Notes While Sheltering in Place

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Scenes from East Texas during the pandemic:

• I reluctantly took advantage of the old folks’ early-bird special and showed up at Walmart at 6 a.m. Tuesday with a sanitizing wipe clutched in hand. My Beautiful Mystery Companion and I have sheltered in place for more than a week now. We needed some items, and the crowd is much thinner at that hour.

Not empty, though. Older folks walked the aisles, some in scooters, some in masks and gloves — a few with all three. We all kept our social distance even if it meant making detours and awkward dances past the meat counters. Many of the shelves were bare, or nearly so. Toilet tissue has been gone from all shelves for more than a week. It’s still nowhere to be found.

• Afterward, I filled up my car while waiting for another grocery store to open, hoping to score a few more food items. Gas was selling for $1.61, the result of a collapse of oil prices that has left a lot of folks who were making good money working hard in the oilfields now sitting at home. I would rather have $3 gas and fuller employment, but that likely is not going to happen anytime soon.

• With gyms closed statewide, I complete my daily CrossFit workout at home alone, following the instructions posted online by Coach Alex. It is impossible to achieve the level of intensity one gets in the gym with the prodding of a coach and peer pressure of keeping up with the fellow oldsters, but it is better than not working out at all. I’m still working up a sweat with a 35-pound kettlebell purchased curbside last week, a pair of dumbbells, and a jump rope.

• We are blessed to be able to continue to work for the university, just from home. I clock in and monitor interlibrary loan requests for articles. I fill them if available by downloading the article and attaching it to the request. If we don’t own the electronic journal, I send it on to the next academic library on the list.

• At some point each day, I walk about three miles through the neighborhood, whose yards are awash with blooming azaleas while the streets are covered in pollen and oak-leaf clusters. It is a lovely place to walk. I encounter neighbors out doing the same, after years of largely having the streets to myself. We keep our social distance, of course, just wave politely. I have stopped my years-long habit of listening to NPR while I walk. In unprecedented times like these, it’s easy to overload on news — especially since I’m a lifelong news junkie. I confine my listening to an hour of “Morning Edition” and an hour of “All Things Considered.”

But when walking now, I listen for the songbirds.

• We are blessed with a lovely home and yard in which to shelter in place. I sit in the gazebo we added last year after the May 9 storm decimated our deck and contentedly read. From there I can watch a robin meticulously building a nest in the nearby dogwood tree, which is hanging on to its blooms. But not for long as the temperatures begin to rise.

• I worry a lot about our healthcare workers, first responders, police officers, checkout clerks, shelf stockers and others working to keep us healthy, safe and supplied with the necessities. I pray for those now out of work — from restaurant workers to employees of retail stores deemed non-essential.

•This pandemic will not end by Easter. That is a politically driven fantasy. We must remain vigilant and take the advice given by scientists. Stay home as absolutely much as possible. Wash your hands often and thoroughly. Try to stay calm. Read novels or biographies, avoid getting obsessed with the news if possible, don’t pass along doubtful information found on social media. Stick to trusted sources — professional journalists trained to do the best they can to bring us the facts. We need them now more than ever. I’m grateful for those working both here and across the country to bring us the news.

Finally, remember what novelist Kurt Vonnegut wrote in, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.” Now, more than ever, it rings true: Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’re got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule I know of, babies — (Expletive deleted), you’ve got to be kind.

Please be kind to one another. But do it at a distance.

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