Love in the Time of Covid-19

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The title of this post is a play on the title of a novel written by Gabriel Garcia MarquezLove in the Time of Cholera. Marquez’s novel in turn was inspired by Daniel Defoe‘s A Journal in the Plague Year written as an eyewitness report during the 1665 Black Plague in London. (Here is an online e-version from The Project Glutenberg.) 

So there is precedent for writing about plagues which in “our” time is novel coronavirus. We have yet to learn the outcome as indeed it is just getting started. What will our generation “write” for future generations?

The Spanish flu of 1918 is perhaps the most recent pandemic affecting the U.S. at the scale of the one we are in now. However, the outcomes could be vastly different IF WE HEED THE LESSONS OF PAST PANDEMICS.

Don’t squelch the truth

Even the Black Plague in London, which DeFoe’s story chronicles, shows that when it first broke out, families and then city officials tried to suppress it to control public panic. That should shake us up. We are unprepared to combat the novel coronavirus because we didn’t react immediately by listening to health experts and the experience of China and Korea. There is even rumbling in the White House that we should let up on the quarantine to save the economy. A curious absence of Dr. Stephen Fauci, who heads up the NIH Immunology section and who has helped keep the correct information disseminating from the Hill, does not bode well either. He notably has corrected the erroneous statements of the President which as we have seen is sure to get him dismissed or fired. This should raise an alarm.

Act quickly

During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, because countries were embroiled in WWI, a horrible war with massive death and dismemberment, the city of Philadelphia held a big parade to pump up national patriotism, and, as a result of the crowds, caused a surge in the flu pandemic from which the city never recovered. Loss of life compared to other cities which acted quickly, was 30x’s higher. I am thinking now of the beaches in Florida that stayed open for Spring Break until just a couple of days ago. How did those crowded beaches, hotels, and restaurants magnify the spread of Covid-19? We have yet to learn that. More so, the impetus to save the economy, whether localized or national, can kill people by putting them second to the GDP. The pandemic highlights that pure capitalism does not have a human face.

Kindness and compassion build resiliency during and after the pandemic

Love abounds in America, however, all across the country, in individuals, local leaders and Governors like Andy Beshear, in my state of Kentucky. He has been on top of the latest health information and acted quickly which is probably why we have a low rate of infection comparatively to other states that hesitated This kind of loving care (for it is loving to assure the safety of people) is in contrast to the President who is mostly concerned with the economy. While he does talk about keeping jobs for people by keeping business open, he ignores science. What good will it do if people die by going back to work and causing this pandemic to rage through America? We are on a path to be the center of the pandemic globally.

A lesson from past pandemics is good public compliance to health recommendations is essential. Right leadership at all levels of government and society is consequential.

This is a time to accept the scientific information coming to us from many trustworthy sources AND the living example of countries that were slow to act: Italy being one where the death rate is very high.

A very good summary of the complex 1918 Flu Pandemic can be heard on NPR’s On Point which aired today, March 24, 2020.

Meanwhile, the citizens, families, and individuals, and some businesses are acting with bravery, compassion, and creativity, i.e. love.

RIGHT NOW WE ARE WRITING OUR STORY OF THIS PANDEMIC. 

See what has been planned to make a response on this scales: The National Response Framework – which is not currently being used. NRF_FINALApproved_508_2011028v1040

Write about how your community is responding with love and creativity. Submission to Yes! Magazine’s Call for Submissions (deadline April 3).

READERS: Another plague novel I highly recommend is Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders

 

 

 

 

 

Best Essays: Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!

Lions, Tigers and Bears – Oh, My!

A story from the Coconino National Forest in Arizona

When Dorothy set off to find the Wizard of Oz, she and her companions encountered a lion in the dark wood just as they had feared, but, the cowardly beast only drew their disdain, for what good is a spineless lion?

Therein lies the dichotomy between our visceral fear of carnivores and our psychological need for them to be wild, fierce and free—a varmint or an icon. One gets them killed, the other immortalized, but neither will help them survive.

Neither perception tells us why lions, tigers and bears are important. A wolf takes-out the weakest of the herd, controlling not only numbers but removing the least adaptive genes from the population’s gene pool. A dynamic balance results between wolves, deer, and vegetation and myriad lives each dependent on the other.

That we do not understand the importance of these relationships was memorably recorded by Aldo Leopold. He wrote about an experience shooting wolves one afternoon, a common practice among Forest Service rangers in 1949. Leopold had watched the “fierce green fire” flicker out in a she-wolf’s eyes at her death.

Dawning on his consciousness was the realization of a bigger death̶—a death of wild things and something greater still: the very foundation of a healthy ecosystem. The wild, beautiful landscapes that inspired Leopold, and that support man’s livelihood, were created over centuries among myriad species until a climatic stage is reached in which an elaborate set of checks and dynamically sustains it. The whole system changes over time but the checks and balances are always maintained by various species: top carnivores. consumers, producers, scavengers, etc.

The wolf Leopold had just killed was one of the checks that sustained a living community.

Until that moment Leopold lacked the understanding that he later identified as something only a mountain possesses. Mountains have the long view, he wrote, whereas humans are newcomers. A mountain has no fear of wolves, only deer, because the deer will devour vegetation, and the rains will wash away topsoil causing all kinds of havoc for the mountain.

The rancher who compares the life of a wolf against the current market price of his cow misses the much greater value of leaving the wolf wild and free. That “home on the range” where his cattle roam depends on a well-functioning natural community to sustain it.

Leopold was writing about this phenomenon in 1949. Six decades later we are still acquiring that wisdom. We witnessed an ecological rebirth in Yellowstone National Park following the return of the wolf to that ecosystem. Riparian willows and cottonwoods returned because elk spent less time eating and more time hiding to avoid becoming wolf scat. Other species like beavers returned and their activities created habitat for insects and birds, and so on.

In 1996, I attended a public meeting in Springerville, Arizona in the Coconino National Forest convened to address the “elk problem”. Present were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Commission, White Mountain Apache biologists and tribal officials, ranchers, tourist industry reps, a hunters’ association, local residents, and curious campers like me.

It became apparent right from the start that a classic show-down was about to happen.

The problem stemmed from an exponential increase in the elk population. A rancher testified that elk herds of 600 to 1,000-head could be found every morning on her land, leaving in their path a swath of denuded range. She demanded that Game and Fish raise the limits for hunters to help bring the population of elk under control.

As the rancher, a very handsome woman, tanned in face and arms with a silver mane, made her plea, she gestured toward the Apache contingent. I learned that the expansive White Mountain Apache reservation which bordered much of the national part, was serving as a nightly refuge for the elk that discovered safety within its boundaries. It encompassed 1.67 million acres or forest!

As I sat among the people, I imagined a tide of elk ebbing into the ranchland to graze by day then flowing back at night into the forested reservation. The rancher wanted the Apache Nation to help kill elk and bring the herds under control.

They would not, a tribal spokesman asserted in reply. They would not do so based on ethical principles and the belief that restoring the natural ecosystem would be the only true answer to controlling the population. I think I caught a twinkle in one tribal elder’s eye as this statement was made. We take elk when we need meat for our people, he said and sat down.

Tourist agencies pleaded their case for the presence of elk.  Seen from the roads and campsites, thousands of families enjoyed watching wildlife. Tourism brings 16 million dollars in revenues to Arizona each year, they reminded the assembled guests!

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) deferred to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission which is charged with maintaining populations of wildlife. The FWS rep made a statement about the traditional range of the Mexican gray wolf—a keystone species of the disrupted ecosystem. Sheer mention of the gray wolf acted like a match on tinder. The packed meeting room erupted in arguments from ranchers and tourism folks alike who didn’t welcome wolves in the woods.

Then a rancher with the look of one who had spent his life in the sun gained the floor.

“We are victims of our own schemes – me included. First, we saw the wolf as our enemy and we systematically exterminated it. We saw it killing too many elk, too many cattle. We feared for our own lives. Once it was gone, we saw elk and deer populations explode. Well, maybe it’s time we examine our own nature to see if maybe we can control that!”

The meeting adjourned in muffled conversations and salutations. As I walked back to my cabin at Deer Springs Inn, I was in deep thought. I’d just witnessed a complete reenactment of the opening and closing of the West with all the historical parties represented as on a stage.

The sun was setting behind the dense Ponderosa Pine forest. Families were gathering around a campfire in the center of five log cabins in a clearing. I happily joined my friends and family spearing marshmallows. Sparkling stars appeared above in a black sky. A breeze picked up that fanned the flames setting our faces aglow in anticipation. An owl hooted above. The fire popped and sizzled as we all settled down for stories and laughter.

I thought how good it was that our National Parks conserved these woods so that we might know where we came from and understand how we are still a part of something greater than ourselves—that we are not actors in a play but participants in the greater community of life.

Back at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy got her wish to go home, the tin man a heart, and the lion, courage. Maybe the wolf, the lion, the tiger, the bear, the shark, the grizzly will be restored, too, at some time when our own wizardry returns us to the natural order of things.

Up on the mountain,

Tracing the Mogollon Rim,

We hike and return by way of

The towering Outlook,

Black clouds overhead.




We climb eighty feet up to

Join Ranger GS3-1 in his lair.

He scans the horizon for fire.

We chat, then leave for

Hoping Hare Cabin.




We are dreamily breathing

In the sulfur-laden air of

Lightening-split sky.

Lying up in the loft

Baptized by tumbling waters.


If I Were Elizabeth Warren

I wonder what Elizabeth Warren is doing right now? My hope for the leader I have backed with my money and political support is that she is in her pajamas taking it easy. If I were there, I’d serve her a good strong coffee and cook her an omelette and potatoes. Then I’d order her a bodywork specialist, and arrange for a manicure and pedicure, and lavish all manner of care upon her travel weary person. For Elizabeth is fighting The Good Fight in the American Political Arena.

Why did I support her? Elizabeth Warren has seen the truth about capitalism from very early in her career of public service: it works for the top few percent and less so as you go down the economic/social agency scale. The reason: there is a concurrent scale of opportunity shrouded by American society’s propensity to worship rich people and turn away from the poor – or rather, people perceived as poor.

Warren worked tirelessly in government to rectify that inequity. This is the Great Work. What did she accomplish? If you have credit cards, loans, bank accounts then you are benefiting today from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which she fought for over the years of her public service. She worked to create and sustain a Middle Class while making it possible for families with lesser means to educate their children for economic mobility. Warren was ever on that path to ameliorate free market economics to make it fair to all Americans. She kept kids in mind. Maternity and family leave, sick leave and medical care, a good education — these are fundamental rights of all Americans she believes.

Well, Elizabeth I bet is resting, but her mind is spinning on how to keep the Good Fight going. She has always been and always will be an American leader. As a voter and citizen I will do my part to see that she has a place in the new Administration if she wants it, a Vice Presidency or key cabinet position.

One key thing: she is persistent. Women have that. Endurance. And, our networks are ever stronger and larger. One day a woman will lead this country and we’ll be better for it. So rest, Elizabeth. And thank you from my heart.

 

Places – Tucson High Desert

Saguaro Near the Catalina Mountains

Tucson, High Desert – 2006

Across the desert floor saguaros bake in the hot, dry air. It is the time when the saguaro fruit sets and ripens. Birds, bees, javelinas, coyotes, bobcats – and people – dine on the sweet red fruit. The Desert People will make syrup or jam and ceremonial wine for the rain dance inviting the wind and clouds to bring the precious gift of water once more.

After the harvest is the time of waiting and watching. We see voluminous clouds pile up over the mountains – swirling dark clouds over a living desert. Even their shadows cast welcome relief.

We wait … immersed in an ocean of heat. We sweat and burn in light that cuts like a hundred blades into unprotected skin. On the Fourth of July midtown rockets burst on an obsidian sky while desert creatures prowl in the cool moonlight.  This day marks the arrival of the monsoon. Even the word, its utterance, a desert dweller’s mantra, offers relief:  monsoon!

And then it happens … the first dollops of rain splash down! Perhaps we see it far across the valley falling in just one particular area. We are jealous, but encouraged, for we know that soon it will fall on us, too. Our lives are made more certain with the rain. No creature can live without this precious rain. No, none.

The summer rhythms of this desert remind us of our vulnerability. That is the gift of the Saguaro season. We are dependent. Humbly we may realize it. We stand outside like fools and let it fall on us, run down our faces and spine where its coolness makes us shiver when only a second ago we were sweltering.

People in their cars, navigating flooded intersections, are amused. In washes, valleys and hillsides the shallow roots of columnar cacti, the ancient trees of our land, pump in the crystal substance as it trickles or gushes through the sand and stone. Their fluted forms expand with the tidal rhythm.

It is a desert baptism among people who still appreciate the desert’s rhythmic character. They catch rainwater in barrels and dig wide basins in the earth to hold the precious rain and prepare the soil for native seeds saved from last year’s harvest of squash, beans, corn, melons, and greens. They collect the mesquite beans and pound the pods into sweet flour to make bread that heals the body.  The harvest is bountiful when the gardening is blessed and prayers go forth in gratitude and hope.

When the big clouds roll up from the Gulf of California, the old women lift their harvesting sticks to pull down the clouds and bring the rain. The Tohono O’odham, The Desert People, keep vigilance over the city and the land around it and even the Europeans are learning to pray, in their own way. The Mexicans and Spanish have always kept the seasonal rhythms of land and seed and they pray to their spiritual guides, and all together raise their faces in prayerful patience as the clouds move up from Mexico over the Santa Catalinas swirling dark and black over the Old Pueblo. Somewhere I imagine there may also be a jaguar looking up in want of rain.

 

Places –

Sonoran Desert

Phoenix, Low Desert – 1999

At midnight the heat radiates from the cement driveway under my feet. I stand in the white moonlight gazing up at twinkling stars. The dark outline of tall trees and roof tops form a stage-drop where city glow breaks the blackness of night.

This is my summer ritual: star-gazing in my pajamas. I wake out of some consciousness that tells my snoozing brain I can open the doors and go out to a cool 90 degrees. I lay in a chaise lounge in the middle of the driveway under a sparkling dome of heaven. The air is gentle, warm, caressing. Like other desert creatures, I have become nocturnal. The moon is my muse.

It’s summertime in Phoenix, Arizona. Temperatures soar over 110 ̊. After June, the buildings and streets absorb the day’s solar energy and then slowly release it through the night. Even though the sun goes down, the built environment radiates like an oven.  The hum of air conditioners is a constant auditory feature of modern desert life.

In the old parts of town residents open aqueducts in their yards. Encircled by an earthen berm, the lawns hold the precious ground water releasing it slowly to soak deeply into the sandy soil and keep their urban lawns green. In the 1900’s people moved to the desert for its dry climate and to escape allergy-causing vegetation. However, the mulberry and olive trees they imported with them resulted in Phoenix becoming the asthma capital of the west by 2000. The average low temperature has increased by 10 ̊ in just 40 years—the result of miles and miles of asphalt and concrete which act like a heat sponge.

Native trees have been reduced by introduction of non-natives (exotics) like the Tamarisk tree in areas where the water table once ran close to the ground. For thousands of years these habitats supported the greatest species diversity in the state.  Beavers and otters abound in rivers and streams, and fauna like deer and Coati mundi inhabited native forests. Memories of Arizona’s extensive green belts have faded with each new generation. Who will remember what has been lost?

Gazing at the twinkling night sky above me, I imagine the ancient Hohokam people—who laid down the original grid of canals still in use today— how they, too, must have lain outside in the cool of moonlight thousands of years before me. Did they work and cavort at night like the desert’s creatures, and sleep in the cool of their adobe huts, or under a shady ramada of reeds, during the blistering heat of daytime? What happened to their great city and 200,000 inhabitants? Why did they leave this valley and its two rivers, the Salt and the Gila, leaving only their canals behind?  Am I part of a Great Reenactment?

I watch the dark outline of a big, brown bat drinking nectar from a tall saguaro’s bloom in my neighbor’s yard. Afar I hear coyotes yipping from a hilltop in a suburban sea. In the wee hours of the warm, dry night, I drift into a deep sleep under a canopy of stars.

Places – Imperial Valley

Yuma, Arizona Farm Fields

Imperial Valley, Below Sea Level, 1990

The Colorado River was a wild, red fury in its natural state. It flooded its banks in southern Arizona and Northern Mexico on its way from the Rockies to the delta on the Sea of Cortez, Gulf of California. This was true for thousands of years. Early people learned its rhythms and developed cultures in sync with the river’s seasonal flows. They are called The Colorado River Indian Tribes—distinct communities that still exist along the river’s course. Their history encompasses the dramatic changes wrought by damming the great river to create one of the most extensive desert gardens known to humankind.

When I crossed the Continental Divide atop the Laguna Mountains, under a brilliant star-studded black sky, I was entering a dimension so subtle it would take me years to define it. Something more than gravity pulled me down the steep, winding road as it descended into the Imperial Valley. The sun was just breaking above a distant horizon as my vehicle finally leveled out onto the valley floor. Immediately an aroma of soil, mist, and something close to boiled peanuts filled my nostrils. It is a scent that I have only experienced in this part of the U.S. – distinct and overtaking. It is not unpleasant but haunting in a way. You know it is not natural for the valley but something created by a great deal of struggle, sweat, and industry.

In the far distance a range of ruddy red mountains formed the eastern border of the valley with Picacho Peak soaring into unbroken blue. I recall my daughter’s reminiscence after moving to Washington, D.C. from Arizona: “Mom, I miss that big dome of sky that made me feel protected under its blue canopy.”

Openness, expansion, mystery and fear were the emotions that churned in me that day.

The Imperial Valley stretches over 100 miles from the foothills of the Laguna Mountains in southern California to Yuma, Arizona at the juncture of California, Arizona and Mexico. It is a vast alluvial plain, rich in minerals and, before the irrigation of the valley, a low desert dotted by barrel cactus and rolling tumbleweed. Once the dams and extensive canals were built (a colorful history of drastic measures, tragic mishaps, and powerful men with big dreams and money to back them) the desert floor flowered into one of America’s most productive bread baskets. In 1990 the lettuce crop alone harvested $16M for growers.

As the sun rose higher, row upon row of lettuce and blue canals appeared and disappeared from view like an old-time flickering movie. Egrets and gulls flew above or walked among the rows! Did they migrate from the oceans of southern California or up from the delta on the Sea of Cortez?The whole experience was surreal. Then I began to notice the heat…oh, dear. My un-air-conditioned beach mobile! I was unprepared for this region of the world. I was sweating profusely now and had brought only a small bottle of water with me. Suddenly I felt threatened. Where was the nearest town?  Where were the people? I saw nothing but huge sprinklers like warriors from Star Wars on thin metal legs rolling across fields throwing streams of precious Colorado River water onto American grown vegetables and cotton. On and on I drove, past a feedlot that stank for miles, past an ostrich farm and more green flushed with blue sparkling water. Was there any water left in the Rio Colorado? I wondered.

The heat grew ever more oppressive. At below sea level, the Imperial Valley is a heat sponge. I nearly fainted before finding a small town and limped into Wendy’s where I remained for three hours slumped over a table. The waitresses were empathetic. Many California beach combers succumbed to the valley’s record temperatures. It reached 119 degrees that day in May.

Cadillac Desert Video

Imperial Valley, CA