On both sides of my house, when I bought it, there were privet hedges running along the lot lines. This was from ancient times inopportunely on the northeast side, where sunlight comes only fleetingly. The plants struggled for light, growing upward with long woody trunks. There was a strip perhaps five feet wide between the hedge and the house where nothing would grow at all. The neighbor's cats found it a good bathroom, and it smelled strongly of male spray. On the southwest line, the privet did well – until that neighbor decided to put up a six foot fence between the hedge and the sunlight. So, that hedge too, starved for light, grew upward and woody. Because it was topheavy and couldn't grow in the direction of the neighbor's house, it leaned over in my direction. Eventually, it spanned ten feet horizontally, half the width of the lawn area. Other things grew up within it, Norway maples and an aggressive wild grape with inedible fruit less than a quarter inch in diameter. The neighbor was agreeable to my trimming the hedge, as long I did it the way he wanted. I am not sure how I ever went along with such an idea.
Every year, I reclaim an area of my yard from unplanned growth. This year, it was the privet hedge. It took me a few afternoons to cut it down. Now stumps are left. I'm removing these at the rate of one a day, with a slowdown today due to a mildly sprained wrist. The stumps are ornery and tenancious critters, I must say.
I've followed an Arbor Day-like custom of planting trees each spring. After twenty years of that, some of the early ones are good-sized specimens by now. Next to where the hedge is removed, I have a beech and a white pine established. The beech is fairly hardy. The white pine requires careful protection from weevils each spring. I've transplanted an elm that was in a non-viable location in the rear of my yard. I couldn't manage as big a rootball as I would have liked, but I pruned it back significantly after transplanting and have been careful to keep it well-watered. So far, it is looking helpful. We'll see.
The first known death attributed to COVID-19 in my town was of a man who had lived two doors down from me. In the week before, the occupant of the home between us died, without citation of coronavirus, though that could have been present. Both had been in failing health for a number of years and were in nursing homes, so the pair of events does not feel directly threatening to me.
The plight of subacute and long-term care facilities is not an easy one at this time. Even with the best management of infection hazards, the task of caring for people who can't do the most basic things for themselves can't be done at a distance of six feet. In practice, infection control is usally several steps below optimal, in my experience.
Both of my Ph.D. parents suffered from advanced dementia during the last decade of their lives. My father's was called "Parkinsonian," meaning that it was like what people usually called Parkinson's Disease, but without the resting tremors often associated with that disease. The description of "atypical Parkinson's" suggests that the syndrome might be more than one thing. In any event, treatment was oriented toward the physical bradykinetic manifestations, basically relying dogmatically on levadopa. I understood only later that the mood disorder, depression, that my father was experiencing was integrally tied to the dopamine dysfunction of Parkinson's. There was no attempt to address that medically; it was viewed as a separate psychiatric issue. Tunnel vision!An editorial in the current issue of Neurology represents substantial progress since then:
Although long established as a quintessential movement disorder, Parkinson disease (PD) is increasingly recognized as a complex neuropsychiatric condition. In fact, more people with PD (PWP) have at least one neuropsychiatric symptom, such as anxiety, apathy, cognitive impairment, depression, or psychosis, than have rest tremor. Depression alone affects half of all PWP and is one of the most important factors affecting quality of life over the course of the disease. Depression also compounds disability in PWP, leading to more rapid mental and physical decline and greater impairment in activities of daily living, resulting in greater burden on caregivers, health care services, and the economy. Treating depression using an interdisciplinary approach is therefore an essential part of the overall management of PD.
It is curious what people are stocking up on. I can understand that they want hand sanitizer, though from what I can see, soap and water works better against the coronavirus, and the token dabs and three-second rubs of hand sanitizer I observe have little but token and feel-good value.
I read reports of buyouts of toilet paper, which seems very strange to me. Perhaps there's some notion of cleanliness behind it? At the local market, I observed the long chicken displays totally empty. I suppose chicken can be frozen; I sometimes put leftover odd parts in my own freezer. I'd guessed that pizza dough would be enough of a speciality that there wouldn't be a run on it, but that wasn't correct. And I read that people are stocking up on guns and ammunition, which leaves me shaking my head sadly.
I figured early on that if the epidemic is going to run high for at least some months, either the grocery stores are going to remain open, or just about everybody will starve to death. So, I haven't stocked up on food, beyond planning as well as I can to keep the store trips to as few as possible. When other states began closing non-essential businesses, I saw the handwriting on the wall. First thing off, I ordered a couple of books that I won't get to for at least a few weeks, Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes tropiques and John Milton's Paradise lost. I also picked up a couple of four-packs of ale, since I like a nice cool drink after a warm day – though such things are a while in the future. Afterwards, I was interested to note that when the Governor recently closed most businesses, package stores were viewed as in the category of grocery stores so allowed to remain open. Indeed, restaurants providing take-out are now specifically allowed to send beer and wine along with the food. Essentials!
Going over my home medical equipment, I found a thermometer that I hadn't used for years is giving a suspicious reading. Either my body temperature is running a couple degrees below normal, or the thermometer is off. It seems reasonable for me to own a working thermometer in any event. I wondered if all the thermometers would have sold out. Indeed that is so, but Amazon feels they'll have more within a couple of weeks. So I ordered one, along with an O2 saturation monitor, which would be informative if I were to begin feeling really sick. In that extreme event, I would not seek medical care, but would want to be able to share information about myself with a couple of responsible parties.
For the time being, obviously I am feeling comfortable and secure with my quiet existence and ability to keep in going in ways that are very close to normal. As of this moment, the U.S. death rate is 0.5 per million population… hardly a terrifying statistic, when you think about it.
I have never before in my life, I think, seen people thinking so much about a single thing. The times that come close, in my memory, are the days of the September 11, 2001 bombings, and of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And those times, the community was heavily the United States. This time, it's the world.
The aftermath of both of the two previous events was notably times of unity and focused effort. After the first, President Johnson, the Senate and the House acted almost in lockstep to pass social legislation that has not since been equalled: Medicare, Medicaid, voting rights. After the second, President Bush went from floundering around looking for a cause to seizing onto terrorism to battle. It was almost unthinkable to oppose the war declared then, though today many no longer feel quite so sure about the utility of the effort. Still, pretty much everyone (in this country) was acting together. I hope that, in a year or two when the COVID-19 epidemic is past, there will be another time of unity and constructive effort. We'll see. The Los Angeles Times is headlining, "Even the coronavirus crisis can’t bridge America’s partisan divide." Meanwhile, The Economist writes, "Pandemics are the inevitable attendants of economic progress… Still, history reveal how pandemics nudge societies listing in one direction or another in a decise and consequential direction. We cannot know what long-run effects covid-19 may have, but we can feel reasonably sure there will be some." Another news source, I seem to remember the BBC, called the crisis the largest global crisis since World War II.
Well, perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. For the short term, the quiet is eerie. We don't know how long the epidemic will last. Responsible estimates run from at least weeks to months, possibly longer. People mainly adapt, but there is some panic and irrationality. I can understand why the local supermarket would have a run on hand sanitizer, but grasp less well why toilet paper should be a hot item. A few days ago, it was completely void of chicken, while other meats were in good supply. Since most of my diet comes from fresh fruits and vegetables, I can't build a few months' stock.
So far, I have had trivial inconvenience. Reading the crystal ball from reflections of other places, I suspect more strict measures will come soon. I've ordered a couple of books on the web that I won't get to for a few weeks, imagining that it's possible non-essential business will close more and more. As long as they keep the grocery stores open! – It would be hard for most of us to go without food for a few months.
Since my overall health is excellent, I feel little personal threat. If I came down with the virus, I would stay at home. I would not seek medical care. If the virus was a very bad case, I would probably sleep for 18 hours a day. If it were worse than that, I wouldn't wake up. That idea doesn't bother me. I am not afraid to die. Pneumonia is famously one of the softer landings.
A couple of years ago, after much head-scratching, I bought an internet radio and amplifier. It was very nice, except that its connectivity was flaky, and it died in about two years. At the time, the owner of the store remarked, "It's much better than it has any right to be." That was true, except for its unreliability. In our era of disposable electronics, I did not send it off for repair, but will pay $25 to dispose of it at a recycling fair.
I recently spent almost ten times as much to replace it and one pair of hand-me-down speakers. So far, I have been delighted with the Bluesound equipment, which has been perfectly reliable. I purchased it from Q Audio in Cambridge, a one-man operation where the owner, Dariusz, is very knowledgeable technically, and also very good at listening to his customers. That's a combination that's rare and very valuable.
For the second year in a row, we had a hard cold snap fairly early in December, freezing the ground. Chores that I had planned to do at that time were postponed. Now, in mid-winter, we have had a relatively warm spell and the ground has thawed. I've noted warm mid-winter days before, but this is beyond a day or two. It's a warm spell… warm enough for long enough that not only the ground is unfrozen, but a lot of different kinds of green things are starting to sprout. That is not a good sign.
But for the moment, make hay while the sun shines, as the saying goes. Or, to take the view of another common saying, it's an ill wind that blows no one good (at least in the short term).
In the process of reorganizing picture files, I came across this one of my mother in November 2013, shortly after one of the seizures she had during that period.
It was an intense time. Often it was happy, sometimes very painful. Looking at some of the pictures nearly brings tears to my eyes again, even several years afterwards.
Without any “thou shalt” moral precept, I naturally ask myself on going to bed, have you done what you were going to today, and how did it work out? – and, on waking, what are you going to do today, given your thoughts on yesterday? There is no intrinsic merit in following plans, and overdone it turns into simple compulsiveness, not an admirable trait or pattern. Something unexpected may have come up during the day, or we may come up with a better notion of what to do than we had yesterday. This should happen at least once in a while, if we’re alive and awake and aware! And yet, most often my life is not so exciting, or full of new inspiration, that it's particularly different from what I could have reasonably foreseen. (Is yours?)
I've found that very often, when it turns out that I didn‘t do something I'd planned, the reason was that I didn’t quite know how to do it. And not doing things that one doesn’t know how to do may not be such a bad thing. For me, the sense of not knowing how to do something is usually pretty tied to fear of failure. If my ignorance or inability, or worse my fears, are keeping me from getting somewhere I want to go, it’s time to think about options and approaches. Remarkably often, the obstacle can be divided into a set of sub-obstacles, all of which can be addressed with remarkable ease. A handful of key deficits can be overcome with much patience and perseverence, such as learning to make big leaps at the piano keyboard. Less often, there’s a big stone (literal or figurative) that I simply can’t move. These last events can get frustrating, unless I can identify some alternate approach – such as hiring someone who has a big machine. Simply giving up goes against the grain, and leaves me in a pet for a while.
I've been thinking harder for the last few months about matching my plans to my ability to accomplish them, and I'll probably keep thinking about that for a while longer. (For a whole year? I doubt it. Some more deserving focus will probably come along.) I do believe it's important to do things that are very difficult. Sometimes that means working daily and conscientiously, as it does with the piano. Sometimes it means finding a part of ourselves that we hadn't recognized before, which is very rewarding. It shouldn't be very often that we fail completely at something we've set our heart on. That's discouraging, and a sign that our imagination – which is a good thing – is out of touch with reality – which isn't a good thing.