot the coffee creamer, which we ran out of several days ago, and the yeast shelf was bare, as predicted by the hoarding reports, but I got everything else on the short list, and the berries were still on sale, so we have plenty of fresh fruit now.  I did get commercial oat milk, which can double as creamer, so we may be able to hold out more than a week before another trip.  I thought about more flour, since there were two 10-lb bags on the shelf, but we have plenty for now, especially with the low yeast supply.

A lot of our supplies are in the UPS pipeline, with dates, printer paper, and vitamins due tomorrow, along with lentils and wheat arriving at the produce market with their bi-weekly freight delivery.   Yesterday, the kids and grandkids came to visit.  It’s against the law, but it’s family.  We haven’t seen them for a month, and they need somewhere to go when their house cleaner comes every two weeks.  Judy baked cookies to send a few home with the boys.  I baked bread in the morning, and naan in the afternoon, but they didn’t stay long, just a visit on opposite sides of the room, so we have our bread supply for the week.  I have some yeast left, but, with the shortages, I’m reviewing good sourdough recipes.  It takes a week to get a good sponge that’s usable for baking, so I’ll have to start soon, and we need to order some more supplies soon, since everything takes two weeks, if available at all.

The other highlight of the day is mail.  There isn’t much, since many businesses are closed, so few ads and the few bills are just copies of on-line invoices and payments.  Yesterday, I went out, as the USPS email notification said there was mail on the way.  There wasn’t.  Our neighbor was waiting, expecting mail also, so we chatted, shouting across 25 meters of social distancing to be heard above the traffic, comparing notes on how we were getting by.  I hadn’t seen her probably since last summer.  Such is urban life in America.  The neighbors on the other side of her place, a young couple, jogged by on their morning run down to town and back up the hill.  I had seen her running, last week, but didn’t know where they lived.  We are a city of strangers, seeing each other for the first time, now that we are confined to our town and neighborhood.  They had mail.  The mail truck went by, headed for another neighborhood, calling out “no mail today” to the two of us, and we went our separate ways.

Last week, Judy’s new bike saddle arrived, so I installed it on our Bike Friday, with the old one destined to replace the saddle on our old tandem, now that we’ve gotten the frozen seat post broken loose so it can be set at the right height.  She had put up with the old saddle for decades, but, having gotten a good fit with modern saddles made for women, a new one is a necessity on the old bike. We  took a short test run, at the airport, instead of driving out to the county park, as the grid of streets and roads in the industrial park never gets far from the truck in case we needed to do more than minor adjustments.  The adjustments went fine, and we had a good ride, but riding circuits just to ride is not our idea of *real* fun.  Still, it was a bit surreal.  We ride at the airport in winter, so we can cut the ride short if it’s too cold, and see a lot of people walking, with or without dogs.  This time, there were a lot of cars just driving around, parking here or there, driving to another spot, etc., but nobody was getting out and walking, except workers from the industrial park on lunch break, with nowhere else to go..  It’s like people just have to get out to dispel cabin fever, but dare not go far, or just need a place to eat take-out lunch in the car.