March 20, 2020
Relative to our normal life, quiet, innately reclusive, moderately tranquil, yesterday was a bit wild. A weasel got into our chickens and killed two, with that strange frenzy they exhibit, killing more than they can eat, ripping out throats and licking blood, leaving most of the corpse intact. It has happened to us before, one time from a neighbor’s dog, a little fluffy thing who went feral to kill a pullet and leave it uneaten. Evidently atavism is never very far away.
We are close to what we call “nature” here, with bears wandering through our back yard, moose feeding on our crab apples, fox, deer, and more than once weasels; not any more—or less—part of nature than someone in a Park Avenue condo, just perhaps a little more continuously aware of the fact. Even human life in the Postmodern emanates from nature. The virus is a forceful reminder of this, and maybe we need to heed its message, whether you’re seeing it through the window to your backyard, or on an x-ray, seething in your father’s lungs.
Yesterday, probably the last social event in a long time, we had a friend, J.over for lunch—chili, with the last cans of beans from the co-op, and talked about old times.. It’s always good to talk with him. He’s on Netflix, and watches movies, mostly old ones, every night, with his two drinks: vodka, tonic and a little water to dissolve the fizz. So we like to talk movies when we meet at the P.O.
He recommended the surgical practise that did my hips, quite successfully in 2018. He’s had both hips and a knee replaced, they’re wearing out a bit after 20 years( he’s almost ninety.) And he had a fall the other day, on the concrete sidewalk in Littleton, which left his arm and side fairly banged up. He says, “ I just lay there figuring eventually someone would come along and help me up.” And so someone eventually did, allowing him to limp off.
He brought along a nice white from Chateau St. Michelle, in Washington, now better known for it’s terrible outbreak and death toll. We had a good time, the talk was pleasant—if a little grisly, for someone younger –of dead loved ones, and various diseases and plagues which have beset us in the past.
I had rheumatic fever at age twelve just at the cusp of the time when it was discovered curable with massive doses of penicillin, isolation, and extended bed rest. I nearly died then, but recovered after a six month strict bed rest. I was lucky to have an adventurous country doctor who still made house calls. My case so intrigued him he became a cardiac specialist and moved to Florida, blessed be his name (Dr. Balch.).
A friend of mine of sixty some years, Freddy Dobrowolski , wears a permanent slightly sardonic one sided grin, souvenir of a childhood bout with polio. These diseases no longer really exist, at least in the western world. With such experiences as a child one probably sees the world a little differently. Whatever the disease of the moment, illness will always be a permanent condition of humanity.
Declaring war on a virus is a serious category error of a kind we keep making. Health is a more complex affair than curing diseases one by one, particularly if, as in this case, the disease, and its contagion are premised on the very conditions of the world we have made. Maybe the disease is that world, and the virus just a symptom.
S. wrote from San Antonio, where he lives in a bucolic suburb backing onto a boy scout camp, where deer wander into his backyard; he’s an eminent scientist who is continually attending world conferences on the climate crisis; his wife, J. is a retired pathologist. I mention this background to underline the following: On March 14th, he and his wife went to the square-dancing group they’ve been attending, reluctantly he says, but overriden because the group had continued to meet, and because denial re the virus was still the prevalent mood. He estimates that in the course of the evening, the two of them exchanged with other people, 640 touches.
The question of acculturation enters when 2 scientists, with years of training and a belief system founded on data, research empirical truth and scientific authority, would trust what their neighbors think, what’s called “common sense” and put their health at risk—or other peoples’ lives if they were carriers. I wrote to him that it was one of the most terrifying experiences I’d yet heard, and for God’s sake: NO MORE square dancing!
My friend Irene who, as a child in the Paris Marais, missed by minutes being picked up and sent to a death camp, once told me, “ Denial is never a good thing.”
This evening, the last of the three chickens attacked by the weasel died in my arms with a great flapping shudder.
Photo credit: tasteofhome.com