I am a creature of habit, and the pandemic has played havoc with my neatly segmented and entirely artificial sense of how days should be ordered. Of course, retirement from my career tossed the segments completely into the blender, as had moving, and before that employment, and before that having children, and before that marriage, and before that the US Navy, and before that misspent collegiate hours, and before that teen zombie self-absorption, and before that school and bedtime. I’m not complaining about the new abnormal, not at all; I just need to acknowledge that as I am secluded, the parameters of my life are more … distinct.
It’s not Little House on the Prairie, exactly, although I can’t remember how often the Ingalls family got into town. They bundled up and harnessed the wagon to make special trips to buy ribbons, I think, and maybe sorghum drops. Not often, is the thing. In any case, I venture out once a week, stopping in at the two stores that adopted regulatory measures early on and which attract shoppers who have figured out that we are in pandemic. The accounts of end-of-life Covid hospitalization scare the sorghum drops out of me, so too do the folks in our region who believe that choking death is the price of freedom. I don’t go to the stores they seem to prefer.
That moderate political spasm aside, I confess myself now accustomed to a single foray, recognizing that shopping for pot pies and broccoli has now become my blowout event of the week. The upside is that I spend less on a weekly basis than I did when overcome by the urge to find spumoni ice cream RIGHT NOW; the downside is that I have to sweep cobwebs from the interior of my car. Disciplined, now, and menu minded, I shop with a list. There are still the occasional impulse purchases, but they are few and more likely to be actual foodstuffs rather than an O Henry Bar for old times sake or mustard infused pretzels.
One might think that mindful shopping would lead to mindful eating and the maintenance of a healthy dining regimen; after all, there are many fewer distracting items to pull me from the couch to the kitchen. But the key phrase here is “pull me from the couch”. I am not couch bound until the early evening, and often somewhat later than that, but, once couched, some portion of dinosaur brain begins to crackle, leading me inevitably to grazing after dinner. I am aware that I have now attributed snacking to dinosaurs, which I’m pretty sure is an uninformed supposition. What do we know about dinosaurs, really? Much, much less than those supposed “experts” would have you believe. What colors were they? No idea? What did they actually look like? Just guesswork. And snacking? Pure conjecture.
When I refer to the couch, I am admitting that I dive into televised entertainment for about two to three hours most evenings, ordinarily mixing a fairly gritty British police procedural with a documentary or reality show of a particular character. Given our current immobility, I’m looking for an escape into a landscape other than my own, so find adventures filmed in Patagonia or the Arctic. From what I can gather, my citizenship will prevent me from being welcomed by the great majority of nations, so I’d best get ready for my two weeks of chewing bark on Kiska Island. Once again, I’m grasping at straws. I have no idea whether Kiska Island, one of the Rat Islands in the Aleutian chain, has bark to spare. I do know that it was invaded by Japan in WWII, so there’s that.
That takes care of a shopping trip and eighteen to twenty-one hours of television per week.
Since removing myself from the world as I knew it, I’ve adopted the “little-by-little” approach to maintaining the house and the fields. The deck, as anticipated, had become an eyesore in need of reconditioning. I sanded a bit every day for two weeks until I got down to bare wood and then cleaned the deck one section at a time, then stained the deck over the course of two days. La and voila, the deck is done. Similarly, the mowing of the pasture has to be done every week, but in sections. The blackberry brambles have to be cut back every week, but not all at once. The fruit trees need water, the lawn needs water, the fields need water. And so, watering becomes the second landmark event of the week.
We live in a rural agricultural irrigation district which channels water from the creek that runs along a ridge above our place to pumping stations adjacent to our fields. On Tuesdays and Fridays, we live in waterworld. It would seem a simple process – turn the wheel, prime the pump, stand back, and watch the towers of water spray. It’s not a simple process because we share water rights with neighbors who persist in wanting to have their needs met. So the dance begins at day break, and we shuttle back and forth sluicing more, sluicing less, pump on, pump off, dragging hoses and spraying pods from one corner of the pasture to the other.
All of this, of course, is actually a welcome break from the homogeneity of the rest of our secluded lives. Yes, there is schlepping involved, but also action, adventure, and what passes for social activity as we yell across the fence lines. “Are you getting enough pressure?”, a phrase I can’t remember using in any other context.
These are oddly circumscribed days, raising more questions than answers. A recent headline suggested that we have reached a point at which we can no longer tell the story of our nation with any clarity, an observation that is both disturbing and hopeful. The old story had played itself out and revealed itself to be threadbare; the new story is weaving itself as I plod from task to task in this quiet corner, remembering that July is halfway gone because the blackberries are starting to plump out and the pears and apples only a few weeks away from the first picking. Plums are still green and rock hard and who knows what’s happened to the tomatoes this year?
Orange is the new black, seventy is the new fifty, and tomorrow is water day.