no trespassing honeybees
Thursday into Friday last week found me in the clutches of yet another episode of bad insomnia regarding the current state of the world, the dim but taunting glow of my wrist watch revealed three o’clock in the morning so it was with a mixture of grogginess and some relief that I came to seemingly moments later and discovered Oliver Fern turning on the lamp by his mother’s side of the bed, Mr. Early Bird having already eaten breakfast in the doggone dark with her at the daily meeting of the exclusive Go-Getters Club. He snuggled against my body with The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog, one of the riveting titles he discovered on his last trip some time ago to the Little Free Library just around the corner from us (this was before we explained to him it was time to take an extended hiatus from book-borrowing because of the pandemic’s direness).
Insomnia can leave one a little confused, counting the days on my fingers it gradually dawned on me Friday morning had arrived. Nervous anticipation settled in of that special claustrophobia of pandemic grocery shopping. It hasn’t really been that bad, mild jitters followed by mostly strange calm in the bread aisle commingled with other human beings not on FaceTimes or telephone calls. The store seems quieter than usual, customers and clerks alike are reserved but hurryingly polite with the exception of the guy at the meat counter who always seems annoyed with me because he has to repeat himself, there’s something wrong with my hearing aid but I’m gonna ride it out if I possibly can, until a vaccine is discovered for the virus.
This was my first time in a highly public realm for the past seven days. On the other hand, my big sister gets thrown into the fire every day, she works in retail at one of those gigantic, insufferable wholesale clubs where people run you over with their carts while they’re distracted by trampolines-in-a-box or value packs of fifty-eight turkey hot dogs. She has been putting in extra-long hours, doing her best to maintain a sweet but firm disposition toward disgruntled customers who require detailed explanations as to why they can’t purchase five pallets of toilet paper and feminine hygiene products. The “senior citizen hours” this morning was a stampede of old crotchets and sis finally had to put her foot down at the jewelry counter with the wishy-washiest customer in history who had the audacity to openly ridicule the idea of social distancing after sis had graciously as possible pointed out jewelry doesn’t exactly fall under the category of “essential services” so if the customer could kindly make a choice sometime before next year between the seventeen different necklaces on the display case. Even more alarming to sis, there are still plenty of fools making shopping a family affair with every adult and child in tow, useless husbands mumbling through chaw right down to their sulking teenagers and drooling toddlers. At other times I’ll tremble to ponder the current nightmare taking place inside the halls of medicine, where little sis has special training in dialysis and respiratory care which means she has been looking into short-term life insurance off to the side while trying to enlist Grandma for a potential project involving the stitching of homemade face masks (this may or may not happen since Grandma’s already isolating with a squirmy five year old whose mother is said nurse). There’s far more but suffice to say I’m struggling with dissociative whiplash, feeling alternately anesthetized and shattered by the pandemic, the way those stakes or consequences are weaved so differently among our families and communities, to speak nothing of the grim, certain baseline reality of roulette we all share. Lest you think I’m Doomsday Donnie obsessed with the dark side of things, my days are mostly filled with the peculiar joy and humor of keeping things interesting and happy as possible inside of four walls for two bright, inquisitive boys….. along with the challenge of not disturbing their supermother who’s working 10 to 12 hour days behind a wood door an inch and a half thick, at the most.
At any rate, before I went anywhere it was necessary to not shower or bathe or brush my teeth as such social niceties have the tendency to spark conversation with well-meaning strangers while I’m out-and-about which is completely unnecessary for this flea-bitten, lost-looking St. Bernard which everyone feels compelled to nervously pat on the head. Other downsides to being the village idiot include trickier shopping than usual since half the items on the shelves are rationed, it takes time for shaggy, harmless dunderhead to figure out what counts as canned pasta. The boys stayed home, Oliver Fern has been cracking chapter books like walnuts so I let him start a feature-length film. Adam was studiously outlining talking points in preparation for a complicated webinar he was facilitating that evening for some science fiction role-playing game friends.
This frame is from last week, when the boys and I were on a walk in the Arboretum, just a short stroll from the house. There are two hundred and thirty acres of trees and shrubs to hide behind, we’re intimately familiar with the nooks and crannies which allow us to slink ninja-like in the shadows, from one end of the park to the other. We’ve long since sworn off main trails like Azalea Way in order to avoid the mouth-breathing twentysomething joggers so desperate for endorphins they mindlessly take up all six feet and then some, in their Nikes. Foster Island is a no-go, that’s where the professors from Montlake let their rambunctious, nosey dogs run off-leash. Once in a while in the reliably quieter parts of the park, we make the acquaintance of a certain elderly gentleman crippled by scoliosis, shuffling through soggy grass with his cane and he exchanges appreciative, knowing nods as the boys allow him the widest berth, we slip through gnarled branches of a spectacular Magnolia or leap wet chasms of skunk cabbage canyons. Yesterday, we walked down to the park at lunchtime in the sunshine and found a lonely copse of ash, the boys brought their baseball gloves and played catch for a half hour. Oliver Fern was feeling his Wheaties and ran wind sprints from tree to tree, he loves to run. All the while, I kept vigil of our quiet space. Before getting caught in a hailstorm on the way back to the house, the three of us stared up in awe at the towering grove of Sequoiadendron giganteum, the very tippy-tops of which can be spotted from Oliver Fern’s bedroom window.
postscript: First of all, I’d like to apologize for this thousand word indulgence. Secondly, I wrote this a couple of days ago but then…….my ten year old Mac laptop mostly gave out like a rusty Toyota Corolla with 400,000 miles on it. It’s got hardware issues and can stay booted up for a grand total of five minutes at a time, just long enough to check my mail and think about what I’d like to say before it revs up like an Airbus A380 and goes “ppfhppt”. And by the way, the Sequoias are NOT visible from Oliver’s window. The humongous Deodar cedar in the alley blocks them from view. What we thought were the Sequoias are just some puny, enormous Coast Doug firs.