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).
March 2020 - Evening Arboretum Stroll 18-2

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.

8 thoughts on “no trespassing honeybees

  1. Some beautiful writing here, capturing many of the quickly-changing and often conflicting feelings that I, and probably many of us, are experiencing in our own lives. It is always nice to feel a connection to someone else who is human and willing to share. Thank you.

    • Hi Andrew. Thanks for your remark. It’s really appreciated. A relief to get just a single note on this, even. I don’t have a lot of trust (at all) in my writing to do justice for my thoughts or feelings, on everything that’s happening with the pandemic. This came out seeming terribly reductive (and incomplete). My ability is limited when it comes to expressing myself this way. But lord there felt like no way to go around it and keep journaling on here about other things. It’s staggering to me the import this has in all of our lives and it’s remarkable having the chance to monitor and learn from the ways everyone in my small circle on here is processing what’s happening, even taking into account different boundaries, tolerances and personal privacies

  2. Hi TF, It’s hard to sleep, isn’t it? Even if we are personally safe, the realization of the trauma that the sick and those tending to them are enduring is almost too much to bear. I guess this is how the country felt during the second ww, when everyone knew someone who was fighting, everyone was sacrificing for the war effort, and the outcome was no forgone conclusion. Makes me respect that generation even more. Stay safe friend. Stay engaged. Try not to lose your sense of wonder.

    • When all this is over and we (and those close to us) somehow emerge from this, body and mind mostly unscathed (sense of wonder always intact), I really want to come down so we can finally have that coffee. Thanks for your thoughts, Ilona. And right back at you… take care of yourself.

  3. This is the most fun plague account I’ve had the pleasure to read. I’m enjoying the story, and the language, got a definite touch of Mark Twain.
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed for my Mac laptop, too, I’ve had it since my senior year in high school, and need it to work from home.
    Boy, do I envy you that Arboretum, 239 acres huh, it sounds great. I had a 6 mo. job in Boston, and used to walk over to the one there, to get some air, and always liked visiting Cornell U’s, which even has a pretty decent creek, with a little concrete dam, that you can slide down in the summertime (if you don’t mind 66% odds you’ll rip out the seat out of your shorts).
    I looked up that Deodar Cedar, looks like NY or WI are too cold for them, too bad, looks very nice. Other than Xmas trees, still waiting to see Douglas Firs, too.

    • Does Milwaukee have any good big parks? I’m not sure I could live quite so easily in the city if it weren’t for being close to a major open space. Our Arboretum is more cultivated than it used to be but it’s still full of interesting spaces with neat hideaways. The comment about your Mac will hopefully not end up proving prescient in any way! Another friend on here just had her MacBook fizzle out on her, literally the same exact time as mine. It was the same thing, it was a good runner for years and just went belly up all the sudden.

      • Milwaukee has quite a few pocket parks, and a few old railroad trails but nothing like a big city park in the style of a central park or Grant park, which is too bad. Up by the northern edge of the lake they have a pretty scrubby patch of woods they call a state park, which is most interesting for once being a NIKE missile site, otherwise it’s fairly lame.

        I hope the Mac survives, but it owes me nothing at this point!

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