April 20, 2020

Family of fiddleheads


Far back in my woods, in the grove of hemlock and beech, the fiddleheads have appeared. Each little clump looks like a family of aliens, huddled together, keeping their distance from any other clump.

That's what my extended family feels like right now. Nine households, all within fifteen miles of each other, but each little group being forced to keep to themselves. We wave through front windows and talk from porches. We chat over computers and smart phones. My husband and I have several times driven to my oldest son's house, just to talk to Totoro Grandson through the glass window. What a weird impression of the world that six-month-old is getting. Maybe he thinks his grandparents are characters on a television show.

Yesterday, the weather was sunny. Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter and Sailor Boy found out that a local Italian bakery had takeout service, so they picked up boxes of treats and delivered them to family members. My daughter wanted to paint the shelves in the baby's room, so I found some leftover paint in my basement and put it out on the front porch for her to pick up. They chatted with me through the front window for a few minutes before heading to the Cottage (With-a-Why's house) and then to the Kitchen, where Boy in Black and Blonde Chef live. Later, when I was making meatballs and sauce for my parents, I drove to my daughter's house to get the egg she'd left out on her porch. She gave me a keyboard to deliver to Shaggy Hair Boy, so I drove out the Farm before going to my parents' house to drop off the sauce for their dinner.

It's really like a game of musical chairs, except with the chairs spread really far apart. We're always calling and texting, and someone is always delivering something, but the only time we are all together is on zoom.

April 15, 2020

First green

Woods in April

The whole world has paused, it seems, but that hasn't stopped the seasons from changing. On this morning's walk through the woods, it was snowing, but I could also see green everywhere, ferns and mayflowers and trilliums, and buds just beginning to open on trees.

April 12, 2020

Easter During a Pandemic

My husband and I drove to the houses of the family members nearest us to wish them a happy Easter. We don't own any masks, so we made do with bandanas.

"You look like bank robbers," my son Shaggy Hair Boy said, laughing. "Is this a thing people do now?"

It feels very odd not to be making a big meal or having everyone over. Family members have been sending photos and putting them up on facebook, but it's not the same. We're all safe and healthy, though, so I'm thankful for that.

April 10, 2020

Spring snow in the swamp

April Snow
It's snowing today. The air is cold and moist, and it felt good to breathe it deeply as I walked through the woods. A swamp is lovely during a spring snow. The white outlines the high spots, and the bugs haven't hatched yet. I'm lucky, during this time of quarantine, to have acres of land to roam each morning.

April 08, 2020

No chatting in the aisles

Bunny cake

Normally, I’d be busy this week: teaching my classes, going to meetings, and preparing for Easter dinner. Usually, I complain that the timing of Easter is inconvenient, falling during a hectic time of the semester. Each year, I try to get the grocery shopping done by Thursday if out-of-town family is arriving on Friday, and that means shopping on Wednesday afternoon since Thursday is a long day on campus.

But here’s something I’ve discovered during this pandemic: I complain about the busyness every year, but now I'm missing that busyness. I'm sad that I won't be going to the grocery store today.

I’ve shopped at the same grocery store my entire adult life, and during holiday shopping, I run into high school friends home to visit their families. Often the friend is clutching a list of items written in a shaky scrawl. “My mother wants artichoke hearts,” he’ll say, after giving me a hug and showing me smart phone photos of the newest grandchild. “Any idea where I can find them?”

The produce section is always crowded with old women, who don’t trust anyone else to choose their vegetables. I’ve heard many a spirited discussion over how to tell if a cantaloupe is ripe. (Some swear by the sound you hear when you thump on the cantaloupe, while others say you have to hold the fruit close to your nose and smell it. Either method seems horrifying during a pandemic.) Our carts are always fuller than usual. Before a holiday, for instance, I buy twenty pounds of potatoes; I’ve got a big family.

Holiday shopping takes longer than usual as shoppers circle back for specialty items they forgot or search for something they only buy once a year, which means it’s been moved from one shelf to some other place in the store. But we call out greetings to each other, we get into conversations while we wait in line at the deli, and we hug friends. We help each other find a bottle of molasses for the baked beans Dad wants or the pitted olives for Mom’s special tortellini salad. The store is filled with the energy of anticipation. Our loved ones are coming home, and we want plenty of food in the house.

I miss that ritual. I haven’t been to the grocery store in a month: my son-in-law has twice delivered groceries to our front step, and I’m grateful that our house is stocked with everything we might need. I know how very privileged we are. But still, it feels wrong not to be shopping for Easter.

The photo is the Easter bunny cake my mother usually makes. No bunny cake this year!

April 06, 2020

Through the window

my home office

My home office is a little room at the very front of the house. I've always had my desk pushed up against the window, so that when I'm working, I can look down the driveway and at the river birches on my front lawn. When my kids were young, I'd know when they came home from school.

After several weeks of quarantine, I've turned the desk so that I can sit right up against the window, which I've been opening on even the coldest days. When my son-in-law drops off groceries, I can say hello through the window. When neighbors walk past, I wave and ask how they are. Red-haired Niece came by one day with her two-year-old and her infant. She dropped a box of chocolate on my front porch, along with an Easter card colored by my grand niece, and we chatted through the window.

I'm privileged enough to have technology. I've been talking on the phone and videochatting with friends and family during this time. But still, nothing is quite like seeing a real live person on the other side of my window.

April 04, 2020

Across the lawn

my pregnant daughter from twenty feet away

Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter is expecting a baby in June, on her 34th birthday. We’d planned to spend our spring break together. She works at the big university that borders the small science college where I work, and we have the same academic calendar. We’d planned to take the train into the Big City Like No Other, one last mother-daughter trip before her first child arrives. We’d planned to wander the streets, browse through the shops in Chinatown and Soho, eat at little restaurants, and watch street performers in Washington Square.

But, of course, the City That Never Sleeps is now the epicenter of the pandemic. We cancelled our trip and spent spring break shifting our courses online. We now both spend a considerable amount of time each day reading the news, checking on family and friends, and worrying about our students. She keeps giving me reports from an online forum of pregnant women, where the anxiety about giving birth during a pandemic is running high.

It’s hard to live 2.7 miles away from my daughter and not see her. I talk to her on the phone multiple times each day. One cold sunny day, she drove over to sit in a chair in my backyard. I sat on the backstep, bundled in my winter coat, and we talked to each other, a good twenty feet between us. At my request, she stood up to stand sidewise and show me her pregnant belly, even pulling up her shirt so I could get a good look. Then we waved goodbye across the lawn, and she drove home.

April 03, 2020

Without zombies

Always, when my family joked about the Zombie Apocalypse, we would make plans of where we were all going to meet. That, I thought, would be the advantage of having four grown kids who all live within fifteen miles of me: in any kind of disaster we’d all be together.

Our houses have nicknames. My husband and I live at HQ, the home that all the kids still regard as headquarters. Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter and her partner live less than three miles away, in the Palace. It doesn’t look like a palace, it looks like a house in the woods. It’s the home where her partner was born (and I mean that literally), the home where he grew up. My son Boy-in-Black, his wife, and their six-month-old baby will soon be moving to the Kitchen, a house they are in the midst of renovating. It’s a modern house with lots of glass that would not offer much protection against zombies. My middle son Shaggy Hair and his wife live at the Farm, which might be ideal in a post-apocalyptic world since they raised chickens and have room for a huge garden. My youngest son With-a-Why and his partner live in the Cottage, walking distance from my home, which gives us a place to run when the zombies infiltrate HQ.

Any post-apocalyptic scenario has always involved lengthy discussions about where we’d gather and who would bring what. Never did we imagine this, each little family staying in their own house, communicating only via smart phone or computer, sending videos to each other as if we lived thousands of miles away.

Anxiety is high, of course. I live in the state that so far has been hit the hardest: more than 102,000 cases of coronavirus as of this morning, more than 300 in my small county alone. Those numbers will be higher tomorrow. The hospitals are overwhelmed already, which means that no visitors are allowed. I worry about my parents, who are 86 and 89, and live about six miles away, in the house that my father built. Living on their own lowers their risk considerably, but they are used to lots of contact with family members. We can deliver groceries to them, and send emails, and talk over the phone, and wave at them through their picture window, but none of that is the same as the family gatherings that we are all used to, when they get to hold babies on their lap and listen to the ridiculous conversations their grandchildren have.

It’s been three weeks since I’ve left my house, and more than a month since the last family gathering. I've already cancelled Easter dinner. My husband is an essential worker, so he’s now working crazy long days, seven days each week, with a skeleton crew. I’m alone most of the time, with my computer and my smart phone connecting me to the rest of my family and the rest of the world.

One thing that’s saved my sanity over the last few weeks has been a long visit from my grandpuppy Appa. I’ve always been a cat person rather than a dog person, but I’ve come to value his companionship. Like me, he loves long walks in the woods behind my house, and he wants to go outside no matter what the weather. So rain or shine, I’ve been tramping through the woods, noticing the brilliant mosses, and looking for signs of spring, which surely must come.

Dog on mossy log