One of the largest employers in Cedar Rapids, Collins Aerospace, announced salary cuts and furloughs in response to the coronavirus pandemic. They aren’t the first big company to do it.
Last night the Walt Disney Company, where our daughter works, announced furloughs beginning April 19 for union-represented cast members. There is a long list of corporations with furlough plans.
A month ago corporations were aware of the potential business risks of a pandemic. They froze things in place with some adjustments to see how the pandemic evolved. Next, they are taking steps to ensure longer-term financial survival and recovery. We’re a month into broad recognition of the pandemic which suggests business management believes, and we should as well, we are a long distance from exiting the restrictions imposed on our lives and returning to things like grocery shopping, buying gasoline, flying, visiting theme parks, and going to church without anxiety.
A team of Harvard researchers said models project social distancing may need to continue into 2022 to prevent medical systems from being overwhelmed by a resurgence of the novel coronavirus. The happy talk about “opening up the economy” rings hollow right now.
We go on living.
Yesterday I finished planting the main onion patch. That there is an onion patch is a change from previous years. By noon there were eight rows with seven varieties:
Red, yellow and white from the home, farm and auto supply store, varieties unknown but likely a July harvest.
Matador Shallots, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 90 days from transplant.
Ailsa Craig Onion Plants, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 95 days from transplant.
Patterson Onion Plants, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 86 days from transplant.
Red Wing Onion Plants, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 103 days from transplant.
All of the onion work is an experiment in being more successful in growing them. Red, white and yellow unknown varieties were from bulbs, the shallots from seeds, and three varieties of onions from Johnny’s are storage onions. Weeding and proper watering will be needed now and for the next three months until harvest.
It snowed last night. The temperature inside the portable greenhouse was 48 degrees this morning because of the space heater used overnight. The plants looked fine, although the cooler temperature will slow germination of recently planted seeds. Snowfall will delay planting in the garden as the soil was already too wet yesterday when I spaded a strip. We’ll see what the day brings, however, the snow should melt and if the lawn dries enough I could get some mowing done and use the clippings to mulch the garlic and onions. Lot of “ifs.”
On the tenth day of my unpaid leave of absence from the home, farm and auto supply store I’m waiting for the next shoe to drop so I can figure out how to manage our lives on the prairie.
I know gardening will be part of it yet there’s more to come.
The coronavirus changed and is changing how we live, temporarily and permanently.
Today we don’t understand what is on the other side of the pandemic nor when that will be. I’ve been working to figure it out.
Ambient temperatures were chilly all day yesterday with a strong, consistent breeze. The ground was too wet to dig in the garden. It was a sunny and picture book spring day. Even though there is a lot to do outside, Monday wasn’t a day to do it.
In the garage I planted a third flat of spinach for the garden:
Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach, Ferry-Morse, 45 days.
As if to show the economy was still operating, the United States Postal Service delivered my Practical Farmers of Iowa Spring Issue, a Land’s End catalogue, and a box of onion starts just when I need to plant them. I know what politicians mean when they say “open up the economy,” yet ask how does one re-start something that never shut down?
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced yesterday personal stimulus payments had begun to be issued in waves with 80 million of them to be sent by Wednesday. The government knows how to spend our money, that’s for sure. If our household receives what we hear in the news that would be equivalent to three months take-home pay at the home, farm and auto supply store. (While I was typing the stimulus hit our bank account).
I ran an expense analysis of our household budget while dodging the windy work outside. With or without the stimulus payment we would be able to pay regular living expenses for the rest of the year without sacrificing our lifestyle. The coronavirus has me asking whether I should even return to my part time job.
In Iowa we don’t know the spread of COVID-19. We aren’t doing much testing. We have little visibility into what the governor or the Iowa Department of Public Health are doing. Yesterday Katarina Sostaric, state government reporter for Iowa Public Radio posted on Twitter:
Iowa’s #COVID19 testing is still limited and actual case numbers are likely much higher than those reported by the state. Today Gov. Reynolds said, “We’ve been in substantial spread for quite some time…you should just assume it’s in your community no matter where you live.”
Based on Reynolds’ statement I’m not comfortable returning to work after my unpaid leave of absence which ends May 5. The terms of the program are if I seek additional time off, I will have to resign. If I want to return to work after that, I have to reapply. If I do resign the chances of me re-applying are pretty slight. There’s ample time to consider this. Resigning is how I’m leaning today.
What would I do if I quit? Go on living.
Since the coronavirus, combined with Republican efforts to kill the postal service, have them on the brink, I will buy some postage and send a few post cards. Not sure that will save them, but it’s something. Every bit helps.
I’m still soil blocking at the farm and took this photo to prove it.
The coronavirus pandemic is impacting the food system dramatically. I didn’t think we’d be in such a position yet there are legitimate concerns about running out of food while large dairies and vegetable and meat producers destroy excess perishables because so many U.S. restaurant dining rooms are closed. One would think the distribution challenges could be resolved, although they haven’t yet been.
Our household will make it through the food supply turbulence, and I’ll make sure our neighbors do as well. Barring unexpected issues it looks to be a great garden year.
The combination of using a large greenhouse and my portable one makes things possible that weren’t last year. I’m starting more seeds at home and soon will see the result. A larger number of seedlings are growing at home than I’ve had this early. Also no worries about vegetable predators.
There are responsibilities with having a home greenhouse. Mainly monitoring internal temperature and watching the weather for strong winds. Too hot or too cold and seedlings in which so much was invested could perish. A strong wind could blow the structure over despite 200 pounds of sand buckets weighing it down. I used the Weather Channel app on my phone before, yet find myself checking it more often with a home greenhouse. Last night the temperature dipped below freezing so I hooked up a space heater to protect the seedlings.
I also transplanted pepper starts from a channel tray to larger soil blocks.
Where I am deficient in technique, I’m learning needed skills at the farm. I’m re-engineering how I grow peppers as part of the barter arrangement with the farmer. I’m also learning how to produce a better crop of onions. As a result of this learning, I placed a heating pad and channel trays in the on-line shopping cart at the seed company. The seed company is not taking orders from home gardeners because of the pandemic. I won’t use them until next year in any case, so there is time. A bigger concern is whether they will ship my onion starts before planting time. Because of a need to keep their employees safe during the pandemic, their shipping process slowed down.
As usual I was tired after my shift at the farm.
I went home and took a shower, then it rained in the afternoon. Once the ground dries out, I’ll return to the garden. My hope is to harvest grass clippings for mulch before the lawn gets too tall. I don’t know about that if it keeps raining.
A gentle rain fell after noon in Big Grove Township. Forecast to be a quarter of an inch, it continued into nightfall, slow and gentle. It was the kind of spring rain we need and have come to expect.
Neighbors worked in our yards in the morning: trimming trees, collecting brush, gardening and mowing. Children were supervised by parents and the sound of their laughter penetrated the neighborhood. With the coronavirus pandemic we checked in with each other, chatted some, maintained our distance, then returned focus to the work at hand.
After planting I picked up and cleaned garden fencing from where I laid it to prepare the garden plots. Rolled bundles are piled near the Bur Oak trees until needed. For now, nothing is growing above ground that wildlife will eat.
I seeded the last of the early crops in the ground before the rain started:
The portable greenhouse is filling so I consolidated seedlings to make room for what I’ll bring back from the farm today. I gave a tray of broccoli and kale to a neighbor for their garden. Later I’ll post an offer of free seedlings for neighbors on our social media group. Kale is not as popular as I’d like and not everyone gardens.
Inside, I made luncheon of a cheese sandwich with a single slice of bread, spooned out some pickles, and turned to what would be the afternoon’s work.
I have two archival-style boxes of postcards containing hundreds collected from all over, maybe a couple thousand in all. Some were sent to me. Some purchased while traveling in the United States, Canada and Europe. Some bought at auctions for a dollar or two bid per bundle. When I visited second hand stores, if they had a postcard section I browsed for good ones. Post cards are an inexpensive collectible.
At some point I segregated those with more personal meaning from the boxes and put them in trunks with other memorabilia from those periods of my early life. Our parents used to take us to Weed Park in Muscatine, driving along Highway 61 from Davenport in our 1959 Ford. I have a photograph of Dad, my brother, my sister and me standing near the car with the Mississippi River in the background. I put the postcards of Weed Park in the trunk from the time before Father died.
I went through both boxes and looked at every card during a single, four-hour shift.
What strikes me about those hours is the nature of memory. Not only do I have memories evoked by artifacts, I have the sense of being in those places literally.
For example, today is the 75th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death in Warm Springs, Georgia. In June 1976 four of us left Fort Benning, Georgia where we were taking infantry officer training and drove the 45 miles to visit. We saw the chair where FDR died and I bought a postcard from the gift shop.
I found the postcard in one of the boxes last night. It had the date and names of the other three soldiers who went with me written on the back. I saw myself in that room again, just like it was in the present. What is that experience? I had to look it up.
After consolidation, long-term memories are stored throughout the brain as groups of neurons that are primed to fire together in the same pattern that created the original experience, and each component of a memory is stored in the brain area that initiated it (e.g. groups of neurons in the visual cortex store a sight, neurons in the amygdala store the associated emotion, etc). Indeed, it seems that they may even be encoded redundantly, several times, in various parts of the cortex, so that, if one engram (or memory trace) is wiped out, there are duplicates, or alternative pathways, elsewhere, through which the memory may still be retrieved.
Therefore, contrary to the popular notion, memories are not stored in our brains like books on library shelves but must be actively reconstructed from elements scattered throughout various areas of the brain by the encoding process. Memory storage is, therefore, an ongoing process of reclassification resulting from continuous changes in our neural pathways, and parallel processing of information in our brains.
Shorter version: the postcard caused a group of neurons which physically comprised the memory to recreate it in real time.
This is particularly important when writing a memoir. Perhaps the hardest part of my work has been to resist the influence of today’s life on memories retained. Historians refer to this as presentism, or an “uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.” It is important to learn how to live from memories and experiences we’ve had. In our search for meaning today, it’s important to refrain from assigning arbitrary values to our past. We have to let the memories exist and pay attention to what they are.
In the 50 years since Father died I frequently revisited the memory of the night men from the meat-packing plant arrived at our home to console Mother while we waited in our parents’ bedroom for news. I suppose the worst parts of those days after his death are blocked, or whatever psychological term represents that. I don’t want to put a name to that blocking process because while other memories physically exist in my brain, over the years I’ve adopted a view, or perspective about what that memory is. While that may provide comfort, when writing autobiography we have to work at retrieving that contemporaneous experience. It must be what it is. That distinction between the memory told and the actual memory is at the core of what I’m about in my writing.
When I woke last night to use the bathroom I thought about what I would write this morning. The shift of postcards prompted something… a lot of somethings. It’s not that complicated. In the rush of viewing memories prompted by a thousand or more artifacts, in a single sitting, we must get a grip on the quantity and manage it. In the end, though, do we need to do that?
Is it better to live in a hurricane of memories and hope for survival? It is better to confront the wind than hide from it. That is my only conclusion today, except for the notion I must post a photo of our Bluebells for complicated reasons.
I took one of the cars for a spin, literally. I drove out of the subdivision, north on the lane to the highway, and proceeded to the roundabout at the intersection leading alternately to Ely, the state park, or back to the City of Solon. I drove around a few times. My gas gauge showed full, so I drove back home. The traffic was light so I didn’t bother anyone.
Today is the ninth day since I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store. I began my 30-day unpaid leave of absence for the coronavirus pandemic on April 6. Time away from structured work will scramble life in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Unimportant things fall off. There is new focus on daily habits and patterns. Something different and hopeful will emerge from the isolation. There is no path back to my life before the pandemic. I appreciate social isolation yet recognize our common endeavors on this floating blue-green sphere. I look forward to diving back into society.
The rest of my day was spent considering how to layout the garden, working in the garden, and managing seedlings in my portable greenhouse. I expect to bring seedling trays back from the farm on Sunday so I’d better make room.
It’s been 35 days since Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds activated the state emergency operations center to prepare for COVID-19. According to the Iowa coronavirus website there have been 1,388 confirmed cases of the disease and 31 deaths. Hardest hit have been middle aged adults (ages 41-60) with 537 cases, followed by adults (ages 18-40) with 432. We don’t have detailed statistics about ages of the deceased. 506 people are recovering.
“Flattening the curve” entered common parlance. The idea is to spread contraction of COVID-19 over time so medical capacity is not overwhelmed by patients needing care. As of today, Iowa has enough hospital beds, ICU units and invasive ventilators to meet demand during the pandemic. It is early, but if caseload holds at current levels we may run out of ICU units first. We are a long way from using available hospital beds. Given the projected numbers, a tweak in the system will be needed to accommodate patients. Today, peak resource use is projected for April 30.
We don’t know how many have contracted COVID-19 because of a lack of testing beyond people who self-identify with symptoms or are diagnosed by a medical practitioner. Many have criticized the government response to the pandemic. After all, we live in a Democracy with social media. My sense is the state is doing the best they can while the shit show in Washington, D.C. provides distraction for those who want it. There is no lack of things to distract us.
The governor announced the June 2 primary election will go on. The Secretary of State announced he will send absentee ballot requests to every registered voter. This weekend we’ll print requests ourselves, fill them out, and send them to the county auditor. The only contested races here are for county supervisor, U.S. Senate, and county sheriff. Easy decisions all. The big election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
It’s hard to believe people are undecided about the direction of the country. Social media allows minority opinions to flourish and gain traction within that small universe of voters. People are bitching and moaning about various aspects of the candidates and process. But undecided? How is that even possible now that we know the choices for president? In October 2008 David Sedaris summarized my current feelings about undecided voters.
I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”
To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.
Rain is forecast after 2 p.m. There is more planting to do, branches to cut into firewood and fencing to clean and mend. Making space in the greenhouse takes time, but that will be done in the garage if it rains.
It’s part of sustaining a life during the coronavirus pandemic.
A month after Governor Kim Reynolds activated the Iowa emergency operations center to cope with the coronavirus pandemic I took a 30-day unpaid leave of absence from the home, farm and auto supply store.
My close family gave a thumbs up.
After a trip to the grocery store the plan is to hole up here in Big Grove to ride out the pandemic. Early spring is a great time to spend more time at home. The garden will benefit greatly.
Yesterday I planted squash seeds in trays for my greenhouse:
Raven Hybrid Zucchini, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 48 days.
Early Prolific Straightneck, Ferry-Morse, 50 days.
Early White Bush Scallop, Ferry-Morse, 50 days.
I posted in social media about my leave of absence and entered a discussion with a local friend about wanting to plant their garden, but not having seeds. I made a care package of early crop seeds and broccoli seedlings for them.
My dental appointment next week has been postponed due to the pandemic. In fact, more businesses are slowing down, delaying, and cancelling events. The Democratic Party decided to delay the county convention and is opting for on-line participation. I’m an alternate delegate this time and curious to see whether I get virtually “seated.” This week is expected to be a bad one in terms of COVID-19 positive test results and deaths in Iowa.
There are multiple models of the course of the pandemic. The one I favor points to April 26 as the possible peak in number of cases and deaths in Iowa. People social distancing at home watch the numbers closely. Regardless, we all must wait to see what happens as the pandemic runs its course.
I spent time cutting back overgrown lilac bushes in the backyard. The goal is to remove the old growth and let new recreate the appearance. The results are positive but I have to sharpen the chain saw before tackling the remaining thick trunks. This is preparation to cut back the ones in the front yard. The wood will create a second brush pile to burn before tomatoes go in.
A few masks for sawdust control rest in the garage medicine cabinet. I’ll take one to the grocery store and wear it while shopping. Hopefully I’ll survive another day of living in the coronavirus pandemic.
On a mild, clear Sunday I planted cool weather crops.
Arugula and lettuce planted in the ground March 2 are coming along. I tasted a tiny arugula leaf to confirm what it was. Mmmm. It won’t be long before I can make a pasta dish using fresh arugula with bow tie pasta.
In spurts of action with deliberate steps — a process developed as I slow down in the garden — I planted beets and turnips to fill out a patch near the early arugula and lettuce, and filled four containers with two varieties of potatoes, one with radishes and another with three types of onions from the home, farm and auto supply store to be harvested as spring onions. I filled out the onion container with basil seeds. It felt like I made progress.
I mulched the leaves remaining in the front yard, cleared off the plot which grew kale and cherry tomatoes last year, and removed the wire containers from the plot near the in ground containers. There’s more work to do as long as the rain holds off. I planted in soil:
Red Norland, ten weeks.
Kennebec, ten weeks.
Three varieties of bulb onions, three to four weeks for spring onions.
Purple Top White Globe, Ferry-Morse, 55 days.
Purple Top While Globe (certified organic), Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 50 days.
Sweet Italian Basil, Ferry-Morse, 70 days.
Red Meat, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 50 days.
French Breakfast, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 21 days.
Icicle Short Top, Ferry-Morse, 28 days.
Champion, Ferry-Morse, 28 days.
I removed the automobiles from the garage as I have each spring while planting the garden. I noticed my inventory of powered equipment increased. With a gas-powered trimmer, an electric tiller, two lawn mowers, and an electric and a gas-powered chain saw, it feels like I’m ready. The electric tiller is a concession to age, yet I admit it does a great job of preparing the soil for planting.
Sunday was gardening, as good as it gets. A fit thing to occupy ourselves as we maintain a distance from people because of the coronavirus.
It took five and a half hours to plant two apple trees on Saturday.
I need to move the support stakes as I put them too close to the trunk. Hopefully they will be easy to remove as they have been in the ground less than 24 hours.
I planted bare root trees that arrived Friday from Cummins Nursery, Ithaca, New York:
Zestar! on G.210 root stock.
Crimson Crisp (Co-op 39) on G.202 root stock.
Here’s hoping for apples in a couple of years.
I burned the first brush pile on the to be planted kale plot. It was a clean burn. After sunrise I will spade and till the plot. I also want to plant potatoes in containers and sow peas, beets, carrots, radishes and turnips. If there is time, transplant the first batch of spinach seedlings. There is a lot on the gardening agenda as spring has arrived.
How should I use the time after waking until sunrise, not just today, but going forward? I’m not sure. Other than to continue doing what I am, it is difficult to envision changes from routine as much as they may be needed. I’m too unsettled to contemplate change.
People say it is normal to experience anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing I’m normal is not reassuring and has made for restless nights.
The remedy will be to get lost in the work of putting in the garden. If I work longer shifts, maybe I’ll be tired enough at day’s end to sleep through the night. I’m a little sore from yesterday’s work as my spring conditioning regime in the garden begins. Engagement in a project has worked to relieve tension in the past.
It doesn’t help that I’m reading Anne Case and Angus Deaton’s new book exploring why capitalism is proving fatal for the working class with an uptick in mortality rates among white middle-aged Americans from what the authors call “deaths of despair.” There have been enough alcohol, opiod and suicide deaths in this group to reverse the 20th century trend of longer life expectancy. Other wealthy countries continue to see an increase in life expectancy in the new century. Americans do not. I’m looking forward to reading Case and Deaton’s analysis.
All this is not to say I find despair in daily life, I don’t. However, change is on the horizon. Unlike with the sunrise coming in an hour, it’s hard to know what to expect. I affirm today will be a gardener’s day with everything that means. That should be enough to move past the coronavirus engendered anxiety into something more meaningful.
The forecast was 100 percent chance of rain so I worked on the garden in the garage. I re-seeded dill and cilantro that didn’t germinate. I gave up on the shallots and onions which did not grow the way they should inside our home.
I planted new trays made from small shipping boxes lined with aluminum foil. The box of foil was printed with the date 1972. The improvised flats will serve. I planted:
There is a to-do list once the rain finishes and the ground dries out enough to till.
I text messaged the farm about Sunday’s seeding session and we called it off. The greenhouse is full. It’s too cold to put seedlings outside on wagons to harden. We texted back and forth for a while.
Text messages and phone calls are a part of farming that goes on regardless of the crop, almost every day. We stay semi-synchronized, although with a garden I’m very flexible.
My multi-colored Swiss chard didn’t germinate at all. The Fordhook chard didn’t germinate very well. If the seedlings that germinated survive transplant there will be enough chard from the garden for the kitchen. Celery takes the longest time to germinate and the report was it did. Things are looking good. There will plenty of green vegetables to transplant.
Yesterday they tilled and seeded carrots, peas, beets and spinach in the ground. I start my spinach and some beets in trays, but need to plant in the ground as soon as I can get in. Maybe over the next few days. After that, the next step is potatoes, then onions after the ground dries.
While working in the garage I began to dream.
I went on a reconnaissance mission to one of the training areas we used in Germany. I don’t recall where but I got to know Hohenfels, Baumholder, Fulda, Hofbieber, Dipperz and villages at the eastern entry point to the Fulda Gap.
My driver was Cheyenne and had just returned from leave where he attended a Sundance in Montana. I asked him if he ate peyote. He said he had. The driver was an E-1, the lowest enlisted rank. We had busted for getting into a fight and demoted him. He’d been our driver for almost a year. He was the best and the best we had. The peyote buttons remained between him and me. Our battalion commander didn’t want officers driving themselves, so he drove the M-151 quarter ton jeep.
Soon after I arrived in garrison the company motor pool sergeant who gave me a license to operate any piece of equipment in our unit. I’d had familiarization training at Fort Benning and qualified as a jeep driver at Fort Jackson, but the battalion commander was right, I didn’t know jack about fixing the jeep should it break down.
We drove up a ridge high above a valley whose name I can’t recall. It was a beautiful and calm place for reflection. I took notes and viewed the terrain through a pair of binoculars. We watched the clouds blow east up the ascent and over the ridge mid morning. As the valley cleared I finished the work we had come for and then drove back into a village to find lunch.
I don’t know why that experience came to me while planting cucumbers and lettuce. I’m thankful to have had it. It was a fitting dream while doing what I could to advance the garden.