You might remember that last Friday I woke up early feeling shitty, so I sat down to try to write myself out of my funk. I’m glad to report that it more or less worked. By noon I was feeling that I had written something true – since it was true that I had woken up feeling shitty, and that’s what I wrote about – and thus I had accomplished something at least notionally useful, at least to myself. My day got even better in the afternoon, when Jenny and I went to Swanson’s Nursery to buy a fig tree, a Daphne shrub, and some vegetable seeds, then went for a long walk in a swanky neighborhood with views of the Puget Sound. We had been wanting to get a fig for a couple years, and we were glad when we learned that Swanson’s had begun offering half-hour appointments with social distancing. I’m not sure how that squares with Governor Inslee’s order concerning essential businesses, but I didn’t ask. A trip to Swanson’s in this time is not the same as the pre-pandemic experience of lingering on a beautiful spring day as long as we felt like it, but the upside is that the clock places a rough cap on how many plants one (or two) can buy on impulse.
We could have spent $80 or even $120 on a larger fig tree, but we bought a small one, in a one-gallon pot, for $19.99. It’s the Olympian variety – recently discovered growing wild on the nearby Olympic Peninsula – and it’s supposed to grow to something like twelve feet in height within something like ten years. When my friend Wally Shoup housesat for us for a month in the late summer of 2018, he enjoyed making use of our garden and patio, and afterward he made an observation that I appreciated: that time is part of the toolkit of the gardener. You plant a tree, you take the best care of it that you know how, and then you wait. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s an act of faith. In a similar vein, I spent the entire summer of 2014 hauling dirt and sand and bricks back and forth to build a patio. (Note: I couldn’t have done that without the help, skills, and pickup truck of my friend Pete Sabo.) Every time I drink a beer on that patio, I reflect with satisfaction on the amount of my own labor that went into it. Its surface is approximately two thousand reclaimed bricks gleaned mostly via Craigslist, antique vestiges of Seattle history, some of them (so the guy who sold them to me said) from the original harbor steps downtown, dating from the 1880s.
It was Martin Luther who said that, if he knew the world was going to end tomorrow, he would plant a tree. I used to think it was St. Francis of Assisi, because it seems like something he would have said and because he seems nicer than Martin Luther. But my dad reminds me that it was Luther who said it. In any case, as Wally pointed out, planting a garden, like building a patio or writing a book, is an exercise in enlisting the passage of time to advantage.
I don’t know what the future holds, but what I can say is that on Sunday I very happily spent more than five hours working in our garden, planting and weeding. And I wasn’t even especially sore the next day. Jenny and I know our garden well, because we’ve spent eight years patiently waiting for it to become what it is. The lilac we got from her mom is now ten feet tall and blooms prolifically every spring. The rose of Sharon at the back corner of the house blooms in July and August, which I like because it kind of takes the baton from the lilac. I feel proud of the rose of Sharon because I chose both the shrub itself and its spot. The Japanese maple we thought had died one dry September a few years ago is leafing out nicely again this year. So is the transplanted flowering currant offshoot, which a few years from now will be taller than the fence and producing beautiful red flowers in March, like its parent in the southeastern corner of the front garden, just inside the white picket fence.
I linger on the niceties of the shrubs and trees in our private garden to remind myself how fortunate we are to have them, especially right now, and that as time passes, many things get worse but some things do actually get better.
Yesterday, some events of note took place out in the wider world. Trump claimed that “When somebody is President of the United States, the authority is total,” which everyone knows is not true, and which two groups of states, anchored by New York in the Northeast and California on the West Coast, gave the lie to by announcing coordinated plans – based on the authority of state governors – to reopen their economies as and when they see fit. I’m glad I live in one of those states. That gubernatorial authority is explicitly specified by the United States Constitution, as many pointed out yesterday, but at this point that seems almost a moot point. The daily number of coronavirus deaths seems to be plateauing, maybe even declining a little, even in New York. But the greater crisis is no longer the virus itself but the economic, political, and moral bankruptcy of American life that it has exposed for the world to see. Cascadia, here we come.
In other news, the weird and terrifying Wisconsin state elections seem to have ended – to general surprise – in a decisive defeat for Daniel Kelly, the right-wing state supreme court justice supported by Trump, whose reelection seems to have been the proximate reason for the Republicans’ criminal refusal to delay voting. So that’s good. On the other hand, The Guardian ran an item yesterday reporting that one-third of Americans believe the coronavirus was deliberately created in a lab in China.
Last Thursday I reported to Dennis that our mutual friend Bill Horist had called me and was doing fine – neither of us had heard directly from Bill since the lockdown began – and that he had made a joke about how, as a habitually self-isolating bachelor, his life wasn’t much different than before, except that he was now teaching guitar lessons (which is how he makes his living) online, with attendant complications like audio latency. I told Dennis that Bill and I had agreed to make plans for a socially distanced walk one day soon. “I’m not going walking with anyone but Anne for a while yet,” Dennis replied, “since we live in more of a petri dish than most.” And he shared an update from their downtown condo building, the Elektra:
[The concierge is] emerging from her bout of what we have to assume at this point was coronavirus. She notified the building of some packages that were evidently stolen from outside her door down the hall, which led to a discussion about the sketchy vampire dude who’d been staying in a VRU [vacation rental unit] across the hall from us for weeks. She had her own suspicions and followed up with the owner in California, and it turns out that the guy had been squatting there unknown to the owner. He was apparently exploiting some connection he had to the service that cleans some of the VRUs, and the owner told them he had to go. Last night a locksmith was there installing a new lock. Some similarly sketchy characters this druggy-looking ghoul was consorting with were seemingly doing the same in other units. Nice having to deal with that with everything else that’s going on.
Another friend, Jeb Wyman, who teaches writing at Seattle Central College and has spent every summer for the past quarter-century salmon fishing in Alaska, told me:
The prospects for the summer salmon season in June and July are uncertain. The Spanish Flu struck the Bristol Bay region of Alaska in 1919 and killed an estimated 40% of the native population. With the tombstones in the graveyards, the region has historical memory of the trauma of that time – people today have grandparents or great-grandparents who perished. So far there are no proven cases in this area, which is only accessible by an hour plane ride from Anchorage. There’s speculation that if fishermen are allowed into the area – we are considered “critical infrastructure” – we will somehow be quarantined before we leave the harbor to prevent the virus from getting into the local population. There are thousands of fishermen, but there are also thousands of fish processors who work elbow to elbow on the “slime lines” of the Alaska salmon industry. What happens when one worker gets sick, and a million pounds of salmon need to be frozen? All the options are bad options.
And on Sunday my mom reported:
Here in Colorado Springs construction has been deemed essential because we are way behind in getting the Olympian Museum opened. We “need” this museum because we “need” thousands of more tourists who will bring their two-cars-per-family, etc. with them. We are also behind on the Switchbacks Soccer Stadium which we also don’t need – more tourists, more congestion … you know the drill … A new Colorado College hockey stadium … moving right along with construction workers in plain sight! It’s “essential” work … Also, a couple of hotels downtown … those are moving right along … it’s the small construction projects that have to stop … hmmm ..
It is possible, actually, to avoid any contact with the ultra conservatives – I do this by concentrating on my work with Citizens Project and on my work with the art scene. As an aside, I saw [Congressman Doug] Lamborn’s “Easter Message” and immediately deleted it. I have no interest in his greetings.
On Saturday, The Guardian published an analysis by its diplomatic editor, Patrick Wintour, headlined “Coronavirus: who will be winners and losers in new world order?” It quoted Harvard international relations theorist Stephen Walt, writing in the journal Foreign Policy: “The governments’ response in Europe and the U.S. has been very sceptical and likely to weaken the power of the western brand.”
We all read stuff like that, and I’ve written some of it myself over the years. But honestly, I don’t have much time anymore for parlor games about “brands” and geopolitical “winners and losers” and such. I’m too busy tending my own garden. But I did note with interest a graffito someone spotted in Hong Kong, quoted in the article: “There can be no return to normal because normal was the problem in the first place.”