Only a Cold

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I caught a cold last week. It showed its ugly presence on Saturday, with spasms of sneezing, a sore throat, and a developing cough. In the four days since that time, I’ve persuaded myself that it is not the dreaded new disease (no fever or chills), and that the disease is receding as I would expect it to. But its appearance even in the time of increased precautions against viral invaders shows that the new virus can be just as sneaky and opportunistic.

It is amazing how quickly the world has changed. Last week at this time, we were still looking forward to taking a trip to Key West for some hedonism. That was before I saw a cumulative display of disease cases day by day since January. When you see for yourself that the rate of reported cases was increasing by 12% per day, the numbers came alive for me and told me that if we ran the risk of taking a trip, we were not going to have a good time. Even if we safely ran the gauntlet and did not catch the disease, our time of relaxation would be ruined by worrying about making it back in one piece.

Having a background in math and statistics made it clear to me that we are in a global exercise we’ve not gone through since 1919. When a new virus emerges and passes into the human population, one that no one has immunity to, and one that appears to have a significant mortality factor, you have to watch it closely in order to gauge its infectivity and its effects. What is ironic is that China and the US shared an initial response to belittle the potential harm that this virus posed. In China, this resulted in the doctor who raised the initial alarm being censured by the Chinese state, prior to the time that the doctor succumbed to the disease. In the US, the potential for an epidemic was ridiculed by the President and his favorite press sources. We heard about the Democratic hoax that was aimed at bringing down the President. Even today, as of March 17, you can see a post by Dr. Ron Paul decrying the response to this epidemic as being overblown. In both cases, China and the US, precious time was lost in responding to the emergence of this disease. They will only take this disease seriously when family members are stricken by the pneumonia this disease can cause, and those family members are turned away from all hospitals because they’ve had to ration respirators and only those under age 80 will be treated. That’s the decision they are making in Italy, having to ration their available slots to the younger population.

It is a bit jarring to hear myself described as elderly, but since I’ve now crossed the age 65 divide, I now fall into the target demographic for this virus. So far the effect for us has been canceled concerts and canceled trips, and a lack of church services. The chorus we’ve been working on for months, a performance of Carmina Burana scheduled for April, has not been canceled formally but since no one can rehearse for it, it is on borrowed time. Our children are out of the house, and though one son is working in retail and will likely take a hit, we are able to help him out if needed. If we are not hit ourselves by the virus, we will weather the storm relatively easily.

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But for the economy of the world, we are now seeing the issues caused by the streamlining of supply chains by linking to non-domestic sourcing of parts. For decades now, the maxim of running public corporations solely for the maximizing of return to the shareholders has caused businesses to rely fully on foreign partners, either for finished goods, or for creating semi-finished goods that get completed elsewhere in the world. Quality improvement processes preached the benefits of lean assembly lines, since excess inventory hid systemic inefficiencies. So more and more businesses performed global integration of their supply chains. That process worked well until there was a supply disruption at the original point of manufacture. If the ultimate goal is to have product available to sell, then some inefficiency may be needed to allow for supply chain interruptions.

The disruptions in supply chains will continue to ripple through the world’s economy for months to come. Add to that the immediate disruption in the lives of service providers who will be laid off from their retail and food service jobs in the coming weeks, and we have the potential for a huge decrease in economic activity during the year. Already the governments of the world are generating proposals for helicopter money to be shoveled out and spread across the land. All of it with money borrowed from our distant descendents. This crisis has the potential to turn into a debt implosion, with the destruction of much of the seemingly secure capital in the world through waves of bankruptcy and discharge of debt. Will this black swan event be the one that causes the world to fundamentally reset its economic system? Growing economic inequality and growing dependence upon government debt to sustain the illusion of economic growth are at the point of totally collapsing. When no one can keep the appearances up, what happens to the world?

The barren shelves in the stores and the anecdotes about pitched battles for the last shreds of toilet paper have shown us how close we are to unraveling as a civilization. As long as we had sports, and access to material goods when desired, and good restaurants to pig out at, then we were happy. But let us have one week where demand outstripped supply, and we see how thin the veneer of civilization is.

I figured that the tone of this post is so much bleaker than most of my posts, that I needed to leaven it with a reminder that there is still beauty in the world. The pictures are of my daffodils that have burst into glorious flower within this past week. Every year I have a couple of weeks of peak daffodils. This is their time, and a reminder that spring is coming, and better times are ahead. I leave you with a delight of daffodils. Stay well in the days ahead.

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Spring Encroached Early

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So far, the famed groundhogs of the east are not proving to be expert prognosticators. Here in South Charleston, WV, we had our first crocus out on February 15, and the daffodils started blooming on February 25. Some of the purple crocus have already shot their wad, and lie listless and limp on the ground. The early bees liked the pollen while it was available.

The picture above shows a scene from the front of our house. A purple crocus fronts the first blooming daffodils. Hellebore, or lenten rose, is blooming directly behind. For us, this is the best time of year for flowers since these are the flowers that our hooved rat interlopers will not eat. Soon there will be thousands of blooms open in our yard, and the next 6 weeks will be the peak time for our gardens. But there’s work to do, especially with the hellebores, since last year’s greenery that lasted through the winter, has now wilted and browned, and must be pruned away from the vibrant new foliage. So I must arouse myself from the winter induced stupor and take advantage of any dry and relatively warm days that we have. Of course, last week with its 81º temperature reading spoiled me for a normal day like today, back in the low 50’s.

I assembled the new deep bed raised bed for my vegetable garden. Three years ago, when I had just retired, I bought some inexpensive 4″ high cedar beds. They’ve reached the end of their useful life, and I bought a new one to replace the one in the middle of the three beds. Now I have to get the fabric liner purchased and installed, and the extra topsoil to mix with this year’s compost. Even though we have had exceptionally early warm weather, there will be later cold snaps that would nip early plantings in the bud. So it will be the second half of March before I plant any of the cold-loving vegetables.

I’ve already seen courtship dances with some of the birds in the area. I need to mend our bluebird house before our residents come back and are disappointed at the housing shortage. Still haven’t seen the robins come back. The earthworms and other bugs are out and about though. As I shoveled out the dirt from my old raised bed, I saw many worms and beetles emerging from their enforced inactivity. You wonder what a beetle may be thinking about as it sleeps under the earth in winter.

Another spring crop has emerged on our roadways. The traditional American Pothole is appearing in all of its pestilence. This year, the crop is especially large, since there were a significant number of potholes that weren’t fixed last year, so they over-summered and are larger than ever this spring. I’m hopeful that these pests are soon followed by the blooming of the orange road flowers, indicating the attempts to eradicate the American Pothole. Our state committed itself last fall to significant bonding to fix our roads, so we are hopeful.

It is always amazing how filthy things get over the winter. On our front porch, remnants of bird seed are scattered all over the floor, along with bird excretions. Broken branches mingle with the last leaves of the fall, and the leaves that fell after the last raking. Bunches of wild onions are poking their heads through the uncultured lawn. In all my years as a homeowner, I have never attempted to develop a perfect grass monoculture. I prefer diversity in my lawn, so I’m just as happy to see moss develop as I am to see fescue or bluegrass. I think the reason why at this time of year, my lawn is riddled with blooming crocus, is because I don’t use any herbicide at all on the surface. I’ve never known how crocus spread as much as they do – I may have planted some 25 years ago, but those few bulbs have multiplied by the hundreds now.

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I expect more cold weather to come, and more snow and ice before the end of winter. But since we’ve already enjoyed frozen drinks on our front porch in February, we can bear the brunt of late winter’s onslaught. But please, bring on the spring!

It’s Easy Being Green (in May)

 

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Green overwhelms the drab browns and grays of winter. What was barren only weeks ago is now hidden behind a facade of new leaves everywhere. The new growth comes so quickly, and the rains come so frequently, that it is nigh unto impossible to keep the grass trimmed. Tall shafts of green topped with pollen-bearing flowers stick up throughout the portion of the lawn awaiting its next shearing.

Spring reinvigorates me. My activity goes up as it is necessary to tend to all of the tasks that a semi-managed landscape requires. Weeding is chief among these tasks. At this time of year, if I diligently attempt to rid all of the flower beds of weeds, by the time I finished the last bed I’d need to go back and tackle the first bed again. But that is not a concern as I listen to the incredible song of the mockingbirds. Our neighborhood has been invaded by these wondrous birds, who have the remarkable ability to spin out a stream of birdsongs from our woods. I have often wondered about the evolutionary pathway that led to a mockingbird having this instinct imprinted in its genes. Most birdsong serves simple purposes. Hey, I’m wonderful, come mate with me. Hey, this is my turf, stay out. Hey, you, get away from my babies. But a mockingbird starts singing its aria for no apparent reason that I can tell. And that aria can continue for an incredibly long time.

It’s only the middle of May, but our bluebirds appear to have already fledged. We didn’t see them go, we only noticed that we had not heard the excited chirping of the chicks as their mother arrived with yet another morsel for them. It’s funny how it takes a while for you to notice the absence of something. You will always notice when something happens, but if something goes away, it may take days or weeks before you realize that there’s been a change. Speaking of something coming back, I’ve heard the distinctive call of the pileated woodpecker for the first time in a couple of years.

The daffodils that graced our gardens in early spring now are fading away. Many of the clumps have fallen onto the ground, looking like someone had sat down on them. They will slowly wither, and by June I will be clearing out the browning stems, as their work of feeding the budding bulbs below ground is completed. Later this year I will scout to see which clusters of bulbs have pushed up to the surface. I will fill buckets with bulbs as I work to keep the bulbs healthy. Then the progeny of these bulbs will grace other landscapes as I share the wealth. But that will happen in August and September, when this year’s growth has gone stale, and the ground cracks open from the heat and dryness of late summer.

Next week we will be planting new trees in our front yard. We lost a large hemlock last year when we had it taken down. That tree grew large enough to engulf our electric lines, and we were fortunate to never have had it take the power out due to a limb falling. But the tree got topped in the derecho of 2012, and had been dying from the top down. So we are coming back with much smaller trees, a flowering cherry and two dogwoods, as replacements for the one that is gone. The grass I seeded on the grave of the hemlock has sprouted, and is sticking through the straw placed to help keep the ground and young grass moist. We’ve had enough rain that I’ve only watered the straw once since it was planted. Within a week or two it will be strong enough to mow. Early spring does wonders for all growing things.

But with the growth, also comes victims of spring. Our hunting cat Blinky showed up with a chipmunk in its mouth. Cats have a very distinctive cry when they want to get your attention because they have prey. If you’ve heard the guttural sound, you know instantly what you are in for. In this case, the chipmunk was not quite dead yet, and we had to move it outside, where our cat found it and finished it off. Just a reminder that the cycle of life also includes death, and the brilliant greens and bright colors of spring flowers will also meet their end as our planet spins around to the other side of the sun and we lose the benefit of the summertime length of day and head towards another winter.