|The summer trip that wasn't: the Isle of Skye, in Scotland|
When this pandemic is finally over, or, at least, the virus is suppressed enough by a vaccine to allow some semblances of normal life to return, I doubt there will be very many Americans who claim the spring and summer of 2020 as a positive memory. And if coronavirus persists through the rest of the year, which it very likely will do in the absence of a national plan for combatting it, then virtually this entire year will have to be shelved in the category of memories titled “I’d-Rather-Not-Look-Back-on-That.” However, with the latest draft of my second novel completed for my publisher, and my husband re-entering the classroom at USC Upstate this week with a complex plan in-hand for teaching his courses in a “hybrid” model of masked seated students as well as online students (pray for him), it surprises me to realize that the months we’ve spent together in isolation here in our house in Traveler’s Joy* have been very productive, if lonely.
|Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire, England|
I’ll admit that it took a while to get over my disappointment at having to cancel our long-delayed trip (would you believe 38 years delayed?...) to England and Scotland that was scheduled for May. We had an itinerary planned that took us through Yorkshire, making a long-deferred pilgrimage to the Bronte Parsonage at Haworth, visiting the town of Hathersage, and touring Haddon Hall, which was mostly built by some long-dead ancestors of mine, the Vernons, who inhabited it from the 13th century to the 16th and which was used for locations in the latest film version of Jane Eyre. The third novel I was planning to write had a connection to Charlotte Bronte’s novel and I hoped to absorb aspects of the Derbyshire countryside and historic spots while there; however, my agent nixed this book concept. She seemed to think it an outdated idea, and honestly, no one has ever accused me of being anything BUT a mental inhabitant of the 19th century, so I’m sure she’s correct about that!
|The Pharr churchyard on the north coast of Scotland|
|Always plenty of masks in our household.|
It’s also difficult right now to be living in a community where many voters could be considered poster-children of the “anti-intellectual, anti-scientific” supporters of the current president. Almost as if to thumb their nose at growing infection rates, the governing council of my own town of Traveler’s Joy* decided to stage “Cruising Nights” on several Sundays this summer, inviting motorists from all over the upstate to swing through Highway 29 which runs through the center of town. Motorists did so, enthusiastically, driving back and forth in monster trucks, convertibles, golf-carts and motorcycles, screaming out the open windows and sunroofs and blasting music at teeth-rattling decibel levels, while blocking the secondary residential roads to residents and ambulances. Their vehicles turned the two-lane public highway into a gridlocked clusterf**k for three hours every Sunday the event was held.
|Partying hard in the midst of a pandemic: my town in upstate SC. See any masks?|
Two of these events coincided with a carnival held in a closed-down car-lot in the city center. Neither the cruising nights nor the two-week carnival observed or maintained Covid guidelines: there were no masks in evidence, no social distancing, and no hand-washing facilities. It’s almost as if the festivals were staged in defiance of science, exhibiting exactly the kind of detrimental “super-spreading” public gatherings that we have been warned against as the infection rate and death rate has soared in the sunbelt. It’s as if our Mayor and Council wanted to show their solidarity with the president’s own scorn for disease-mitigation, he who is paradoxically an expert on everything while claiming to be suspicious of “experts” (meaning anyone who knows more than he does, which is almost everyone).
|Defiance of science is a political act in these parts.|
I can’t bear to think about how many people in this country have died because of the current administration’s incompetence and indifference, especially as that position of “fact-defiance” has been taken up by state and local governments in conservative counties of the former Confederacy, and I worry that people drawn to our own town’s mid-pandemic celebrations were needlessly infected with the virus, or infected others. So far, knock on wood, I don’t seem to be one of them.
I’ve kept my sanity throughout the long hot, and too frequently noisy days of June, July and August by staying on the computer, writing as steadily as the muse permitted. My husband read and edited each scene before I proceeded to the next, and so on, until I finally typed up “Finis” at the end of Page 318 of TROUBLEFIELD. Then I made myself a stiff drink and went out in the garden.
|Rewrites kept me from freaking out.|
Excepting Sunday Cruising Nights, the garden has been my solace during the pandemic. It was a busy spring out there, with record numbers of birds nesting, mating and fledging their young. It’s nerve-wracking, trying to steward the families from birth to safe flight, but it is also immensely gratifying when I see the fledglings ranged like notes of music along the links of the chain-link fence, or crowding the birdbaths on days when the temperature hovers in the mid-nineties.
A mockingbird mother who lost her eggs to a low-lying nest in our Magnolia ‘Claudia Wanamaker,’ probably to a black snake that my husband was forced to kill, finally made a suitably protected nest in my wire vegetable-collecting basket. It hung on the side of the gated arbor that leads into the veggie garden, and there she laid four blue eggs, three of which hatched into healthy chicks.
|The first nest met with a mishap.|
Because she got such a late start with the second nest, however, the chicks were getting overheated in the basket on sultry July afternoons. My husband solved the problem by standing at a distance with the hose and misting them lightly. All three chicks fledged successfully; I attribute this not just to my husband’s cooling ministrations and the sacrifice of the snake, but to the fact that my marmalade cat, Clementine, is very fat and has poor eyesight. She’s the best kind of garden attendant where birds are plentiful.
|Mockingbird mama's fat chicks.|
Despite having to tiptoe in and out of the vegetable garden while the baby mockers were growing in their nest, my modest tending and tilling there produced a good crop of raspberries and tomatoes, along with a few zucchini before the borer squash vine killed the plants, as they do every summer. Some kind of pest has also killed off the blossoms on my lush green bean arbor, severely limiting the number of beans harvested. I don’t use chemicals in this garden and apparently that fact has been passed around on the pest grapevine until every known vegetable parasite is partying hard here.
That’s partly why, over time, I’ve incorporated cutting flowers into the veg beds – a tall cactus dahlia, for instance, an even taller late-blooming daylily called ‘Autumn Minarets,’ an apricot-toned rose, ‘Climbing Moonlight.’ My ornamentals attract more pollinators, provide color, and reward the gardener with flowers when beans and squash are few.
My muscadine grapevine, ‘Noble,’ was badly damaged early this spring by a gale that lifted it completely off the arbor; it couldn’t be placed back on the arbor as the winds had twisted the vine out of shape and it weighed more than a Chevy truck with a payload of rip-rap. Our lawn men, Mark W. and Willy W., cut it back to the lateral vine on the bottom and hauled the mass of the main vine away. That vine recovered, and is now thick with grapes, which will be ready to harvest for wine later this month or early in September. However, I haven’t decided if I’m willing to go to the bother of making wine again this autumn. I may just let the mockers feast on the harvest.
|Clem has not been diligent this summer.|
|The veggie garden in July.|
|Louisiana iris 'Charjoy's Jan' blooming with azalea and, in background, Itea 'Henry's Garnet'|
The best I can do for the moment is to put my faith in the future, hoping that change is coming at the national level, and that someday we will travel again, publish novels, be with friends, and that I will be able to put my arms around my child again and hold her close. Until then, the birds and I will be in the garden: socially distanced, with no masks required.
photo of Skye courtesy of inspiredbymaps.com
photo of Haddon Hall courtesy of peak district.org
photo of the Pharr churchyard in Scotland, courtesy of strathnavermuseum.org.uk
*Traveler's Joy is the fictional name I use for the town where I live, in the interest of protecting the few registered Democrats with whom I share it.