Friday, April 29, 2022

Two Vacations, Three Pizzas


I started out to write about the Three Pizzas and my injured thumbnail, both of these being pandemic emergence stories.  I got bogged down transcribing Notebook entries from our Outer Banks, NC (OBX) Christmas trip (December 18 - 30, 2021) [this is where the cat appears], and then I added some from our Spring Break trip (GA, FL), March 3 - 13, 2022.   Later still, I took out the longest Spring Break part -- Guana Lake -- and gave it its own post.  Paddling Lake Guana   Then I decided not to show my thumbnail after all.  You'll have to take my word that it is healing.  :)

The Three Pizzas then evolved an addendum or Chapter Two, somewhat more illustrated, which refused to settle down.  Forever went by before I realized this chapter was attempting to decide nothing less than whether I was going to BreyerFest.  Since this was a extremely major decision (family fights!) which really can't be settled until the last week before departure, I decided to try and publish anyway, while things were on a (relatively) positive note.  Other posts are waiting!!      

Sorry about the lack of pictures;  I'm very bad about taking vacation pictures; most of these were taken by George.  My Notebooks are, after all, completely hand-written.  Somehow photography requires a different mindset.

Since Blogger does not allow single line breaks but only doubles,... and since I use a LOT of single line breaks (new paragraphs) in my handwriting,.... I am using spaces      to represent the single line breaks in what I'm transcribing.  Imagine that!  Brackets [ ] contain editorial explanations.  A vertical line  |   indicates a change in mood without a new paragraph, a space-saving device.


[written 2112.23]

"This trip       [OBX, NC, Dec 18 thru 30, 2021]     is a success, if success be evading & avoiding every human being.  Our longest conversation was with a man walking his dog:  "Have a Merry Christmas you two!"  O.K. I did talk about birds to one young birder who appeared out of nowhere on one of the obs plats [observation platforms].  And Geo talked a lot with the Chinese Sandtrapped.*  But we were masked (KN95) for all of these, except the Merry Christmas.        No TV, no radio.  No Internet:  this feed is now only every other day, & today is not that day.       Oddly, Dry The Sea & Barbahamia  [my Breyers, Icabad and Dundee]  stay in their boxes.  They haven't come out at all.  Only Snickers, the carry in foal [a CollectA] has any out time at all.  No horses!!  No,... nor thought of them.  I'm living a very pure life.  Burning through IMAJICA VOL ONE  as a great clip & wishing I'd brought Vol 2, but I didn't.  :(  Tonight I'm not even doing letters.  We have retreated, or evolved, to a very pure mode:  Trip-taking and birding as of old, Sans people.  Sans restaurants, sans shopping.  Such things are pared down to the minimum.         Food becomes an important pleasure."

[Written 2112.25  OBX:]

"Today we hiked Nag's Head Woods Nature Conservancy trail 1, 2, 3 & 6 the ADA trail / boardwalk.  This ADA [Americans with Disabilities] trail was expertly laid & beautifully finished.  We had a warbler flock & got Black-&-White, Brown Creeper, Sapsucker, Downy & Geo saw an Orange Crowned and we got both Kinglets.  Really nice!  even tho our parking was a block away + so was the bathrooms.        The Woods trail was amazing.  I had not known such trees, & such hills, existed on the Outer Banks.  Mostly the ground was covered in pine needles & in places there was no underbrush.  Pines, hollies, oaks, junipers, gums & bays.  Few birds outside of the warbler flocks --only gulls overhead.  Those dunes!!  What a change from the flattish swamps, fields and beaches.  It was 5 miles all the way around & we were over-stimulated, & thus very tired, by the end.  |   Almost no people until 12:30 when, it seemed, the floodgates opened; & we had to mask a few times getting back.

"After this we drove down to Pea Island and parked in Coquina Beach.  A beach sit was called for.  Chose a place upwind of all & by ourselves.  Poncho down & both napped.  This was when the locomotive of a piled barge was towed past on the horizon.  This was also where the huge flock of Cormos, Gulls, Gannets & Pelicans congregated around the (invisible to us) fish school.  What a sight!!  Dozens of diving Gannets plunging into the sea all next to each other   in a sea of Cormorants all diving (there must've been a hundred)   w/ Gulls wheeling by.  Quite the crowd.  Only now does it occur to me to be jealous of their natural unthinking association.   It was during this nap I came out crying      thinking how I might never see my Mom again.  And if she died how I might not be able even to attend a funeral.  And how Dad might never forgive me, ...   What good does it do to wait, something wrong will always come along anyway!!!!  What can we hope for again....  Oh, that was so sad.  Geo flat on his back snoring & me with tears leaking out all over,...

But we go on.         The tug went on.        The surf went on.

The birds kept flying, kept fishing.  We can only keep on, doing our best, waiting, giving them time for another miracle, like the vaccine so fast, so incredibly advanced.        Our very last adventure of the day was to drive down to Oregon Inlet & park & look for birds.  No luck but we did see a very beautiful orange tabby cat w/ 4 white feet and golden eyes."

[Written 2112.26:]

"Today was Mattamuskeet.  A well-chosen place.  We hiked 3  1/4-mi trails:  Outflow, New Holland & Salyer's at Rose Canal.    This third was by far the best, being a 150-year-old forest (cleared in 1870s) & sporting the tallest biggest Loblolly Pines I've ever seen in my life.  Other trees there were as tall & big, (gums, cypress) but somehow the Loblollies were absolute kings.  And this trail was not mentioned on THREE maps they gave us!!!  We did Outflow & New Holland first, gradually learning & collating our map info.  After these pleasant strolls we drove to the end of the Central Canal mile (marked G on the map) & found a scope spot.  For an unknown time I examined every Widgeon, out of what seemed thousands but was probably only hundreds, for the rare elusive Eurasian Widgeon.  Never found one.  Had tons of fun all the same.  We added Canvasbacks to our total, bringing the trip's total to 98, & then a Forster's Tern made it 99.  Previous birds today -- Wild Turkey, Swamp Sparrow & Tree Swallow -- had taken us from 94 to 97.  Today was the day of the 100th bird, and halfway down the triangular Wildlife Drive (4 miles) we found him:  Killdeer  :)   long missing but now well supplied.

Sue on the Salyer trail, in front of giant Pine

"Mattamuskeet is a huge lake.  [...]   I never saw a more confusing set of maps:  Each had something new to add in;  none had it all.  These were free maps at the Visitor Center.  We wound up driving all the way around the lake, some 30 or 40 miles.  Such a view of a slice of life in the South.  The fields were cotton or corn.  The trees were Cypress or Pecan.  A vine grew wild over every abandoned building (& there were many).  It looked like black rusty fur.       Geo has a particular reason not to want to go back:  the risk of catching if Penn State forces him to teach in person again.  Oh if only we could've retired at Christmas this year!  Failing that, Oh if only we could teach remotely this last semester!  As with cancer, the worst is the not knowing  [...] ."

Loblolly Pine on the Salyer nature trail

On December 27th, on the Outer Banks, we ordered a pizza from a little greasy spoon called Yellow Submarine.  We parked in a strip mall, of which the Outer Banks is richly supplied  :)  and I walked in there, masked, ordered, turned around and walked back out.    The clerk was not masked, but quite cheerful.  They brought it out to our car, and we ate it there.   "Cold pizza for breakfast!"  Yellow Submarine was significant because it was the first commercial pizza we'd enjoyed since June of 2021.  Car picnics are de rigueur these days, happening more and more and with more kinds of fancy food.  The OBX trip was also noteworthy for its utilization of Rancho Nuevo in Front Royal VA;  if we had to lose Jalisco's [a favorite Mexican restaurant] (is there nothing Covid hasn't killed!?!) at least we found this very nice Mexican restaurant equivalent, very quick to fill take-out orders.

image from PensacolaBeachBall

[Written 2112.29:]

"... On the beach we saw the Currituck Flyer.  At first I thought he was a drone launcher.  No, the blades, when finally seen, were a yard long.  House fan?  Next I knew, a para-sail was lifting the guy into the sky, his propeller whizzing merrily behind his back.  He sat in a chair & controlled both motor and risers/shrouds (sheets) with his wrists.  You could see his fuel tank behind his chair, but it was opaque. He must have stayed up for 15 minutes.      Lots of walkers came by after about 2:30 but the beach was wide enough.  We left and settled for a room meal.  The next eat-out would be in Front Royal."

image from AOPO


Fast forward to March of 2022.  Spring Break canoeing and birding trip to southeast GA (Kingsland) and northeast FL.

[Written 2203.03 in Petersburg, VA:]

"Our first real post-Covid trip, whether we believe it or not.  Left home 8:08... [...] Using the smartphone (Galaxy A01) is still very new to us.  This is the 1st time we used it for nav outside PA -- & only the 2nd time for nav at all!!  ...[...]  We were on 95 for mere moments only, right after 288 ended; but even in that small interval between 1 exit & another we experienced very heavy slow traffic.  I can't explain it.  Thursday aft?!!  No snow,... there must have been a lot of crashes; & the pandemic has fostered lousy drivers, that's for sure.  :(           

 "On the way past Tyrone & Altoona the east face of the Allegheny Plateau was decoratively-dusted with what must have been a hell of a sleet storm.  Pure white over everything except the very top layer of trees.                I have spent the day being a perfect road companion / traveller,...  & thinking about covid.  This, THIS is the long-awaited 1st drive in freedom,... yet we're so blase'.    Still wearing masks, avoiding crowds, dodging people altho that's perfunctory.  At Mad Italian [favorite Italian restaurant] we ordered take out IN PERSON.  I stayed INDOORS to wait for it.  It was fast -- praise to them -- yet that interval, sitting in that beloved restaurant just looking around,... remembering,... made me wish I could feel everything more deeply.  For this is our homecoming.  This is our trip as of old:  But I am so polished, policed, perfected & practiced & pre-warned my god!!!  that there is precious little spirit left.

"I don't know where it went, that shimmer of eager awareness.  I didn't even bring in a horse (to the hotel room).  The 1st night, nothing much will happen.  The electronix didn't make it in.  Almost I understand Grandma Ellis's search-a-words."

 The paddle trip on Lake Guana happened on March 9th.

"Driving back North via palmetto parkway & 1 & 9B, we experienced the most awful storm.  Somehow we were not blown over.  Moxie [the car] rocked!!  It was torrential.  We wound up in John Muir boardwalk outside Yulee.  A nap & read before Whataburger was much appreciated."

So you see, drive-throughs had become standard by this time.

[Written 2203.10, Kingsland GA:]

"3:30 am.  Gnat/chigger/mosq  bites under my chin, at crook of left knee, left wrist, sides of neck.  Sunburn...  [...]  While truly we are having the time of our lives, the best, most triumphant trip so far.  A giant step towards the After Covid.  It may not be really so -- no data, no numbers are we seeing;  no eating in restaurants, no theatres, no shopping, no entering crowds of any sort -- but it FEELS so much more like the Before Times, that it's a shock every time I see a mask on somebody.... "


[Written 2203.11, Cupcake Day #2, Kingsland, GA]  [Cupcake Day is how my family is annually celebrating the start of the Covid pandemic.]

"Celebrated with, (you guessed it), 2 Cupcakes!!!        & 2 pcs of pizza.  OPS Pizza Kitchen [in Kingsland, GA]  was a good idea, provided you overlook the 38 minute wait, and the fact it was a Friday night.  I spent 38 mins in a public restaurant, surrounded by more and more and more people without masks on.  The only mask I saw in there was on another take-out customer like me;... [a] black [woman].  I thought I saw a glint of sympathy in her eyes.  One learns to read eyes over the mask.   I am proud of my sweeping-silver-spots KN95!!!       I sat there bemused.  Intoxicated, even, to be in a place where Covid apparently did not exist.  No sign acknowledged it.  I begin to see the great appeal of Republicanism Youth and Youngsters; to be as they were, free, without care!!!  To have the music blasting & the dozen giant (full 1-story high) TV screens going --- not one of THEM showing masks either.  Oh this is what all us cautious & serious & Democrat oldster types have been dreaming of in our secret hearts for all these 2 years, yearning for, not daring to allow ourselves to dream of  for it meant death ------

"------ and lo, here, in a reality I could not go against (preaching unthinkable), such a dream is live & well & doing fine      thank you very much.         No thanks to me.        I am here because I'm finally brave enough, convinced enough, assured enough, (almost even desperate enough) to believe the numbers and trust my mask for one pizza-length of time.  We did this in Mad Italian (tho there the staff was masked).  We did this in Yellow Submarine Pizza on the OBX (tho there we waited outside & they brought it out to us).  Plotted in a line, these 3 pizzas chart a course towards my normality, the 2-years-long desired return to The Before Times.  To the by-now-mythic  "safe" enough to "go back to normal,"  a wish I have despaired so often over that I never thought I'd see it inside 5 years sometimes.  Or ever.     And here it is in full roaring life, obviously has been for a long time.   It takes me by painful surprise.

"... [...] ...I understand so much better why they [people who ignore Covid] 've done what they've done.  Because THIS was part of their reward."

"Today 11th was Okefenokee hike day.  Adventures, drive the Wildlife Drive v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y and pick up Brn Hded Nuthatches, Sandhill Cranes and Marsh Harrier, Yellow-Throated Warbler and Yellowthroat.  Parked at Chesser Island and mended my binocular strap, which had suddenly parted.  Geo walked the top loop of the Drive.  Then back to [the headquarters] Adventures, surprisingly popular, & walked the old paved fisherman's bank trail to the Shelter-in-the-Marsh.  All old friends.  It was a peaceful day."

 *  This refers to a Chinese couple in a rental car which got bogged down in the sand at one of the birdwatching parking lots we visited.  They were rescued by Triple A but in the meantime enjoyed a conversation with George.



 I entered this pandemic reasonably young, still in my 50s.  (Technically true:  I was 59 in March of 2020 and didn't turn 60 until the end of April.)  I'm emerging, yes that is the word, old, so much older, like I was 80 years old.  Like Sophie in Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle, I feel like (and sound like) a 90-year-old woman.  !!  Two-feels-like-twenty is my new way of describing these past two years.  My body is in the 60s, remarkably healthy; but my spirit,... my very soul,... has been so pushed down that sometimes isostatic rebound (the lifting of land after the glacier on it melts) is a very natural comparison.

My heart is masked, even if my face isn't.  I have low white blood cell counts, ever since 2010.   This body takes a long time to heal.  When you see a mask, how do you know they're not undergoing chemotherapy or some such?

I feel crushed.  It occurs to me that the lion's share of the crushing is from our own, George's and mine, choices:  our own struggles to continue to take the disease seriously.  Two years and more have gone by, and his efforts have kept us safe.  ("Kept us sane" is my contribution.)  Yet one by one, the data sources we use to chart that course are dropping off.  "No data" is becoming more common.  Just today, he reports CDC is no longer showing PCR tests.   How can we navigate if the data itself is denied?  

Vaccines once eradicated diseases, as recently as our teenage years; but this time they have not.  If only CDC had had the courage to tell us that in the beginning-- !!   The inflexibility and narrow-minded conservatism of bureaucracies has triggered George's retirement decision ("This is really a resignation in disgust that just happens to coincide with retirement age," he says) and now is causing our faith in CDC to tarnish. 

Look Ma new glasses -- the old ones were 25+

 No matter how much time I give it, the conflict remains:  my bitter frustration at anti-vaxxers,...  how could they refuse?!?...  versus the equally bitter realization that vaccination is no silver bullet; ---  nothing can provide 100% proof against, not even 4 shots such as I have now.   There is no guarantee.

And yet hope persists.  New treatments continue to surface.  New trends appear.  Geo reports a periodicity that plots a low in infections right around the time of BreyerFest.  As of this writing I am planning to go.  One reason is that I cannot bear to lose my hotel reservation!  Logical?  No!  But I am trying harder and harder, and maybe coming closer, to imagine a BreyerFest where I can meet and mingle in safe places, largely outside.  Swords-edge-walking a specialty.  Oh yeah, I'll bling your mask for you on the spot!

Maybe the numbers will go down.  Maybe they will reach my family's impossible goal, the bad-flu-year:  Ten new cases per hundred thousand per week.  Forty-eight Covid deaths per week in all PA (twelve million).  The two-feels-like-twenty years have supplied this at least, one definition of victory conditions.   Yet real victory lies in the individual's acceptance and behaviour.

Until then, ---Til We Have Faces, --- we shall cling to sanity with long family trips, seeking the outer Wild, free in the woods and outdoors.  Maybe I do have the imagination to come up with safe BreyerFest behaviour.  Maybe I can come up with ways to visit, sell and gossip and swap, outside, maybe in my car?  in a place and time that does not expose me to crowds.  Maybe the smartphone & Chromebook can take up the slack.   Maybe I can sell some horses and tack, by posted list on the door or something.  Maybe it's time I created my own versions,...  possibly going back to what my beloved hobby was before 1993, when all was local and mail order;  25 years of roots, those days.

Taken at Aitch canoe launch, Lake Raystown

And maybe, just maybe, a healing can take place,... something we all need so very desperately.  Given enough time, healing does happen, even to one such as me.  My thumbnail is healing.  My heart attitude seems to slowly rebound as spring gains and as the brain keeps striving to reach out.  This thing I have, that I'll keep trying.  Steady, that's what they remember me for.  One great lesson from cancer:  Your fears are always worse than the reality.

Sophie healed.  She went back to her proper age.  She kept her white hair though.  I like that.

Image from PeakPx online

Now I need to find out whether Howl's hair changed color over the course of the movie too.  Oh!  It did!

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