Notes from Three of Earth Farm: of Masks & Eruptions

The past two days defied the rain and cloud forecast and were beautiful, with sun and fluffy clouds and not too hot but warm enough in the sun. I pulled a heaping wheelbarrow load of weeds from my mother’s prize garden and another towering load of vegetation overgrowth from the garden my sister created when she lived here. I’m  insistent that the vinca major and sweet peas crawling up the hill below the house remain behind the little edging fence I put in last year. Beyond that, whatever; I just pull at will, trying to create bare spaces.

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Last week the Littles and their moms visited for several days. People went to school and to work on Zoom. We walked in the woods, did school projects, made a birthday cake, planted potatoes, collected slugs.

We got the quarter mile of hose out and snaked up the driveway to the garden; and started rebuilding my garden fence, removing the brittle seven-year-old apple tree trimmings and replacing it with freshly cut ones to keep the deer and rabbits out. I spent five hours completing that job one day after they left.

Today looks to be the promised cloudy morning, maybe rain this afternoon. The whole week was to be rain, a whole 10-day forecast; now it’s mostly gone. At least the hose and sprinkler are in. The sprinkler system in the yard isn’t working and I have been ignoring that fact since last September. I saw a prediction for above normal summer temperatures here. Maybe I will just go crispy. The hell with it. It’s 2020, the year of flux.

ElVirus continues to march forward. 90,000 dead now, but that was yesterday. All states (except Connecticut) are in some phase of reopening. For myself, I care only about two things: hiking and camping. Neither is available. And I read this week that recreation in some national public lands in Washington may not open this summer at all, including the Olympic Peninsula and Mt. Baker. Where I have campground reservations. It’s not Italy, but they were mine. I’m not giving up yet, though; and it was a two-month-old directive.

I had a panic attack on Saturday, waking up realizing that when school reopens my daughter-in-law and the Littles will return to school in some alternative form of the classroom as we have known it. We have all been exhibiting an abundance of caution these past weeks, and got comfortable with being together. But a return to school will expose them to the virus with a staggering outward ripple effect. Will I ever see them again? Until there’s a vaccine? Which could be years? Will I ever see the Bigs in North Carolina? Though I’m in the risk factor for age, I’m healthy; but healthy people are getting really sick, healthy people are dying. I really don’t want to get this thing.

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Sunday I felt a little better. Something could change, like people will get used to wearing a mask when they go out. It will become an established protocol just like wearing a seatbelt or a bicycle or motorcycle helmet. I remember when both of those came into being and people were pissed off and refused to do it. And some still don’t, but most do.

No shoes, no shirt, NO MASK, no service. Just do it!
I’ll do it for you, you do it for me. It’s simple human decency. 

But will it happen by this autumn? We’ll still have the same president setting the same terrible examples and with the same shameful lack of leadership. As Rachel Maddow said last week, “This is a terrible time to have a terrible president.” (Update: Emma just sent an article that stated it is very unlikely young children will be required to wear masks. Now I’m in a panic again.)

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The epic one, that is, that left a gaping hole in her side, killed 57 people, and changed the landscape forever. By grace it was a Sunday and loggers weren’t working, but the day before the governor had begun allowing cabin owners in to gather belongings and come right back out.

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My sisters and me in the before time.

That one was not visible from my parents’ home due to the cloudy day, but it left tons of ash on the property. Just because you don’t see a thing, doesn’t mean there won’t be devastating fallout.

But there was a less heralded eruption on a clear day the preceding March that sent an ash plume straight up into the atmosphere and a cloud of the stuff traveling south to Oregon and east to Spokane where my sister Rebecca was in college. She wrote a beautiful piece about it that follows this post.

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My mother took this photo from our deck.

The cautionary tale: the cataclysmic visible attack isn’t the end. A second event will sneak in as we let down our guard, get complacent and cocky. It happened at Mt. St. Helens. It happened in the last pandemic. It will happen again.

And now I am putting on my mask and going to the grocery store at 7am, for only the fourth time in two months. I wish I had a t-shirt that said: “I’m wearing this mask for you. Thank you for wearing one for me.” (Update: at 7am, senior hours, most of the few customers were wearing masks and following the one-way arrows. Those who weren’t were not seniors. Complete scofflaws.)

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I was in Spokane, where the ash hit hard. After the nearly blind drive across town I mostly remember the not knowing. What were we to do and how long would we have to do it? Go outside, it’s fine. Stay inside, it’s dangerous to your lungs. Hose down the ash and push it to the storm drain. DO NOT push the ash to the storm drain. No need to wear a mask. Wear a mask—maybe for a week, maybe for a month, maybe for a year. No one really knew because it was uncharted territory and we were unprepared. The world around us, at least here in the PNW, changed forever. We worked hard, we learned, we recovered, and although we grieve for what we lost we have come to see the beauty in the new landscape.

In 40 years whatever platform that’s in vogue will be asking “Where were you and what did you do during the coronavirus crisis of 2020?” I expect there will be many who share such things as “I finished some long overdue projects” and “I created a new way of doing my business” and “I took care of my neighbor” and “I saved some lives.” And there will be the stories of everyone making masks and the confusion as to how best to wear them; distilleries making vats of hand sanitizer instead of vodka (when we really just wanted the vodka); everyone trying lamely to manage a meeting on this thing called Zoom (it drove us crazy!); choirs and ballet companies and rock stars creating distant and virtual performances; and everyone whining about when they could get a haircut and how to remember which direction to go at the grocery store and please don’t make me wear a pool noodle on my head. Let’s keep writing these stories because they will entertain us down the road!

Rebecca Staebler

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We’re going to be okay. If patience was easy, it wouldn’t be a virtue.

15 thoughts on “Notes from Three of Earth Farm: of Masks & Eruptions

  1. When Monk Ikkyu was passing away (1481), he handed his attendant a box and said “If you’re ever really in trouble, open this.” When an emergency occurred and everybody feared for the future of the temple and the sect, they opened the box. Inside was a note that said, “You’ll be okay. You’ll work it out somehow.”

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  2. There is definitely a heaviness in the heart thinking about the return to crowded places. I see masks in my dreams and so I know it has permeated at least one layer of consciousness. I understand your concern and I want so much to believe that “this too shall pass” … eventually. Glad you’re healthy and safe and in the “kind compliance” camp. We do all we can with all the joy we can muster.  Loved Rebecca’s post too. And that picture of you three girls is just the best !

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  3. Oh, my God, you said so much of what I’m feeling right now. When my youngest granddaughter announced she was going back to Alabama to college (after she just moved to central Washington last summer), I got in a funk that I still haven’t worked my way out of. I knew her well until she was 8 years old because we lived pretty close in Texas, and when they moved out here, my heart sang that I would get to be close to her again. Now she’s leaving, and my own mortality is weighing on me. I have already resigned myself to never seeing my siblings again (one in Arkansas, one in Texas, one in New York), because I’m on the up-side of 75 years old, and, even though my health is pretty good, my potential horizon is shrinking. I’ve gotten my head around my granddaughter’s departure, but I haven’t gotten my heart around it yet. I guess the only thing we can do is endure until some genius either invents a cure or another genius finds a vaccine. Hopefully before the end of my time.

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    1. I hear you, Sistah. I may revisit my dream of a little travel trailer. 68 years is looming (one month from tomorrow). I’ve still got some road-travel life in me and it seems less likely than ever that Europe is in my future. Wish I could convert air miles to something useful.

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  4. Lovely prize-winning photo again!
    I love your ambition!

    I really should, no, could, no, might read this book about a pandemic…

    What Lawrence Wright Learned from His Pandemic Novel
    David Remnick
    New Yorker 4/5/20

    Be safe! Be well!

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