Tag Archives: Coronavirus

Who’s Watching the Kids?

Washington National Guard’s mobile vaccination team in the San Juan Islands

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

On a bustling street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter two tall American men met each other for the first time in an unassuming noodle shop. Sitting at a small table on low plastic stools, their long legs folded out a mile to compensate for the height, they enjoyed a simple meal of bun cha (pork noodles), fried spring rolls, and a bottle of cold Hanoi beer each. Both their sleeves were rolled up and their conversation, easy and amiable. 

One would think they had known each other for some time: Anthony Bourdain and President Barack Obama. They were filming an episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” which aired on CNN September 25, 2016. President Obama was in the final year of his two term presidency, and Trump’s rallying cry was loose upon the land. Bourdain feared for what lay ahead. His question to the president, “As the father of a young girl, is it all going to be OK? Is it all going to work out?”

Obama’s reply is one I still draw on today. 

“Progress is not a straight line,” he said. “There are going to be moments in any given part of the world where things are terrible. But having said that, I think things are going to be fine.” 

Now here we are, nearly five years later. A global pandemic and, in our country, chaos in how we are all handling it. I am mostly concerned with how this chaos affects children. The initial outbreak of Coronavirus, however devastating, was relatively benign in children and seemed to spare them. This is no longer true. The virus changed. That’s what viruses do.

Patients are getting younger, babies included. In the last month, the Delta variant caused an alarming rise in pediatric cases. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children now account for more than 20% of new cases. And by the CDC’s count, there was at least a 22% increase in hospitalizations of kids under 17 years of age in the last month. Covid manifests itself in children with cold-like symptoms, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. If there is any good news it is that children are still not as likely to get as seriously ill as adults, but the Delta variant is hyper-transmissible and its contagiousness includes children.

“It’s the eighth month of 2021, and I can’t believe we’re having these conversations,” notes Jessica Malaty Rivera, epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. We’re having it because only about half the people eligible are vaccinated in this country. And anyone who catches Delta has most likely created clusters of infection, particularly in unvaccinated populations.

“The science is there. The clinical trials are in abundance, and we must stop denying the data. The vaccine remains the most effective and reliable way to stop this madness,” states Leslie Diaz, Infectious Disease Specialist at Jupiter Medical Center, FL. We need to vaccinate ourselves for the fifty million children under twelve years of age in the U.S. not yet eligible for vaccines. We must protect them in every way possible, and that includes immunization, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and the wearing of masks indoors.

Instead, this is what we’re doing. This is the mess we’ve made as a nation. It’s not pretty. It may be that we’ve never seen anything like this. People are playing scrimmage, political football, with our children’s safety. And it’s the reason why, again and again, I need to recall Obama’s words to Anthony Bourdain in a noodle shop in Hanoi that day. You have to remember, he said, “Progress is not a straight line.”

*Governors of nine states have banned mask mandates *After one week of school, in one district in Florida 8,400 students had to be placed in quarantine *Many pro-mask parents are having to pull their children out of schools *In a small town in west Texas the school district recently shut down due to Covid *Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida prohibits school districts from mask mandates insisting it’s a parent’s right to choose *Some parents in mask mandated schools are signing mask waivers, opting out *Parents are crying, “We will not comply!” *People are yelling “child abuser!” at parents of masked children *Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC, requires vaccination of public school teachers in the city *In Alabama, four times more children are testing positive than last year, according to the Alabama Political Reporter *Abdallah Dalabih, a pediatric critical care physician at Arkansas Children’s Hospital recently stated, “We are not able to discharge them as fast as they are coming in.” *Unvaccinated teenagers are making up the bulk of pediatric Covid cases, and according to Dr. Dannielle Zerr at Seattle Children’s Hospital they seem to be more ill than last year’s patients *Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington requires vaccination for all employees working K-12, childcare, and early learning *Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatens to withhold salaries of district superintendents who require their students wear masks *Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issues an executive order banning mask mandates and declares Texas “the freedom capital of America.” *President Biden orders Education Secretary Miguel Cordona to take action against governors who have banned masking in public schools.

That’s all in the last week alone. Enough said.

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The Flight of the Hummingbird

Photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

 

“I can’t do this,” he said.

My father was a smart man. He may have figured it out. Coronavirus was sweeping through his assisted living facility outside Boston, and everyone was being tested, residents and staff alike.

A modest man, in his own quiet way he was extrordinarily accomplished in his life. But at ninety-six years of age he wasn’t up for something unknown that no one knew how to treat. That much he knew. He read The Boston Globe daily.

“Life goes on until it ends,” that’s what dad always said when he was trying to help me with my inconsolable grief in losing others.

Deeply worried about him, yet unable to be there, I ran off to the nursery to fill three large hanging baskets. I needed something to do. Tired of looking at last summer’s geranium mummies, I’d start over with fresh soil, and—on the drive to town I saw it clearly—hanging fuschia. A nectar producing plant with tube-shaped blooms specially adapted to accommodate the long bills of hummingbirds, my father’s littlest friends.

It was there at the nursery when I received the call. Hospice was by dad’s side now and this was my only chance to say goodbye. I think I said, “I’m at the nursery, daddy. You’d be here too, if you were with me, and we’d be extraordinarily happy.” Something nonsensical like that.

Looking back, purchasing plants at nurseries may have been one of my father’s only indulgences. Together we could spend half the day there filling our wagon, and often did.

I was crying so hard, I was grateful to be masked.

At the same time, my project remained important to me. Julie of Julie’s nursery helped me load trays of twenty-four fuschia starts, eight for each basket, into the back of my car. She advised peat be mixed half and half with potting soil, and an organic flowering fertilizer which looked a bit different than my organic fertilizer at home, so I purchased that too. Julie could have sold me the moon that day, anything in the rush to grow my beautiful baskets.

We set up the planting operation on the picnic table at home. The table Bill Maas built when we first arrived on island. Eight fuchsia starts per basket, hung, and watered gently. They looked so lighthearted and promising beneath the eave. In the evenings we covered the baskets with clear plastic, for it’s still cold. And every morning, the unveiling. There is something in that ritual too.

There are two species of hummingbird on island: Anna’s and Rufous. Native to Western coastal regions, Anna’s Hummingbirds are increasingly found here year-round, living in the branches of our coastal scrub. Rufous Hummingbirds, on the other hand, have the longest migration of any bird their size. Wintering in Mexico, spring in California, summers in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and zipping over to the Rocky Mountains for fall before returning to Mexico. Feisty and territorial, the visiting reddish brown Rufous try to chase off the resident emerald green and gray Anna’s each year. So we just keep putting up more feeders and more nectar producing plants to accommodate every one.

When we moved onto San Juan Island, mom and dad’s place on The Cape was very much on our mind. Shingled cottages by the sea. Ragtag fleets of boats by the water’s edge in summer. Clams in the muddy sand. And a writing hut where Dad had had a garden shed. The baby mice that once fell onto the brim of dad’s hat when he was puttering around in the shed. He cared for them too.

Dad has always been with me in writing, in gardening, and now, birds. He wrote his memoir, which prompted me to write mine. He explained Master Gardeners to me as “missionaries of the gardening world, Jesuits for all their knowledge,” and I became one. He led by example in the garden, and now he’s got me loving birds.

“What we care for, we will grow to resemble. And what we resemble will hold us, when we are us no longer…” Richard Powers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Enhancing the Woods

Limekiln at Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

My dog looks at me from across the room.

Something is not right, she says with her brown eyes. Don’t know what, but I’m here to make it better.

 We go outside to pick up fallen branches. Well, she meanders around and I pick up branches. Clearing the brush clears my head. Didn’t I once laugh when I read that one of the activities President George W. Bush most enjoyed at his ranch in Crawford, Texas was clearing brush? Anyway, live and learn.

A new purpose in life lately: enhancing the woods. I know of a man who does just that on his acreage on San Juan Island. A professor emeritus of physics at the University of Washington in Seattle, out on island he devotes himself to this, enhancing the woods. Married to a friend of mine, I have been hoping to meet him, talk to him, or simply trail him around. Our book group met there recently–he scattered, as husbands do—and when I turned onto their property I thought it a forested park.

The trees don’t know the Coronavirus. In North America trees have known The Dutch Elm Disease, Armillaria Root Rot, Anthracnose and Leaf Spot Diseases, Annosum Root Rot, Aspen Canker, Bacterial Wet Wood, Beech Bark Disease, Brown Spot in Longleaf Pine, Canker Rot, and Commandra Blister Rust, so their lives have not been without consternation. It isn’t easy being a tree. But trees today will live through the Coronavirus, just as many of them lived through the 1918 Spanish Flu global pandemic.

Our trees on island faced a fate worse than plague, the limestone mining industry. On islands rimmed with large deposits of high quality limestone on the shoreline, rock was quarried, blasted and shunted downhill to the kilns. And trees were felled to fuel the fires of the ovens. Converted to commercial quick lime primarily for the building industry, and sent off in barrels on fleets of ships, both sail and steam. All this was not without erosion, the gouging out of hillsides. Wetlands were filled. Shellfish flats buried.

Old growth Douglas fir was the fuel of choice. The voracious appetite of the ovens roared away for more than sixty years, from 1860 to the 1920’s, consuming nearly all our old growth trees, and with them, their stories. It must have been hell here. It took The Great Depression to shut down the massive limekiln industry in the San Juan Islands.

Roche Harbor, where I walk, had the largest lime works operation west of the Mississippi. The trees remember all that the earth in its dense biomass endured. The woods have memory. Today, there are only isolated old growth trees. Now as then, the Douglas fir is most abundant, just as most of the branches I am gathering are Douglas fir. Some trees remember, many are returning, and all we can do is stand beside them.

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