Flower And Stone

If you’re anywhere near coastal Maine, you’re going to be around granite. There are outcroppings pretty much everywhere.

The granite makes a nice setting for flowers, if you can get them to grow on or about the rocks. The sun-bleached stone makes every color of a flower seem more vivid, and on a sunny day like today the hues can be eye-popping.

These purple beauties are just wildflower ground cover that grew naturally in the crack of the huge rock near our front door. You couldn’t have planned a better presentation if you hired a landscape designer.

Passing The Smell Test

You may have referred to the “smell test” before.  I know I have.  If something seems fishy or sketchy, I’m likely to remark that it just doesn’t pass the “smell test.”  I presume that the phrase, in its original usage, referred to assessing whether food was fresh or not.  If you detected a smell from the meat at the open-air market in your village, for example, it failed the freshness “smell test” and was best left unpurchased.

Little did I know, when I casually used that phrase in the past, that one day I would live through a global pandemic where a “smell test” would be relevant — and the test would be applied to me, besides.

How do you know if you’ve contracted coronavirus?  The CDC website lists a bunch of potential symptoms, like a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and “muscle pain.”  Some of these are pretty ambiguous.  How do you know if that random cough is sufficiently “dry” to be a potential sign of COVID-19, or whether it is just the kind of cough that strikes every spring because your sinuses are reacting to your seasonal allergies?  Is that coronavirus “muscle pain,” or just the creaking bones and joints of somebody in their 60s?  And don’t even bring up weird new symptoms like “COVID toes,” because I don’t want to examine my feet under any circumstances, anyway. 

But there’s one symptom on the CDC website — “new loss of taste or smell” — that seems like a pretty easy test to self-administer.  So every morning as I take my walk I unfailingly take deep whiffs of the air and try to detect the odors on the breeze.  I enjoy the scents of the flowers, but I also feel a sense of reassurance.  If I can appreciate that lovely lilac fragrance, I figure I’m probably okay. 

Coronavirus Kids

One of our young friends shared some exciting news with us this week:  she and her husband are expecting their first child in December.  Their happy news makes you wonder whether we should be anticipating a “shutdown surge” of baby births in December, January, and February.

hospitals-remove-nurseries-baby-friendlyIt’s folk wisdom that you look for a baby boom nine months after unusual circumstances, like enforced shutdowns. bring people together, but there apparently isn’t much evidence supporting that notion.  To be sure, there was the famous, extended post-World War II Baby Boom — Kish and I are living evidence of that — spurred by people who had served for years in the armed forces returning home, finding an America that had recovered from the Great Depression, and starting large families.  But most of the other instances where people have looked for evidence substantiating the folk wisdom — be they government shutdowns, or the great New York City blackout of 1965 — have found no great spike in baby births nine months later.

Experts are skeptical that we’re going to see a bunch of coronavirus kids, either.  They reason, quite logically, that an enforced shutdown isn’t going to cause couples living together to change their contraception practices, and in fact the birth rate might decline because the closure of bars, events, and other social gatherings means there won’t be the opportunity for casual encounters that might otherwise lead to births.  In reality, though, no one knows, because we’ve never had an enforced two-and-a-half-month stay-at-home period before.  It will be something to be mindful of nine months from now.  If we do see a surge of births, it will be a nice, upbeat coda to a very difficult time.

And speaking of the experts and difficult times, they’re confident we’ll see a surge in another kind of family-related activity as a result of the shutdown and stay-at-home decrees — divorces.

HMD

Some well-wishers left flowers for the statues of the two mothers who inhabit the “Garden of Peace” at St. Mary’s Church in our neighborhood. It’s a nice way to remember Mothers’ Day.

Those of us who have been fortunate to be shaped by great mothers and grandmothers, and to be married to great mothers, can’t really express just how important those women have been in our lives. All we can do is says thanks, enjoy the happy memories, and wish all mothers a happy Mothers’ Day.

Open-Window Weather

On Saturday morning our chore list included putting up the screens on our upstairs windows.  In our old house, it’s a way to mark the seasons:  taking down the screens in the late fall, on the cusp of winter, and putting them back up again when the weather gets warm enough that opening the windows for a fresh breeze is a plausible option.

Taking down the screens is a lot easier than putting them back up, because our screens use an archaic two-part system to remain in place.  The top of the screen is supposed to be slid into metal slots on each side of the window, and the bottom of the screen uses a kind of knob and fastener system to be locked into place.  To remove the screens, you lift the fastener over the knob, the screens pop out, and you slide them out of the slots.  But because the knobs and fasteners were added individually, to put the screens up you need to find the right screen for the right window, where the knob on the window frame and the fastener on the screen line up.  And if you are putting the screens on the windows upstairs, you need to hold the screen in place, try to find the slots without being able to see them, hope that you matched the right screen with the right window, then line up the knobs and fasteners without dropping the screen.  It’s the kind of trial-and-error project that requires multiple attempts and seems consciously designed to provoke some mild cursing. 

But whatever the hassle, putting up the screens is worth it.  Because when the screens are up, and the weather cooperates with overnight temperatures in the 50s — as happened last night — you can open the bedroom windows and sleep while the neighborhood quiets down, the cool night air fills the bedroom, and you hear the sound of a distant train whistle.  For me, it’s a reminder of childhood, because I grew up in a house without air conditioning that was dependent on the night air to cool things down.

I like the brief periods of spring and fall open-window weather, which last only until it becomes too hot or too cold at night and the windows must be closed up again.  A night or two of open-window weather makes the screen project well worth it. 

Home Schooling

On our midday walk yesterday Kish and I passed this display on one of the German Village byways.  I could be wrong, but I’m guessing it might have been part of a science project for some youngster who has been home schooled for the past six weeks after the shutdown of Ohio schools.  It reminded me, at least, of science fair displays in the gymnasium when I was a kid.

The coronavirus shutdowns have put pressure on everyone in many different ways.  Some people have been furloughed or lost their jobs altogether.  Some have had to continue working at their public-facing jobs under the threat of infection.  Some have had to learn new technology to do their jobs remotely.  And all of us have had to adjust to staying inside and not doing the things that we used to take for granted, like going to a restaurant for a lunch that you didn’t cook yourself or stopping off at a bar with friends to watch a ball game while drinking a cold beer.

But the challenges for those parents who have had to combine the adjustments that all of us are facing with trying to entertain, and educate, young kids at home is more difficult by several orders of magnitude.  In fact, it’s mind-boggling, and it takes the concept of the SuperMom and SuperDad to an entirely new level.  So if what we saw on our walk yesterday was in fact a kid’s science project, I tip my cap to the Mom or Dad who came up with the idea of their own little at-home science fair.  And who knows?  That little science project might spur a lifelong love of gardening for the student.

Many of us have talked about recognizing, thanking, and rewarding the health care professionals, the truckers, the people working in the grocery stores, the delivery truck operators, and the others who have played such an essential role during the shutdown.  Let’s not forget the parents of young children in that richly deserved chorus of praise and gratitude.  They are doing something that most of us would never even think of trying.  And, long term, what is more important that taking care of kids, and keeping them healthy, and safe, and heading in the right direction during a global pandemic?

A Life Lesson In Uncertainty

I’ve been thinking about the Great Depression lately.  Not because I think we’re heading toward another one, but because it is one of those historical events that left an obvious, lasting mark on the people who experienced it.

dustbowl_unemployed_men_queued_outside_a_depression_soup_kitchen_1931_-_nara.jpg__2000x1457_q85_crop_subsampling-2_upscaleIf you knew somebody who lived through the Great Depression as an adult — and not as a kid who probably wasn’t fully aware of what was going on — you know what I mean.  The adults who lived through the Depression clearly had a world view that was forever, unalterably affected by that difficult time.  After the Depression ended, they generally lived frugally and saved money.  They wanted to avoid debt at all costs.  They tended not to trust newfangled ideas and were as cautious and conservative in their investments as you could possibly be.  And they generally did not  have the sunny faith that things were necessarily going to get better.  There was a hard edge, a Depression-inflicted scar, that was lurking just beneath the surface that tended to influence and affect, in some way or another, just about everything they did.  My grandfather, for example, always wanted to have plenty of cash on hand — just in case everything went to hell tomorrow and he needed it.

Later generations of Americans didn’t share that same worldview.  They lived when times were flush, and they expected that the high times they had always known would inevitably continue.  Sure, there were some bumps in the road, but for the most part we lived lives and developed plans and made decisions about buying cars and houses, determining whether we could afford a particular college for our kids, and planning for retirement on the assumption that life as we always knew it would be pretty much the same in a month, or a year, or five years.  There was a kind of presumed certainty about the future that served as the unconscious basis for all of those kinds of decisions.

Now we’ve had the fates throw an enormous wrench into the works.  We’ve learned in a brutal, stunning, totally unexpected way that we can’t presume to know for sure what will happen in the future.  How is that going to affect people’s decisions going forward?

I wonder if this coronavirus experience, too, is going to also have a lifelong effect in terms of where people choose to live and how they choose to live.  At minimum, when we are trying to make a decision about a course of action, will we always be thinking:  “what if another global pandemic occurs?”