Corona Journal

Corona Journal

March 26, 2020

I meant this page for travel stories.  But the strange trip we’re all on is a kind of journey, destination unknown.

I had some thoughts that are a little too rambling for Facebook, then I remembered my blog—unused since I was in India a couple of years ago.

This morning, making my tea here in Oregon on a cloudy spring day when the temperature still dips into the 30s at night, I heard a verse in my head.  I turned off the radio (which is on far too many of the hours of the day now) and went to a bookshelf.  I found the turquoise clothbound volume of T.S. Eliot I’ve had since graduate school in the 1970s.  (That’s not a typo.  The nineteen seventies.)

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

They are famous lines. Appended at the end of the poem and not particularly necessary to it, they stick in one’s head like a nursery rhyme, an adult nursery rhyme quite suitable to the adult pessimism of pretty much any part of the twentieth century.  The date of the poem is 1925, and some of its pessimism could be Eliot’s response to WWI’s devastation and despair.

For reasons I don’t quite remember, I loved Eliot when I was in my 20s in graduate school.  I posted some lines from the Four Quartets around my apartment and even memorized a few.  I think I quoted some of those lines during my PhD orals, even though my specialty at that point was medieval English literature, not modern.

Eliot has since been documented as an anti-Semite, and thus become questionable, even distasteful. In any case, I left literature behind years ago and became a journalist; for many years I have read more non-fiction than fiction or poetry.

Coincidentally, however, I had just started reading David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth before I went to the kitchen to make my second cup of tea.  And that’s when the final lines of The Hollow Men tickled and surfaced in those mysterious synapses we call our brains.  Now the two books sit here beside me on this chilly morning, atop my down comforter, my cat in her fuzzy little clamshell at the foot of my bed, the sun breaking through behind the clouds.  I see the blue and white sky through the bare branches of a mature oak outside my big bedroom window. Through one eye the moss on its branches is khaki colored.  Through the other eye that very same fuzz of moss is a quite lovely shade of pale green, a kind of sage but brighter.

My iPhone calendar just reminded me I have an appointment for a check up with my ophthalmologist in Berkeley today.  But I don’t.  The cataract surgery I was supposed to have yesterday on my left eye—the eye that sees khaki moss—was, of course, cancelled.  Surgery on the right eye, the eye that sees bright sage, was done at the end of February, just days before we all started washing our hands with the same assiduity of the hospital techs.  But even so it was weeks before we fully realized life was changing, and my surgery was canceled, and I didn’t get into my old Camry to drive down to my other home, the East Bay.

I perch here on a hill above an old lumber town, Roseburg, Oregon.  A town that is sadly full of MAGA hats and bumper stickers. But it’s a town with some redeeming features for me in my semi-retirement (good yoga teachers, a meditation group of fellow vipassana practitioners, a gym with a fine Olympic size pool, and a multiplex that surprises me from time to time with the kind of films that I like and watch with only a couple of other patrons).  Of course all is closed now.  Without them I need to create a new rhythm to my day, one with less radio, more books.  More writing.  I posted excerpts from Pepys and Defoe on Facebook recently, snippets describing the great plague in London in 1646.  I think I was hinting to myself to start my own journal.  So here it is.


March 27, 2020

I am devolving. I set out to read this morning about that other ongoing catastrophe, the climate crisis.  I again picked up The Uninhabitable Earth, into which I had only gotten a few pages before being distracted first by my own mind, then by the rhythms of the day here:  a walk in the park with a friend.

On our way back from what has become an almost daily stroll through Stewart Park down a reach of the South Umpqua River, a guy with a dog yelled at us, something about a phone. I answered from about 25 yards that I couldn’t let him use my phone.  He said his phone was dead and just wanted us to make a call for him.  A young dog was bounding around his taller, slightly less playful, but interested canine.  He needed some help.

He managed to read the number on the collar and I called the animal rescue group here, Saving Grace. We left a couple of messages with phone numbers about the incessantly playful pup, which may or may not have been reunited by now with the person who was fostering him until he could find a permanent home.  Saving Grace must be overextended now.  They may have to cancel their summer fund raising banquet.  The way Cal Shakespeare has cancelled its summer season.  The way the Olympics has been postponed.

I said I was devolving.  Minor frustrations this morning led me to throwing magazines across the room.  My laptop is slow.  Can’t download things.  That was part of this week’s plan, to have a tech guy in Oakland clean up and update my Macbook Air.

Writing these words makes me a little calmer.  But the rage that surfaced this morning is perhaps a symptom of terror, terror not just for my own life and the lives of my friends, but for the entire planet, for natural creation, for the beautiful things created by humanity and by forces other than human.  Much is at risk.  Every few hundred million years, notes Wallace-Wells, somewhere between 75 and 86 percent of all species on the planet have been wiped out.

The parallels between the climate crisis and the epidemic are pretty clear:  we were warned often and in detail by experts; governments and people proceeded heedlessly.  So here we are, the only good thing being less carbon dioxide in the air because traffic is decimated in some places.

I don’t have anything smart to add about the parallel.  I have done my part in creating and ignoring the twin crises.  Brings to mind the twin towers, the emblem that stamped the beginning of this century.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Is it?

One thought on “Corona Journal

  1. realwormlips

    Of course the timing of Eliot’s poem is interesting insofar as it’s only a handful of years after the 1918 influenza epidemic. Must have seemed like the end of the world at the time. I had an uncle who got the virus as a baby and had brain damage as a result. When I knew him, he was 6’6″ tall with the mind of a child, and he scared the crap out of me. But once again, I digress.

    Thank you so much for posting this, and I look forward to more.

    Liked by 2 people

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