I remember seeing starfish on the Oregon coast, splayed in amoeba-like positions, looking like they were attempting to climb out of their tidepools. Docents on that beach explained to scattered groups of people that large numbers of starfish were dying and no one seemed to know why. Climate change and the warming ocean was one theory.
Wildfire smoke is in the air, its acrid scent assaulting nostrils and at-risk lungs. It’s our fifth season now, following autumn, winter, spring, and summer. Being outside means breathing dangerous particulates into our lungs, yet being outside is a safer way of spending time with people during a pandemic.
It’s too hot to sleep at night. Summers were not this hot, not for this long, twenty years ago. We use machines to cool the air, but the noise of the fans competes with the noise of the thoughts in my head. All of those noises – the literal and the metaphorical – keep me from sleeping.
Covid-19 rages on. People already divided by politics are divided even more by personal feelings about disease management, risk tolerance, and public health measures during a pandemic. Families are being torn apart by death and lack of civility.
Several times each week this summer, I read the words “water rescue” combined with the name of a landmark in my city. There are increasing numbers of people climbing onto the thick cement walls of the bridge, desperate to escape the pain in their lives.
Nearly twenty years ago, two airplanes crashed into twin towers in New York City, and desperate people jumped to escape the Dante-esque inferno. My brain cannot erase the horrific images of individual people falling to their death.
A plane takes off from an airfield in Afghanistan, desperate people running alongside — some clinging to the outside edges of the giant machine. My brain cannot erase the horrific images of individual people falling to their death.
I admit there is relief in sending 2020 off in smoke last night.
It’s not that our family has had a terrible year; we’ve all remained healthy, those who have work have been able to work. At the same time, the isolation grows both too comfortable and irritating. Living with introverts during this time is fairly peaceful. They are content. I’m learning to be content in this new world and, I suppose, learning how to be an introvert. But I hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is real, that a year from now we will be spending time with friends and extended family, attending worship services in person, planning vacations, fully immunized.
One of the saving graces in my life right now is a gratitude group that I’m a part of — a private, online group — sorry, you can’t join but you could start your own and invite others to comment with their own daily/weekly gratitude posts. How does it work? Well, here was mine today:
It’s a gorgeous fall day (by Friday it’s going to be wet and snowy and wicked cold overnight, but right now? It’s gorgeous with clouds and sun and wind and fall colors).
One of my favorite blog writers has a new post about taking care of ourselves mentally right now — and not just a new post, but several others that I missed somehow over the past few weeks/months of being in and out of connectivity. She’s made me smile and nod with recognition, touched my heart with compassion, and made me guffaw over a dog story about the puppy in their house. I’m grateful for her writing and sharing of messy life.
My cat is still alive and still healthy. (She is also annoying, constantly wanting to be in a lap and she sometimes yowls because she is deaf as a doorknob and that is lonely.)
SuperDad and I took a drive on Thursday to scout out some new camping spots along a river. This section of a national forest has free dispersed sites although not many of them are good for trailers, so it is smart to check them out first before attempting to camp there. This was supposed to happen while we were camped in an actual NFS campground within an hour of our scouting expedition, but heavy rains last night coupled with several days of bad weather in the forecast caused us to rethink the camping part of this trip. Luckily, there were photo ops present:
After such a lovely day, it had darned well better be miserable weather or we’ll regret canceling our camping plans!
I’m not really sure how one writes about travel during a pandemic. For the most part, we are homebodies. Owning a camping trailer has enabled us to get out of the house and yet still have a home of our own during the summer; it’s the ultimate social distancing vehicle, complete with its own toilet. (Hallelujah!)
June was when the travel ban was finally lifted for Oregon State Parks. This happened in the middle of our long-ago planned trip to the beach, so our reservations were shortened from four nights to only two nights. Originally there were going to be other extended family members camping in adjacent sites, but in the end only SuperDad’s parents kept their reservations. Their campsite was across the road from ours. We took our oldest grandson on this trip and he had a great time despite the rain and wind on the beach (which was sparsely populated to our delight.) If you want a warm beach experience, don’t go camping in early June on the northern half of the Oregon Coast!
Since we nearly cancelled out on taking the 4-year-old camping on the coast (heavy rain was expected on the first day, iffy weather the rest of the time), we had quickly made make-up trip plans for the following week, which we kept since it was such a different trip. This time we had sunshine and warm weather in a full hook-up KOA site along the Snake River. Oma and Opa took turns keeping Little Foot occupied on land and water, and his family came out and joined us on the final afternoon/evening for little brother’s 2nd birthday celebration. (Now is probably a good time to explain that we have chosen this family as our “bubble” of 5 other people.)
We began July without reservations at a National Forest campground (no hookups) in the Idaho Panhandle. While I did a little ferrying of my mountain biking husband to his chosen trails (and picking him up from the trails he didn’t mean to take that left him 15 miles further down the scenic highway), I got in plenty of book reading while he played. We liked it so much we returned with a reservation 9 days later for another 3-night stint. (Three nights is just about perfect for camping without any way to plug in: my CPAP battery stays happy as long as I don’t try to use the vapor feature.) We plan to go again before the end of September since it is only an hour away and tends to be wonderfully quiet.
I spent the first part of August trying to find a place for our trailer that would be near where extended family was staying . Thanks to a friend from church and her connections, we were able to do so (I’ve never handed over $50/night so happily) despite everyone else in the region also trying to camp at the lake. We’d heard that RV sales had really picked up this year as so many people were trying to vacation during a pandemic. It’s all true: the campgrounds are full and the RV lots are looking sparse. I love our extended family and I need some personal space, especially when I’m one of the few who thinks we should wear face masks when playing card games at the indoor table. For three nights we ate suppers outside, spread out in the cabin yard in our folding chairs; in the afternoons we met at the local day-use swimming beach.
This was the trip where I learned that it is really difficult to attend Zoom meetings while camping. (Oops!) Later in August, some of those same family members rented a vacation home in NE Oregon while we had a site at Wallowa Lake State Park. We joined them for the tram ride up the mountain, suppers outside, and masked card games around the table inside. After 3 nights, they went home and we had 2 additional nights at our cozy campsite where the bucks entertained us during supper and cribbage tournaments.
The skies were beautifully clear (except for that first full day when we took the tram to the top of the mountain) and we could see Jupiter and Saturn each night through an opening in the tree canopy. By the time we got home again, it was September.
We stayed home for the big windstorm that whipped up fires across the region on Labor Day, but after assessing the situation, we decided to head out again and take our oldest grandson camping before it was actually fall weather. We chose a place close to where his great-grandmother had grown up. Little Foot enjoyed boating on the reservoir with Opa and roasting marshmallows for S’mores after dark. I thoroughly enjoyed staring up at the Milky Way each night. Oh, to escape completely from light pollution! This is one of the joys of camping.
We got home from that trip last Thursday, did minimal unpacking and then turned around and took a trip sans-trailer the next day. According to what was on the calendar, it was a 2-night trip; according to what I learned when we arrived 5 hours later, it was a 4-night trip. It’s probably a good thing I tend to over-pack! It’s also a good thing that I have people I can call on to check in on our cat (who was NOT happy with us about our long, unplanned absence). A few things about this particular trip:
We shared a house with some extended family members but had our own room. I hung out in there to read and rest instead of in the living room.
The smoke followed us inland and turned all but the first day into non-scenic drives (Guess who thought she could get pictures with the camera “tomorrow”?)
Wearing masks while sharing meals indoors isn’t really possible, and wildfire smoke makes it unhealthy to eat outdoors
I was uncomfortable with not wearing a mask around extended family who were previously not part of our “bubble.”
It’s been six full months since the pandemic shut everything down for us here. I’m weary of the continued battle over whether or not masks help (spoiler alert: they do). So now we are home for a bit and I am pretty much quarantining myself after having more exposure to maskless people and many others who were wearing their masks incorrectly than I ever intended to have during a pandemic. So many noses! I was wearing my own mask around them, so I should be relatively safe. As for our relatives with whom we spent time, they continue to be healthy and we are the young ones in the bunch. However, I definitely do not wish to be the one who exposes anyone else, known or unknown, to this virus. Seeing maskless people in Montana was unnerving for me. I’ve been able to control my environment for much of the past 6 months and being at the mercy of others, where I have to rely upon their own responses to this pandemic when I don’t think they are being as careful as I try to be, makes me uncomfortable.
I’m not perfect, and I realize that there are people who are much more careful than I am. By traveling at all, I am at greater risk than staying in my own house. However, by traveling with a trailer, I am bringing along nearly everything we need and limiting our exposure to others outside our household. Luckily, we can continue camping for a while — at least until the temperatures drop significantly.
The cat is curled up in my lap right now. She’s 17 years old and we recently discovered she is deaf. This might explain why, after years of being petrified of the vacuum, she now enjoys being vacuumed. The Barefooter is mowing the lawn — second mowing of the year — and the buzz of the electric machine is distinguishable to my ears but not by much. Like most people my age who blasted music through her earbuds at a younger juncture of life, I’ve got a bit of hearing loss, but the thrumming tinnitus has been non-stop for 3 weeks and counting. I’d developed a bad headache on Easter Sunday and while the pain abated after a week or so, I’m still “hearing underwater.” After my almost sleepless night of listening to the imaginary hum of airplanes and slow-moving locomotives, I’m envious of the cat’s ability to sleep when she is tired. (The inability to sleep was last night; now I can barely hold my eyes open!)
The annual Lilac Festival would normally be happening over these next few weeks; yesterday should have been the 12-km Bloomsday run. But nothing is normal during a pandemic. Bloomsday has been rescheduled from May 3rd to September 20th, but I don’t believe it will be possible for nearly 50,000 people to gather and run or walk, or even half that many. No one is willing to acknowledge how very much life has changed and will remain different for the foreseeable time.