Tag Archives: pandemic

Fine young folks around home, and projects

My twenty-one-year-old daughter landed a job via her boyfriend as a ski lift operator at Copper Mountain this year.¬† All was going well, and she was enjoying the chance to improve as a skier, when an infection of suspected Covid-19 hit about twenty in staff quarters, including my daughter’s roommate. This was about the same time as things were heating up here in Washington State, with our ski hills and otehr tourist faciliities shutting down preventatively, schools readying to do the same, and social distancing being encouraged. Copper Mountain closed and was keeping everyone quarantined, with pay and meal delivery. But testing revealed it was the flu after all, so my daughter and her boyfriend (I’ll call him Corey, not his real name) were able to catch a flight home.

They, and we, are fine–no flu, and it’s nice having them around. For one thing, since I have a secure state job, I’m able to have my daughter pitch in with stuff around the house for her room and board, and also hire Corey and his best friend, call him Jack, to do some outdoor building projects I’ve had in mind for years. The guys happen to be studying engineering and skilled with tools, as well as to love working as a team. I basically told them what I wanted done–the roof and floor of my tool shed replaced, showed them where the tools and scrap lumber was, and away they went. Pretty soon I realized the potential there and the project became a tool shed to chicken house conversion, with a three-bay rat-resistant compost system to follow. I might even have them remove the unused garage style door on back of the house after that, and replace it with a regular wall and window.

They are hard workers, and weren’t really doing it for the pay, my daughter told me–they just love to work together on stuff like that, she said. Of course, I will pay them, the market now being flooded with unemployed people of all ages. My other daughter and her boyfriend have also been added to my casual labor pool, doing the landscaping and spring cleanup when they have the time.

Outdoor projects, at least, are still feasible in the current shut down. I have used materials lying around, and can have others delivered if needed or track them down in the community. We’re keeping our pool of people contacts low, and I’ll be clarifying with the young people that we need to keep it that way and not hang out with others right now, to keep infection risk low. None of us is high risk, but we all have older friends and relations.

The evening after the shed project commenced, as we were sitting around trying to figure out next steps, we got to talking about this and that. Corey and Jack turned out to have a real breadth of knowledge and interests. They showed themselves to be intelligent, well read, thoughtful, and very interesting to talk with–just about every idea I brought up, they had read/thought about; they knew works of literature and philosophy, could talk politics, religion, history, and science; in the course of the evening we all got some leads from one another for further learning.

This evening I shared with Corey the compost bins plans, as well as a book I brought home from my school (getting some things before they disinfect and lock up completely for a month or two) called The Toilet Papers on how to build human waste composting systems. That’s something I’ve wanted to try too (see this post, as well as this and this), and Corey was interested as an engineer and builder as well as on principle, so maybe it could happen sooner rather than later after all (possibly through a permit process). Which would integrate well with another idea that occurred to me as I was discussing with a friend the latest toilet paper shortages: to challenge my at-home students to create homemade toilet paper from some kind of fiber they have at home, preferably one that occurs in the local ecosystem.


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The answer is: snore, yawn, lie, or say bless you.

Why do people…

Recently I dreamed up a group game (not yet piloted), where you come up with an opening phrase together, then each person makes a prediction, or several, of the suggested completions will be offered by the search engine to which it’s offered. Without checking first, my predictions for this one, in these times, are:

  • “…get Coronavirus?”
  • “…fail to observe social distancing in public?”
  • “…think serious inconveniences experienced by them during the pandemic are signs of government incompetence?”

Okay, this last one is not likely, but it’s what I’m wondering. As I peruse narratives in the news and the social media posts of my family and friends, I observe a pattern of thinking that these things we hear happening to other people (and how unfortunate, but inevitable at the population scale, we dispassionately observe), will not and ought not happen to me personally. We can comfortably swap homie images, post humorous pandemic memes and count our blessings as we bide our time.

If we are hit by a negative consequence, by God were not going to calmly accept it, acknowledging that it’s merely unfortunate, but equally inevitable at the population scale; nothing personal. No, by god, it must be someone’s fault. The government not taking quick enough action, or taking action too quickly, thus curbing my personal freedoms, seemingly being the favorite. Or, if blame cannot be assigned, then there’s a call to battle of some kind at least, starting with telling and retelling, and trying to follow the spidery threads of cause and effect, reaching out for solutions that might not be available.

Religious folks have the recourse of thinking that finding themselves in the negative subset of the odds is actually a message from the gods to wake up, count their blessings, not take their divine help for granted, repent and be healed, or acknowledge the power of karma and tighten up the ethical framework. The sects that consider themselves the chosen righteous will be content to consider these events part of an attack by the prince of darkness, a spiritual battle in the heavenly domains, to be overcome by prayer and fasting.

It’s all just human nature, the expressions of adaptive coping mechanisms that have evolved in the human collective psyche and therefore culture.

An attitude of accepting one’s fate is another way of responding. Modern Western culture calls this “victim mentality” and rejects it as dysfunctional, but because it is common and even prevalent in some cultures, it too must have adaptive value, says evolutionary theory. It can even be empowering in a different way, as it can lead to a ceasing of pointless (and/or dangerous) struggle and regaining of personal and social peace as well as a rationing of energies for more important things.

When my own life is more closely impacted (and odds are it will be), I will resort to my own ingrained (DNA plus nurture) ways of thinking and acting. In the past this has included all of the above, and I can see precursors of the same as I mentally extrapolate likely unfortunate scenarios of my future life. I also notice a reluctance to think of these scenarios at all, except as a stimulus to get ready. But one never can really get ready for a beloved elder to get sick and die, for someone we know or ourselves to get so sick it’s hard to breathe and we struggle to keep the house stocked with necessities or ask for help when one is infected. To picture a severe reduction in personal freedom, a descent into poverty and dependence of my children and friends, even myself, a future of limited opportunity in the ways we have had before, of the collapse of industries, housing values, retirement investments, power and resource grabs by wealthy one percenters or foreign entities enabled by the recession, these are not what my mind wants to dwell on, except as I may be able to mitigate the future vulnerability of those I love by taking action now.

For now I am comfortably¬† detached. My adult children are all around home, including the one who was in another state, two are still able to work, one is supported by Social Security child’s benefits, and I am a state employee and so far assured of a steady income despite the closure of my work place. This puts me in a position to offer some day labor and/or housing to my kids and/or their friends who are recently out of work until special emergency unemployment insurance provisions take effect. My regular necessary contacts are few, my elderly relatives are relatively self sufficient and/or well cared for by others. I live mortgage-free, can leave my retirement investments in their place in the hopes of recovery. I have a spacious yard and places to enjoy the outdoors safe from contamination. I am checking my privilege, and this is only part. I do have to urge the young adults in my life to follow social distancing protocol with any contacts who have other contacts, as the adaptive behavior among the young tens toward remaining as adventurous and free of restraint as possible.

The attitude I want to choose is still hope, mindful use of intelligence and compassionate instincts, of expectation and participation in a new flowering of resilience and creativity that will enable us to look back and say, “All in all, we rocked that time, that pandemic thing. And we can do it again when the next thing comes.” As far as I can say THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY TO THINK AND BE, I can say it about that. It’s right to be hopeful, whether it’s by complaining, sounding the alarm, accepting, battling, joking, grieving, keeping busy, waiting it out, plodding along, ignoring, creating, strategizing, sheltering, plunging in or running away. It takes all kinds to make a world in this already short, potentially beautiful life we live as individual souls and in community.




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Life is short, and the second law of thermodynamics still applies.

Life is short, and the second law of thermodynamics still applies.

I feel oddly content being semi-confined to my home by necessity, to do my part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The house is bright with sunlight. Not only am I out of my windowless classroom, I get an extra three days off to spend hours outside in the garden or out on the trails, doing errands when I feel like it. We will be back to working on Thursday, in some form, from home, but I’ll have regained the additional hour of my previous commute, and most likely not feel I need to start an hour and a half early and stay late as I did when classes were in session.

Local confirmed cases of coronavirus remain at three, deaths zero. I have traveled several times to our state’s ground zero to spend time with my boyfriend, yes, and he has visited me. But we had relatively little contact with potentially contaminated areas, I habitually maintain sanitary practices at school; he had been working from home for several months already, his contacts mainly with fellow skiers.

I had plenty of food and other basic supplies before all this started–dried, refrigerated, frozen, and even growing in the garden (kale, onions, chard, herbs). My supply includes several bins of non-perishables from the supply of the recently deceased sister of an acquaintance. She had kept a large emergency supply untouched as she slowly died, apparently of malnutrition.

I just bought early salad seedlings and planted my own flats of seeds. Already I see tiny leaves and stems rising up out of the soil; the rhubarb is unfurling outside and soon there will be asparagus coming up. The currant and haskap bushes are about to flower, and I pulled enough dandelions today to make dandelion root coffee.

Our infrastructure is largely unaffected, with phone and internet communication, online entertainment, information and shopping, power and transportation, other than confined public transport options, as available as ever. It could be months before things return to normal, but I expect to remain healthy, or recover relatively quickly if I do become infected. The return of my daughter from a ski resort in Colorado where she was working presents some risk, but she says a few tests have indicated that the illnesses in her residence seem to be the flu. Our local efforts will continue in any case to protect vulnerable folks from dying earlier that they would otherwise.

One thing that has struck me is that the economic slowdown has brought greenhouse gas emissions way down. Economic recession drives social anxiety and creates human hardship, but is a relief to the biosphere. Maybe this will contribute to a broader conversation about the unsustainability of economic growth, as David Suzuki and others have been warning. I don’t thing that’s an oversimplification, either. Though some argue that there are ways to decouple economic growth and carbon emissions. But even if the economy grows greener, until it becomes more like the economy of natural ecosystems, human society will still be exceeding the biosphere’s constraints. And it makes sense that living systems will sometimes reverse imbalances with large scale adjustments that could include great loss of human life, whether as part of a cycle, or an extinction event or punctuation and dramatic shift in the trajectories of human evolutionary.

This particular pandemic doesn’t seem like that large an event, but it alerts my mind to possible future events, and makes me wonder how all our various global perturbations of Earth’s systems will accumulate and return to bite us. Rather than a Gaia hypothesis or balance of nature-style restoration to equilibrium, with humans ensured a restored Eden-like role, seems more like a combination of this new theory of how life follows the second law of thermodynamics and chaos theory, where slightly different initial conditions and later events can lead to wildly variable results, even if they are deterministic according to the laws of physics.

And so my advice is that, no matter what happens, we be our best selves, and keep on hoping, dreaming, loving, and growing. Life was already short, so let’s try to be at peace with the fact that death is on the way for all of us, one way or another. I expect we will discover, or remember, great powers of resilience and creativity as we deal with the economic fallout of this, and I hope that our social safety net weavers will successfully combat the economic forces that tend to concentrate resources in the hands of the few who are in a position to channel them there during difficult times.


Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Culture & Society, Economics, science


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