The Parkins Report: Events of 2020, Plague Year 1.

Seeking out-of-the-way recreation during the quarantine, in the remote areas of the county. We did meet a friend for a socially-distanced 15-mile ride.[Photo by Lauri Paulson]
2020 has been a year like no other, in the three-quarters of a century that we have been around to observe. Our son objects to our use of the term “Plague Year,” as if that was reserved exclusively for the Yersinia pestis pandemic of the Middle Ages, also called the Bubonic Plague or Black Death.  But, the generic term fits, according to Websters, 2.a. usage, “an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality.”

The year started for us with flu-like illness: Judy came down with it almost immediately after we got off the airplane from El Paso on Christmas Day, Larye came down with it on January 1. We recovered, and took part in our normal January and February activities, though we missed our winter bike rides in January. In February, there were news reports of a virulent outbreak of a flu-like respiratory illness at a convalescent home in Kirkland, across Lake Washington from Seattle.  We took a short getaway trip to Ocean Park, on Long Beach Peninsula, in Southwest Washington, the first week in March, taking advantage of a break in the weather to get in a few bicycle rides.

The Machine Stops:  In mid-March, the outbreak in Kirkland was revealed to be the forefront of a world-wide pandemic of an extremely contagious and lethal virus.  In the midst of arranging a venue for a weaving guild workshop at an Olympia fire station, orders came to cancel all activities: the negotiations were terminated, we were shown the door, and regrouped in the parking lot, the last time we’ve had in-person contact with members of any of the organizations to which we belong, with exception of an open-air, all-masked one-person art quilt showing in mid-summer.

The state entered a shutdown.  Public gatherings were banned, events were canceled, businesses closed, schools closed.  As happens with most disruptions from natural disasters, the toilet paper, milk, and bread supply disappeared from grocery store shelves, instantly, and supplies wouldn’t return to normal for months. As the pandemic spread, we began to order food on-line.  UPS shipments arrived weekly, though some items weren’t available from time to time.  We broke out our disaster stores of wheat and started baking bread, and rationing toilet paper.

Letting Go–The End of The World As We Know It:  Our social activities stopped:

  • The Senior Center closed: no more yoga classes, until they resumed by Zoom video conferencing in September.  Larye was called on to lead a session, and had to set up computer and cameras in the low-ceiling basement studio to get enough lighting, but has lead other sessions from the dining room, with table and chairs shoved aside and extra lights.   Our attendance is much lower, and Larye is now elevated to #2 presenter, from #4 in reserve, so leading and attending yoga sessions over the internet from our dining room are becoming commonplace.  Monthly group walks did not resume in April, though  some of the hard-core members may be meeting privately for walks.  It’s harder to make social connections now.
  • The Olympia Weavers Guild canceled meetings and programs, both out of caution and because the meeting place closed.  Workshops were canceled.  Zoom meetings resumed in September, with the usual 60-70 member attendance reduced to 35-40.
  • The Tacoma Weavers Guild canceled meetings, programs, and workshops, to restart in September virtually, as well, with a slight reduction in attendance, but a respectable 40 members showing up each month on-screen.  Both the weaving guilds benefited from being able to show members’ work in closeup, both in submitted photos and just holding up work to the computer webcam.
  • The Ruby Street Art Quilters essentially disbanded, having no formal charter or budget to meet virtually. The Facebook page gets an occasional post.
  • The Mason County Concert Association, for the first time in its 70-year existence, canceled the rest of the 70th-year season and didn’t resurface for the 2020-2021 season.  Like all other public gatherings, it is off-limits by gubernatorial edict.  The 500-seat high school auditorium remains dark and silent.
  • We’re off the Warm Showers bicycle touring hospitality hosting list indefinitely.  Reluctantly, we had to refuse a couple, each from a different country, who were stranded in the United States, unable to travel together to either of their home countries.  They had been caught up in the lockdown and had been staying with another host family in Shelton for weeks.  We don’t know what happened to them.  International bicycle travel has ground to a halt.  Bike tourists are exploring their own countries, or whichever one they found themselves trapped in.  Some hosts are still receiving, but with limited or no indoor social contact with guests.
  • With the closure of the public library, Friends of the Library stopped functioning and has gone silent, the used books sitting on the shelves, well past their “pull date.”  We’ve come to rely on “Little Libraries” scattered around town, and the Senior Center’s ad hoc book exchange in the bus kiosk outside the center, plus the Senior Center’s Nifty Thrifty store, for books and book exchanges.
  • Hypatia in the Woods, which operates a retreat cottage for women artists and writers, canceled spring artist residencies.  Our board meetings resumed by Zoom early on to make decisions about the future of the organization.  By mid-summer, residencies resumed, on an adjusted schedule, with three-day gaps between residents.   But, artist’s presentations and member/artist potluck meet and greet were suspended, though by fall we had one “trunk show” in a member’s garage and one Zoom presentation by another resident, through the Library, whose staff continues to work and, regulations and advisories permitting, operate the on-line reservation system with curb delivery.
  • Our grocery shopping cut back to once a week trips to the supermarket, with precautions like going into a “hot zone.”  Biosafety level 2 and up for everything.  We’ve taken to getting produce from and ordering staples delivered from a regional distributor to the local farm store, a pleasant find in this new age of staying close to home, and a throwback to the village stores of the 19th and early 20th centuries, where you put in an order and it came on the wagon from the city the next month.
  • We continued bicycling, but the trails were closed, so we headed out to the sparsely-populated west end of the county to ride on roads with little traffic except the occasional logging truck.  Bicycling was curtailed sharply with Larye’s late spring injury (details below), restarted with short, infrequent rides in the fall.
  • We started walking around our neighborhood: schools were closed and businesses shuttered, but most residents stayed in their houses, so the streets were deserted.  We discovered trails through the green space and forests around the neighborhood.
  • As areas opened up in May, we drove west to Lake Wynoochee, in the Olympic Mountains, for a hike to a waterfall on a deserted trail.
  • Our six-month dental cleaning and checkup got postponed to nine months, with elaborate biosafety procedures when we did go, including a nasty hydrogen peroxide mouthwash.
  • “Dining out,” once a common part of our routine, became take-away on special occasions, pizza or oriental fare from restaurants we used to “eat in,” and one coffee out, sitting at a curbside table.
  • We finally accepted the inevitable, and canceled our planned group tour to Uzbekistan next fall, realizing the pandemic will not be over, and the physical limitations on long-distance travel because of Larye’s injury.
  • Unwilling to avoid family, and having some obligation for care of grandchildren on occasion, we limited family visits to once every two weeks, with quarantine procedures between, and skip if either of us had other contacts.  Our Olympia family became part of our “pod,” but sparingly.  One of the grandsons started on-site schooling in mid-October, so we are limited to full quarantine distancing visits, and masks indoors.

Down for the Count: In late May, we took a long, fast bike ride, a 30-km loop from Tumwater to Little Rock and back, during a trip to refuel the truck after our western hiking excursion. Later in the evening, Larye had a bout of sciatica that became steadily worse, resulting in a trip to the Emergency Department in Olympia in the middle of the night, the next day.  Pandemic rules were in effect, with face masks, and no family allowed in.

Subsequent trips to chiropractor, doctor, and urgent care added to pandemic anxiety.His condition worsened, got slightly better after several weeks of mild medication, then a relapse, trying to lift our thrift-shop table find to the porch to create an outdoor dining space for visitors.  The relapse was totally debilitating, with a month of heavy medication.  He was able to walk only with the aid of a thrift-store walker.  The doctor prescribed walking, no bicycling, and finally, a course of physical therapy, which got us started back doing our yoga practice at home in addition to the much more rigorous PT exercises and stretches.

Gradually, our walks became longer, starting with a halting 1-km walker push on flat walkways near the hospital, then graduating to trekking poles around our hilly neighborhood, and eventually, up to 8-km, unaided, on the neighborhood trails, to the other side of town, and up the old logging railway west of town.  We took a few tentative bike rides, not much longer than our walks, into the fall, on low-traffic roads, while on travel.

Traveling in Quarantine: We ventured out, cautiously, to test the feasibility of safe travel, spending a few days at nearby resorts in our network in mid summer, and again in the early fall, even camping overnight on one trip.  We get condo units with full kitchen when we vacation, so prepare our own food rather than risking restaurants.  Most shops and restaurants in the resort areas remain closed.  On these trips, we made only one grocery stop, and have learned to use the drive-up windows at coffee shops, something we never did before.  Our one stop where we went indoors to get our take-out cups was anxiety-filled, as the sit-in patrons didn’t use their masks between sips.  We resigned ourselves to limited our “dining out” experiences to eating and drinking in our van or car, possibly for the rest of our lives, and using our cellular data plan for on-the-road Internet connections if the WiFi doesn’t reach the parking lot.

Winter is Coming: As the year wears on and winter approaches, we continue to meet close friends occasionally on our porch, masked, and have pulled one of the low-power oil-filled space heaters from the basement weaving studio and put under the table on the porch for chilly days.  The pandemic is accelerating, everywhere.  We’ve begun ordering food on-line again, either shipped to the house or for pickup at the local farm store, which never has more than two or three customers at a time.  We’ve gotten 5-lb bags of pulses and a 5-kg case of frozen tempeh from Oregon, spices and tea from a shop in Bellingham, and are preparing Costco delivery lists again.  Larye is continuing to cook and bake, having branched out to sourdough whole-wheat bread and cinnamon rolls, and collecting recipes and techniques from around the world via YouTube.

Entertainment in the Time of COVID: With the cool, rainy weather and short days,Judy has retreated to her craft studio, busy making art journals, hoping to sell some locally through a consignment store, and Larye dusted off his marudai, a stand for kumihimo–Japanese braiding–bought for a class that was canceled two years in a row, due to weather and pandemic.  He watched a few videos, dug out pattern books, and has been braiding ties for home-made quilt-fabric face masks.  He is also nearing the end of the first of several on-line self-paced computer programming courses to build proficiency in the Python language for restarting some projects that have been put off for too long.  He has also been an active contributor to the Quora on-line question-answer forum since before the pandemic, answering questions from all over the world about computers, particularly about Linux and programming, answers that have been viewed over half a million times, and a few that have several hundred “likes.”

Of course, we are also glued to Facebook, sharing our photos and status with friends and family, and commenting mainly on the bicycling forums. Our TV watching, at least of the “normal” broadcast and cable channels, is non-existent, but we spend endless hours listening to news on NPR and watching YouTube videos, with on-demand news from cable outlets and from independent, Internet-only venues, and videos on politics, bicycling, medicine, and science, plus how-to and idea videos on our respective interests: journal-making, cooking, and programming.

Attending the Tacoma Weavers Guild holiday party, remotely. All of our social activities have been via Zoom. We’ve taken to moving the computer into the dining room for social events.

Family: Fortunately, we managed to visit almost everyone in 2019, before the pandemic arrived. Since the first lock-down, the world has gone into a tailspin, and our extended family is no exception.  Our school-age grandsons and great-grandchildren were out of school for a time, then sporadic forays into on-line, at-home schooling, with varying degrees of success.  We adopted a “pod” protocol with our nearby family, observing no-contact rules for two weeks before and after visits.  Since on-site school classes resumed, visits are masked or outdoors only.  One grandson graduated high school, without ceremony.

Our adult grandchildren have gone through job losses and change in work. One granddaughter lost her job early on, having been on holiday when the lock-down arrived and quarantined.  She supplemented her savings and unemployment by cooking meals for pickup by friends who didn’t cook.  Finally, this fall, she got a job 1000 km away, moving to a new city and putting her house up for sale.  A grandson, an aspiring musician, went from waiting tables to delivering meals.  He has used his extra time to publish his first music CD and put out a line of logo-wear for his band, during the time of no live music.

A daughter-in-law had her traveling job terminated, pushing up their retirement plans, but delaying their move.  Larye’s aunt Jo turned 100 this fall, and has managed to remain safe at home through the pandemic.  Retired cousins have managed to travel and visit other relatives and friends and stay safe.  But, the COVID has been raging through other families, adult children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  Fortunately, they have survived, but after-effects linger. Another granddaughter, a nurse who normally works OB/GYN, now also risks contact with COVID patients: as a health-care worker, she was one of the first to get the vaccine.

Living in Interesting Times: We are considered ignorant fools by our right-wing acquaintances who follow the current conspiracy theories on mass media, because we don’t.  We characterize our political leanings as “Radical Progressive Extremism,” rather than uphold any organized political party, because neither is very organized.  Instead, we focus on living out our days as best we can in the face of the coming climate apocalypse and the decades of political and social unrest that we won’t live to see the end of, nor, possibly, will our grandchildren and great grandchildren.  And, we’re committed to permanent lock-down for the duration of the pandemic, now expected by some epidemiologists to last well into 2024, unless vaccinations become universal.  The much-ballyhooed rollout of the first vaccines seems to have been botched, so the hope of reaching “herd immunity” seems to be lost in the fog of “herd mentality,” pushing the weakest to the outer ring as the dingos circle.

 We miss our carefree life of travel and we miss visiting far-flung relatives, and we miss our in-person gatherings with fellow fiber artists, writers, and book-lovers, but we are aware that all things are impermanent.  We live in the present moment, plan for futures that may never be, but breathe in the reality that is.

A metaphor for the Ship of State–foundering under the Trump administration. (sunken oystering boat at Bay Center, WA, in the intertidal zone of the Palix River)

The old social niceties around the holidays seem so inappropriate in the face of the current situation.  Not only is the world in the depths of a pandemic, but at its worst in the Disunited States, where half the states are suing the other half to overturn an election, an election that promises, if its certified outcome is honored, to end the Age of Trump.

Four years ago, I wrote a blog article (here) outlining our fears of what was ahead.  All that, and much worse, has come to pass.  The Second Civil War, that has been simmering since the Civil Rights Act was passed in the mid-1960s, seems about to burst into flame, not only state to state, but house to house in a country so divided by ideology and contradicting “facts” that civility is all but disappeared and disregard of science is considered patriotic.

Accordingly, at the risk of offending almost everyone, we wish you all a meaningful celebration of the high holidays of the deities of your choice:  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, an auspicious Solstice (complete with conjunction of the major planets), a contemplative Bohdi Day, a Joyful Twelfth Night, and wishes that we all survive to observe Ramadan in the spring.  We hope that your children safely survived Krampusnacht, and that you resisted the temptation to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Suited up for our December 2020 bicycle ride, in a break in the weather, temperatures in the low 40s F.

The hospitals are full of those who didn’t resist the holiday.  We just had some pumpkin pudding and the rest of the week’s homemade bread, and stayed in all day, just happy to be alive and well, for now.  We celebrate the season with our friends peering out at us from the computer screen at the other end of the table.  Our “virtual holiday parties” were joyful, with our computer monitor perched at the other end of the dining room table, but there were a lot of tears among the throng, also.  When we venture out, instead of greeting strangers with a “Merry Christmas,” the “safe” greeting at this time of year, we cross the street to avoid coming within two meters of them.   We fear, as my high school music teacher used to say, that “If we don’t hang together, we will be hanged separately.”  Time will tell if we have the collective will to survive, or whether Trumpism will persist and end us all.

Wishes for a hopeful New Year.


Judy & Larye