PANDEMIC DAYS with Sue Wurster: COVID-19 YIN AND YANG

COVID-19 YIN AND YANG

By Sue Wurster

Over the course of this past year,  when so many have been limited to screen time with their grandchildren, I am almost embarrassed by my incredible good fortune: my young daughter and her toddler  live with me. And that boy, my first grandbaby, truly is a “bundle of joy.” (Literally. His name is Sekani, which is Egyptian for joy.) There is nothing more wonderful than holding him, playing with him, watching him grow and learn…unless it’s seeing him with his Mama. They are the best of friends.

And during this strange time, we seem to have made new friends too.  Humanity seems to have moved over a bit, giving Mother Nature some elbow room.  My friend Anne has seen a bobcat in her back yard in Harvard. Polly has spotted a bear on her New Hampshire property. Our neighborhood online bulletin board features almost daily notices of back yard sightings–coyote, fox, deer, wild turkey, and even, today, a weasel in his winter white ermine coat.  The marmot who has lived on our hill for years recently introduced himself to Sekani–while maintaining a respectful six-foot social distance, of course.  And at one point, we discovered that an opossum had chosen our garage as his final resting place.

This quarantine has actually forced us to slow down, take walks, and pay more attention to what surrounds us.

It pushed me to turn off the news and get back into the quiet habit of long, leisurely reading.  For me, it has truly been the best and worst of times…which brings me to the yang, quite literally the black spot, of this tale.

I love Ray Bradbury. And one of my favorite Bradbury short stories, The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl, features a man who has just murdered his nemesis in his enemy’s library.   As he wipes away potential fingerprints on and near the body, he begins to remove his possible fingerprints from anything he might have touched at the scene. He dusts the glass he had held, the book his host had handed him to look at, the pipe he had been offered.  He dabs at the floor around the body again, looks up, and notices…the wall. After deciding that he definitely had not touched the fruit at the bottom of the bowl on the table in the dining room, he eventually goes back and wipes it clean.  Hours later, when the police arrive, they find him in the attic–polishing the old coins and the old china, and as they escort him out of the gleaming house, he burnishes the brass front doorknob and exclaims, “Done!”

Lately, I have felt strangely like Bradbury’s obsessed murderer, leading me to suspect that I have contracted a rare variant of the Covid-19 virus: Covid OCD.

It all started with my closet.

There, a host of now-too-big clothing had proved to be too much for the large woven carryall it had been landing in to await a trip to a nearby Planet Aid donation bin. As the pile was now blocking my drawers, I bagged it up and lugged it downstairs.  There my eye fell upon the overflowing laundry baskets in the corner, which I bagged and tossed down the stairs as well.  When I turned, the rumpled sheets on the bed seemed to hiss and sneer at me until I actually yanked them into place, smoothed the coverlet, and fluffed the pillows.

I had not actually made the bed in years…

Since then, every closet, cupboard, desk, bin, shelf, and drawer in the house has been “weeded” and organized. “Sell by” and “Best if Used by” directives have been dutifully noted and followed. Basement detritus has boarded the local Anything Goes truck. Twenty-seven  bags of paperback books and videos have landed in the bin at More Than Words , the youth-run used bookstore in town.  Boxes of hard covers from teaching days went to the library, my girls’ former schools, and friends.  Stray hard copy family photos now grace album pages, and their digital counterparts are now meticulously organized, labeled, and filed–ready for the next wave. Dishes no longer languish in the sink. Dirty clothes bags no longer litter the laundry room floor. Tasks on the “To Do” lists actually get checked off—done in short order. And the trash bins along the driveway burst with detritus uncovered by the whole manic purge.

Considering the significantly growing number of trash bins and bags on my street on Friday mornings, awaiting pick up, it is clear that this particular offshoot of the virus is not unique to me. It is also clear that it is contagious. My daughter, who has never demonstrated any proclivity for neatness whatsoever in all of her twenty years, started vacuuming her room about three weeks ago.

Clearly, this weeding and sorting and organizing frenzy is about the need to create at least some sense of order in our lives. It is about being able to exert and maintain control over some aspect of our daily existence.

And even though I understand what this condition may really be about, I hear the plaintive calls of old china and other items long relegated to the attic calling my name, wheedling for attention…and I am compelled to respond.

“Done!”

BOLLI Matters “Blog Mistress” Sue Wurster

Sue has spent virtually her whole life reading, writing, acting, directing, public speaking, advising literary magazines and newspapers–she’s been known in certain circles as “Wurster the Wily Word Woman.”

PANDEMIC DAYS with Peter Bradley: Walk–Late Winter

Walk—Late Winter

By Peter Bradley

The drizzle has let up. After several days of never getting further from the house than the back yard bird feeders, I decide to take a walk. Not many others are out on this Sunday afternoon. The walkers and runners that fill the sidewalks on sunny days are dissuaded today, I suspect, by the iron sky and temperatures only a bit above freezing.

Walking has always been a form of meditation for me, a way to release the stresses of the world. I go without headphones and usually leave my phone behind. Much of the joy of the walk comes from the pedestrian sights and sounds along these suburban roads or, better, in the paths through the parks and sanctuaries that I’m fortunate to have nearby.

Today, I’m first conscious of the click of pen against notebook in my pocket each time my right foots hits the ground. It’s a syncopated rhythm, slightly off the beat—left, right-click; left, right-click. Then, as I start up the hill toward the high school, I become aware of the sound of my breath, the accelerating beat of my heart.

I turn off the main road to an even quieter neighborhood. At first, all seems silent, but soon I become aware of the many sounds that are there if you listen hard enough—some from nature, some from human invention. A distant crow caws repeatedly, its call moving closer. Then, there it is, flapping across the road to a nearby copse between houses. I haven’t seen many crows this winter, although they were abundant in the fall, and I wonder where they have gone. Above me now growls a small single engine plane, moving a few hundred feet up and crossing from left to right as if tracking the now silent crow.

As I approach a corner, three young women cross in front of me keeping a pace that would leave me breathless. But their speed has no apparent effect on their conversation: I cannot hear the words, but it is clear they are engaged in a lively and friendly exchange. They quickly go around a curve in the road, out of sight and hearing.

The quiet returns for a moment, but soon the stillness is cracked by a sound I recognize from my own long distant youth—the clack, clack of hockey sticks.  Four young boys fill a driveway with a game of street hockey, fighting over the orange ball that serves as their puck. I have my cap pulled over my ears and my coat zipped up, but the boys, creating heat by their effort, play bareheaded and have discarded their coats on the snow.

I keep walking, choosing my turns almost at random. I see a few people are out shoveling even though much of last week’s snow has disappeared. Here and there along the way, branches brought down by that snowfall lie by the roadside, the still cream-colored scars where they broke from the trees in sharp contrast to the gray bark and winter-dulled grass where they lay.

I pass a baseball field, its forlorn space still covered by patches of snow. There, near home plate, a small bird looks sidelong at the soil—a robin! It’s the first I have seen in months. Far overhead, a jet rumbles.

As that sound moves away, I hear a cardinal practicing his song, preparing for the coming spring. He’s answered by the peter-peter-peter of a tufted titmouse. Now I see them in the naked branches, both silhouetted against the sky.

I turn back toward home, heading downhill now and the syncopated click of pen and notebook pick up the tempo. Several people are out walking their dogs and one woman approaching along the other side of the street pushes a baby carriage. I catch only a glimpse of the child, who appears to be an infant, a few weeks old at most, I surmise. Welcome to a very strange time, I think.

I pause on a small bridge over a brook, lean on its stone wall and gaze down the brook to where it empties into a pond. Most of the ice that covered it only days ago has gone, and I can make out ducks moving across the water.

Home is nearby. When I get there I may make a cup of tea to offset the cold, but I am in no hurry. I can stand here and watch the ducks awhile.

BOLLI Member Peter Bradley

Peter Bradley spent most of his career in business journalism after stints as a newspaper reporter and editor as well as a decade teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grades. His other pursuits include amateur theater, hiking, painting, cycling, and doting on his five grandchildren. He lives in Norwood, Mass.