Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Daily Liveblog of the COVID Year

being observations or memorials
of the most remarkable occurrences,
as well public as private, which happened in
Washington DC during the great visitation in 2020.
Written by a Citizen who continued
all the while in Washington.

April 1

I mowed yesterday for the first time this year. It was beautiful out, just perfect, but our lawn was not what most folks would call perfect. It never is, as what we have in our front yard is the farthest thing from a uniform carpet of green. It's a chaotic blend of greens and light browns, random tufts and tiny flowers. There is grass, but it shares the space with a tossed salad of other greenery.
Which, as I've been reading lately, is a very good way to describe our yard. Because in a pinch, or so survival guides tell me, much of the surface cover of our yard is edible. Dandelion greens and flowering tops. Clover, too, in a pinch, although it's best to stick with the flowers.
And chickweed...ubiquitous, relentless chickweed...perfectly nutritious as a green with minor preparation, either in salad or sauteed with a little butter and onion.
As I carried the cuttings back to my compost pile, I wondered at how much energy we Americans put into making our lawns a perfectly uniform green desert, chemically blasted free of "weeds," "weeds" that could grace our plates at any time of our choosing. Or in a time of great need.

March 30

I love singing hymns in my little church. It's just so delightfully comforting, so nice to mingle my voice with those of my congregation. For the last few years, I've had this idea. My sons both have lovely voices, tenor and bass, that they've taken the care to train and develop. Wouldn't it be nice, I've thought, to sing with them? It felt like a fantasy, a pipe dream. They're grown, and away. Also, they're Jewish, which means Jesus music ain't generally their thang.
Well, we're all home now. And as much as I'm adapting to remote worship, I'm missing that singing. So, in the confines of my study this last week, they agreed to sing one with me. Softly and Tenderly, a sweet old gospel standard, with nice tight harmonies. As excited as I was to lift up my voice with them, my offspring are on another level vocally. "Dad, Dad, you're not supporting." "No, no, need to set your mouth...yeah. Kind of like that. Close enough."
We worked through it, the three of us together. My voice bobbled and cracked. I missed the opening. I went completely off key. I got the giggles listening to myself fumble. But they were patient, and kept on until it came together well enough. Just doing it with them was a blessing.
You can find blessings in almost any time, if you look.

March 28

Time has felt odd lately. The flow of days is all wrong, as the minutes and hours stumble over one another, uncertain of their places, unsure of their steps. It's like watching a middle school squaredance, uncertain and awkward, the days uncomfortable in their newly changed selves.
We're just not quite sure what we're supposed to do. We knew the dance before, kind of, and had it down enough to get by. But now we're not even sure we know what day it is half of the time. There are no markers, no measures, no points that let us orient our days.
Which is why those rituals of life are more important than ever. My existence still has Sunday worship as its fulcrum, that moment when I am doing what I'm called to do, even if the specifics are kinda different these days. Juggling AV and USB cables and fretting that my uncut hair is starting to resemble that of a public access televangelist aren't my old norm, but so it goes.
And then there's Shabbas observance, because unlike most Christian pastors, I find myself in a household with four Jews for the forseeable future. When the boys were growing up, Friday nights meant prayers intoned in Hebrew over, marking the day, blessing the fruit of the earth and the vine.
Last night, over takeout Chinese and the flickering light of tea candles, we did just that. Here, we said together. This is the day it is.
We remember where we are, and what we're doing.

March 27

Yesterday morning was damp again, the wetness welcome in the soil of my gardens. Into the earth, more of my seed-saved kale for a late spring harvest, before the nibblers and the crawlers are out in force. The kale, joined by spinach and carrots, with space set aside for the tomatoes to go in several weeks from now.
In barrels filled with compost, potatoes are springing up in their vigorous way, joined by the rising fresh leafing of strawberries. At the front of the house, the blueberry bushes are starting to leaf too, tantalizing us with a harvest that mostly feeds the birds. The fate of my blueberries always makes me think of that sweet old Disney song. "That's a lovely sentiment, Ms. Poppins, but I planted those for a reason," I sigh, as the sparrows flutter away sated.
As I puttered about my suburban quarter acre, checking and tending here and there, something caught my eye. Two years ago, I'd randomly buried excess seed potatoes in an untended patch of earth in the back yard. I promptly forgot about them.
But there they were, the familiar leaves wet with the spring rain, springing eagerly from the unforgiving, unenriched Virginia clay.
"Well, look at you go," I said, because talking to potatoes seems perfectly reasonable these days. "Good for you."
One of the great pleasures of a garden are those little surprises.

March 26

I went to church, and the day was cold and damp and grey. The buildings, cool and dark and quiet. No meetings. No worship. The news of the day, from the governor, that schools would be closed through late April. I and my lay leaders are committed to listening to competent, wise counsel on such matters. We're following the state and county on closure, and that meant, well. That meant, definitively: no Easter worship in our sweet little brick sanctuary. It was no surprise, but still set a little heavy. My soul felt weary and as grey as the day. It's hard to set aside the rituals of meaning that define a life.
I checked the mail, and the phones, and the general integrity of the building. I took a couple of calls, did some prep for Sunday's bible study, and then headed home.
Getting off the Beltway, nearly back, I stopped at a light. By the side of the road, an abandoned, handwritten sign on a piece of cardboard. The young woman who panhandles there, now gone. But her words remained, the ink clear and unblurred by rain.
"Anything helps," said the sign.
Well. That is good to know.

March 24

Yesterday was Monday, and Monday is a slower day. Wet and cool, on the border of cold. I felt that cold as I weeded, clearing out the soil in the raised bed to the left of the driveway. In between the weeds, kale poking up, starting to flourish, sweet from the cold of winter.
Clearing around the kale was hard and manual. I squatted, feeling the long squat in my knees and quads, my fingers probing into the rich dark soil, the wetness chilling to the bone. But the weeds needed to be gone from the bed, and other greens planted. So I dug and pulled and pulled and dug, my hands crusted with dirt and numbed with cold.
When I came back into the kitchen, I washed my hands, scrubbing the earth from under my nubby, bitten nails, the warm water a blessing.

March 23

Yesterday after virtual church, I went to the store. I walked, because if I can walk an errand, I do. It's good for me physically, and better for creation, and better for my soul. Walking clears my mind, and disconnects me from the strange compound hysteria of our virtual world. So I strapped on one of our big frame packs, and walked with my son and his girlfriend to the local Harris Teeter. Round trip: about three and a half miles. It's just around half an hour walk each way, if you dawdle.
The flowers, in bloom, the air sweet the scent of spring. We passed shuttered schools and quiet churches. A funky little house we'd never noticed before, yard neatly ordered, surrounded by polka dotted poles upon which sat the Buddha's head. We passed the sweet little gardens out front of my son's old elementary school, and critiqued the book selection in a Tiny Library. One doesn't see such things while driving.
At the Starbucks in the strip mall, a long line of cars snaking halfway across the parking lot. Each idling, windows up, sitting and waiting, occupants staring at their phones, locked away on a lovely spring afternoon. Humans are so peculiar.

March 21

Essential businesses must remain open, we are told.
Yesterday, I walked past one of the title lending "businesses" that have sprung up all throughout Virginia over the last two decades. In exchange for the right to take your car as collateral, they offer loans at absurdly high, usurious interest rates. 200%. 300%. It's fundamentally predatory, but such businesses present themselves as "providing a a lifeline." They give generously to the re-election campaigns of Virginia politicians, who serve them well.
With the economy seizing up, they were doing a brisk business. A woman, leaving in a late model Kia. Older, morbidly obese, and wearing a surgical mask. She did not look well. At the door, a woman and a man waited for admittance. I wondered which of the cars belonged to which. Was his the Toyota work-truck? Was hers the Honda Accord? They stood six feet apart from one another in the strangely warm March sun. They did not talk.
Inside, "easy money," now desperately needed, borrowed from an uncertain future at a heavy cost.

March 20

The two shopping carts sat on either side of the bench, piled with possessions. They usually can be found outside a Burger King, but BK is closed now for anything but take out.
I approached the mass of possessions, wondering in my selfish way if there would be an ask as I passed. Two of them, each familiar, were beneath an umbrella, opened to shelter them from an unusually hot March sun. He, grizzled and greybearded. She, sturdy, of indeterminate age, latina or indigenous.
I glanced at them, a furtive bourgeois curiosity. He was asleep, curled up, his head on her lap. She, her hand softly on his head, looking down at his face, her expression inscrutable. The umbrella, a shadowed halo cast around the two of them.
I looked away. It was too intimate, this moment of connection between the two.
She did not look up as I passed.

March 19

Two days ago, out in the back yard, I was gathering kindling for a coming cold snap. The dog seemed unusually happy. She eagerly trotted over to a spot behind the shed, where I'd seen her rolling about gleefully the day before. I followed, with the intent of stirring our compost pile. That's when I noticed the smell.
Behind the shed, the remains of a raccoon, a ruined shapeless mass of fur and dark melting flesh. It crawled with innumerable white and squirming things. The dog wanted so bad to roll in it, to perfume herself with it. Dog odorants, I think, would be named Old Stank and Rotstench no. 5. I sent her inside, which she did reluctantly and with her more usual ennui.
I buried what remained of it yesterday morning. Took the shovel, and dug out a small trench in the wet clay near the shed. I scooped the dripping pile of bone and blackness into the hole, and though it was utterly foul beyond foulness, I found myself laughing as I filled in the hapless creature's grave.
Were I in a writer's workshop with the Creator of the Universe, I'd call Them out on the foreshadowing. "This feels a little obvious," I'd say, right before the thunder drowned out my voice.

March 18

Every morning at sevenish, I'm out with the dog. It's bright, clear, and brisk this morning, the air sharp with cold. The dog snuffles about in her usual aimless way, tending to the scents that must be investigated. She leaves her little comments-section stream on whatever chat the passing neighbor dogs are having this week.
I, on the other hand, am listening. It is sevenish, but sevenish is different. The aural environment has changed. There's an ambient noise we suburban creatures simply forget, the soft thunder of millions of tons of steel constantly on the move. It is always present, always there, a distant cataract of steel and tire and tarmac.
Today, that roar is quieter. Not gone, but notably hushed. Its voice, lowered. As one might when one hears an unexpected sound upstairs. It feels wary. At attention.

March 17

Today is lovely, Spring evidently oblivious to the ambient anxieties and mortal fears of human beings. Our little suburban street is suddenly filled with foot traffic. Not just the usual trickle of dog walkers, but teens. Runners. Couples. Families with strollers.
A family passes. Their little girl, not more than two, leaves her mother's hand and capers across our front yard. She finds a stick. She squats and looks at it. Then she picks it up, considers her options for a moment, and throws it. Throwing it pleases her, and she scampers back to her mother's outstretched arm, utterly devoid of any care in the world other than perhaps finding another suitable throwing stick.

March 16

Last night, Lije and I dropped by the local Burger King, where we snagged a couple of Impossible Whoppers for takeout. The place was typically Annandale-diverse, as it tends to be.
Esconced in the corner was the grey bearded homeless man who usually spends a chunk of his days there, chatting with a couple of guys in baseball caps. He's there on cold days, and on rainy days, because he can be. The staff at the BK are fine with him being there, in a way I'm not sure other businesses would be.
When the restaurants all close, and the libraries close, one wonders where he'll go in this strange, unwelcoming time.