charting a pandemic path

Around the world, most of us are sharing in the battle to limit the damage from COVID-19 to the extent possible.

In some places, the path is proscribed by local or national government and there are not a lot of personal decisions to make.

Here in my county in upstate New York (USA), things are not laid out as clearly. I have been trying to prepare and make plans, but circumstances keep changing – and so must the plans. Our state and local governments and community organizations have been much more proactive than the federal government, but, as more and more cases are diagnosed closer and closer to where I live, additional measures continue to roll out.

Over a week ago, I started the general preparedness guidelines to have a couple of weeks of food and medications available in case we had to self-isolate. This was not a big deal for our house, but I have been much more concerned about preparing things for my dad, known here as Paco. He lives in a senior community in an independent living apartment, so he has a number of services available in-house, but I visit every day to check on him, make sure his medications are all organized and his schedule is laid out, etc. Early last week, a sign went up that people who were having any symptoms of illness should not visit. This is practical and a commonsense precaution that I would follow anyway, but, later in the week, the health care part of the center was closed to all visitors, except those whose loved one is in very grave condition. This meant that Paco could no longer go over to concerts and singalongs held in the health care facility. At the same time, they cancelled activities in independent living that involved outside performers or volunteers. For example, the Irish dancers would not be able to come for a scheduled pre-St. Patrick’s Day performance.

At this point, I had to face the probability that even healthy visitors might not be able to visit independent living at some point, so I started making contingency plans that could be carried out reasonably well without me. Sadly, we’ve had to cancel a planned visit from my sisters and their families to celebrate Paco’s 95th birthday later this month. They all live in areas where the virus is more prevalent and we didn’t want to risk them bringing it with them, given that they might not have obvious symptoms.

Thursday night into Friday, several large employers announced that they would be having most of their employees work from home starting on Monday. The universities had also announced that they were moving most of their instruction online for several weeks or the rest of the semester. Professional sports leagues announced they were suspending or delaying their seasons. Some combination of these functioned as a trigger that caused some people who hadn’t been taking the virus very seriously to spring into action – or, at least, into shopping. I went to my favorite grocery store to pick up a few things for Paco and for my household and was surprised to find that there was almost no peanut butter, canned legumes, frozen vegetables, etc. in the store. And I hadn’t even checked the cleaning supplies and paper goods aisles. The evidence of panic-buying took me by surprise. Given that I had been in concern and preparation mode for days, I had obviously underestimated the number of people who were suddenly paying attention and freaking out a bit.

On Saturday, the county executive announced that all primary and secondary schools will close through mid-April. Now, people are even more upset.

It appears that there are some people who still think that fears of the virus are overblown, given that we have no known cases in our county, even though our neighboring counties do have confirmed cases; they don’t want their personal and family routines disrupted. Others have been following the news and the advice of medical experts and realize that, while we can’t stop the virus completely, there will be fewer deaths and more treatment available to those with severe illness if we can spread out the number of cases over a longer period of time, so as not to overwhelm our medical system. The way to do that is to reduce the number of people who are in close contact and in large groups, also known as social distancing.

There are a number of different opinions about how much distance is required and how many is considered too many to be in a crowd. This leaves some situations to personal discretion. I admit that I had a difficult time figuring out what to do about church attendance this weekend. Our diocese has dispensed with our obligation to attend mass, but services are still being held. I am not especially concerned about my getting seriously ill, but I am concerned with the possibility of bringing the virus into Paco’s community, so I’ve decided to participate in a mass on television. At least for now, I plan to still shop. occasionally eat at restaurants, and attend small gatherings with friends. If we start seeing community spread in my town, though, I’d cut back further. If we get to that point, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to visit Paco; it’s likely that only residents and staff would be allowed in the building.

I admit that it is disconcerting to know that, despite our best efforts, people are going to continue to get sick, some of them severely sick, and some of them will die. I hope that our communities will face up to this challenge and do as much as we can to protect people, especially the most vulnerable.

Be well. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be considerate.

attack of the woodpeckers

We have an ash tree in our backyard. When we looked out the window the other day, some of the bark on either side was badly scraped. At first, we thought maybe a bear had been climbing it.

Then, a piece of bark dropped down from higher up the trunk and we saw a pileated woodpecker, pecking assiduously and creating more places with almost no bark left. Although the pileated woodpeckers are far and away the largest, there are hairy and downy woodpeckers joining the party, too, creating an ever-growing patch of stripped bark on the ground.

Obviously, the tree is very sick. The wood underneath is spongy instead of hard and woodpeckers generally can’t strip bark like they have been here. We have called a tree service to evaluate, but it seems to fit the signs of infestation by emerald ash borer.

ash tree
the base of the tree with bark shards on the ground
img_20191124_153209832
Close-up of the damage

We had hoped the tree would be spared because the immediately surrounding trees are not ash, but adult insects can travel about half a mile from their source, so it was probably inevitable.

Ironically, we were getting ready to call the tree service to look at one of our maples, which seems to be dying back and may have verticillium wilt, which is caused by a soil fungus. There is a second maple that is very close to the ash tree which may need to be removed as well. It’s possible that all three of the mature trees closest to our house on the south side may be cut down, which is not good news on the air conditioning front, although our new heat pump will decrease our cooling costs a lot compared to our old central air unit. It may mean though, that we can get enough sun to grow small trees, shrubs, and flowers. We used to have a vegetable garden in the backyard, but it became too shaded. (It also got eaten by groundhogs who could easily climb the fence around the garden, but that is another story.) We may also have less moss in the yard, although I prefer more wildflowers instead of more grass.

It could also mean that we have to re-landscape on all sides of our house, given that our front and side yards are torn up from the drilling and burying of the outdoor part of our geothermal system. Given that we have had cold weather earlier than usual this year, we may have to wait for spring.

One-Liner Wednesday: fear and understanding

“Nothing in life is to be feared, only understood.  Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.”
~~~ Marie Curie
*****
Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/11/06/one-liner-wednesday-essential/

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

One-Liner Wednesday: Nobel!

Congratulations to Dr. M. Stanley Whittingham on your Nobel Prize in Chemistry for your work on lithium-ion batteries!
~~~ in appreciation of Professor Whittingham, who lives in my hometown, and teaches and conducts research at Binghamton (NY) University
*****
Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/10/16/one-liner-wednesday-hey-this-is-fun/

SoCS: hole in the ground

For the last three days, there has been a crew in our front yard drilling a 500-foot hole in the ground. That’s about 150 meters for all you people who live in the metric world, which is almost everyone except the US…

The reason for this is not to find water, which happened well before they hit rock at 80 feet. Instead, this very deep hole is to install a geothermal heating and cooling system.

I’m excited because, after the new system is in, we will be able to permanently disconnect our house from the methane supply system. Our cooling costs will also be much lower because geothermal systems are much more efficient than the typical central air conditioning unit.

I will be glad not to be using any fracked gas which has caused so much trouble for our PA (Pennsylvania) neighbors and the climate. We will also helping to support the New York State version of a “Green New Deal”, moving to renewable energy in a way that is supportive of impacted workers and communities.

At the moment, though, we just have a very deep hole in the ground with two tubes coming out of it – and a very, very muddy, messy yard.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “ground.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/10/11/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-12-19/

Climate strike – part two

Friday, September 27th was the last day of the Climate Action Week that featured youth-led marches, rallies, and work/school strikes around the world. As happened around the world, there was an opening event last Friday in Binghamton, with a larger event scheduled for the closing day.

This event was held at the Peacemaker’s Stage near the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers. We began with a welcome from the University student-organizers, who recalled that we were on land of the Onondoga Nation, who have endured centuries of broken treaties and environmental assault. This continued the emphasis on social/environmental justice as an integral component of climate action.

The climate movement in the United States is being energized by youth and indigenous leadership. At the Binghamton rally on Friday, there were speakers from the local high school and university, as well as young adults from Citizen Action and local government, either as city council members or candidates. There were people on hand to register new voters or process address changes for those who have moved to be ready for the local elections coming up in November.

Some of the speakers were people of color. Amber, from Citizen Action, reminded us that we bring our personal and community heritage with us, as well as our efforts toward treating everyone with equal dignity. It reminded me of what Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato Si’ calls “integral ecology” and what I personally experience.

While I am following the science on climate change, I am also taking into account the ethics involved. Because of my Catholic faith, I see the situation in terms of social justice doctrine, which calls for care of creation and of others, especially the most vulnerable. People of color, people of lower socioeconomic standing, indigenous peoples, women, the elderly, babies and children, and people with illnesses are more affected by environmental degradation and climate change, so they merit special support in our efforts.

Amber and other speakers reminded us that all our efforts are connected. You don’t leave your efforts toward combating racism, sexism, poverty, violence, etc. when you are talking about climate and other environmental problems. All of these are justice issues; they are interconnected and the solutions need to take the whole spectrum of humanity and nature into account.

Besides the speakers, the event featured tables set up by different organizations. It was good to have a space for the youth organizations to meet up with the older, established local organizations. It will make it easier to coordinate efforts and initiatives. Next Sunday, there will be a planning meeting open to everyone to keep the momentum going.

There is a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it!

 

 

Climate Strike!

The day after I wrote this post lamenting the lack of a local climate strike action, I got an email from a local climate champion saying that there would be an event in Binghamton on Friday, the day that millions of people took part in thousands of actions around the world.

We met in front of the building that houses Senator Schumer’s office. As Senate minority leader, he is our most influential representative in Washington. In keeping with the youth leadership of climate strikes, this was organized by local university students, with lots of energy coming from the students who gathered. There were also a number of allies, many of whom were veterans of the fight against fracking in New York State.

I was pleased to be able to attend and lend support and happy to be part of three generations in my family there. Daughters E and T were both there; granddaughter ABC, at two years old, was the youngest attendee. Several people commented that we were gathered there for climate action for her and her generation, so that they will have a livable planet.

Our climate strike event on Friday was very grassroots, with the co-organizers speaking and then offering the mike to anyone that wanted to speak. Next Friday, September 27th, will be a larger and more formal event with several local organizations as sponsors, featuring speakers, music, tabling, and food. I hope to be able to attend that, too.

There is a lot of work to do in order to keep global temperature rise in check, so much that it often seems impossible, but I am more hopeful than I have been for a while. With young people around the world rallying and demanding action, maybe national leaders will finally find the political will to make a rapid and just transition to a sustainable, though still damaged, world.