Still Life With Greedy Guests

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How are you, friend?

Are you well?

Autumn is truly here – though it took the weather a minute to remember. It seems the whole “it gets cool, leaves fall, birds come and go,” seemed to be a problem, at first! But now that winter is taking crisp bites from autumn’s mellow apple sweetness, frost laces the neighbor’s roof each morning, and the long, slow sleep is coming upon the garden.

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We harvested seventy pounds (!) of Fuji apples, and forty of Granny Smith, and harvested the carrots finally – even eating a few of them roasted for our mini-Thanksgiving. The beet we were counting on roasting – the others having succumbed to some nibbling wretch when they were still seedlings – is still only golf-ball sized despite all of our waiting. It seems the winter garden might fare better than the summer one ever did; the romaine is staging an unprecedented comeback, and the sage is sending up new shoots. The magnolia is blooming joyfully, despite no one being outside long enough to really enjoy the smothering sweetness, and the citrus trees – though struggling under some kind of fungal attack – are producing small grapefruit and tangerines like mad. Certain People have continued to hoard all of the persimmons, though no names will be mentioned in this missive. Ahem.

We have taken the minor risk of singing – fully masked and at three times the social distance – with a church in our area, filming for services well ahead of time for Advent and Christmastime. This has been a delight, even though singing in a mask, yes, even the beaky ones with the underwire boning in them to prevent you sucking wet fabric, is not easy! But, we’ve enjoyed it. Still, we’re mostly home, as you most likely are, so our most lovely and unexpected amusement has been the birds… Continues to be the birds… Always seems to be the birds. We’re turning into full-on bird nerds, just by virtue of being frequently near a window.

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Earlier this summer, we were visited by a roving flock of some kind of budgie-sized parrots – we never got a good picture, or a good look. They squawked at us from the tree across the fence, raided the soft fruit, and were quickly gone. We enjoyed our regulars, of course, including the flock of four rock doves who’ve decided that they’re chickens (!), the trio of crows whose number has now grown to six regulars, and the myriad robins, phoebe, flycatchers and other tiny songbirds and warblers who are around, but we’ve also had a bright yellow oriole come for a week or so, which was also fun – and hard to photograph. But we were thrilled the other day to have an ear-full of cedar waxwings come by – and yes, “ear-full” or the slightly more obscure “museum” is the correct collective noun for this gregariously social bird. The “ear-full” comes from the fact that while they don’t have a song, cedar waxwings have several high pitched whistles that are… a lot noisy once they get going. They’re fruit-crazy, so us leaving the wormy apples on the trees along with keeping the fountain full of fresh water (while attempting to stay ahead of the little porkers scarfing down seeds like there’s no tomorrow) has meant we’ve had far more avian visitors – and the odd opossum – to the yard. Our greedy little neighbors are giving us an excuse to bundle up and stay outside for a bit.

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It’s a mixed blessing that the autumn has been dry so far. We know that come late next summer, this will have been a terrible thing, as it highly increases fire danger, but right now, the cold, sunny weather allows us to be out and about a little bit. Despite positive vaccine news, we know logically that it’s still going to be a very long, very slow slog to get back into a world where we are free to come and go as we please, to hug friends and sing unmasked, and to treat a cold or ‘flu as nothing more than a mildly annoying inconvenience instead of a life-ending threat. For many who already struggle with chronic illness flaring up during the coldest months, the coming winter is a thing of dread. Here, we’re trying to think ahead to what will sustain us throughout the winter – things outside of our normal everyday. We don’t have a TV or media subscription, but are looking forward to watching a ton of old movies and weird stuff while we get back into handcrafts like knitting (maybe we can finally finish Book-Niece’s sweater, and since she’s now fifteen months old and no longer a newborn, it might even fit) and embroidery; we’re making more wind chimes and poking around the edges of doing lampworking (glasswork done with glass rods – with all of these handy mini-blowtorches, it was only a matter of time) and painting more.

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More than finding new hobbies, though, we’re trying to be deliberate about how we think of and speak of and hope for the future. One of the prime, huge, glaring lessons of this pandemic has been learning what judgmental spirits we have collectively. We’re sure that you, too, have heard of the many people who have picked fights with strangers over how they choose to conduct themselves during this time. As a world, we are (hopefully?) learning that we must leave space for other people to make decisions that we don’t support.

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It’s so hard to hear of people who are traveling and vacationing without commenting. Human beings seem to have a hard time disagreeing with the actions of others, and allowing them to be …just someone with whose actions we disagree. Some people feel it’s unacceptable not to let people know where we stand – after all, there’s a such thing as “right” and “wrong,” still. While that’s undeniably true, there is also no such thing as a no-risk activity during a global pandemic. No matter who we are, the shopping still has to get done, people still have to go to work, and even those staying home still have to venture out of the front door to pick up the mail. What I feel is manageable risk, vs. the risks that I consider foolhardy will be different from what you feel – and we all have had to learn to just “shut-up and wear beige”, as our friend Serena says. We’re only in control of ourselves, so many of us have learned through this time to simply step back out of the stream of conversation, and just do what we’re going to do, rather than letting other people’s conforming or nonconforming behavior define – or goad, or influence – our own. (Edited to add: This is not to say that we’re wafting around wholly non-judgmental, nor that we know what to say when people shrug and casually mention things like “herd immunity” and countenance the dying of hundreds of thousands more people, simply because they’re secure in their insurance coverage and don’t fear long-term disabilities and even less of a safety net than they’ve had in the past. That’s… harder to comprehend, but even there – everyone makes their own choices. Here’s hoping that the choices we make for ourselves are ones which contribute to far-reaching negative results for others.) This difficult yet valuable understanding will hopefully go a long way toward shaping our post-pandemic selves, and maybe even shape how we talk to each other about politics.

(No? Too soon? Okay.)

We hope that as you’re spending days closer to home – or traveling as sensibly as you can – that you are finding a sense of proportion in reference to yourself and the world. It has helped us a lot to celebrate small joys and victories, to create small, achievable goals to meet, checking off of our lists the things we accomplish. Trying to find new traditions to explore and ways to be deliberate and conscious about sharing with others to encourage them helps as well.

It’s a weirdly ambiguous place to be in, creating history. We will remember these days in a number of ways – but I hope one of them is how we rallied, found joy in small things, encouraged one other, and survived. We can do this.

Be well. ♥

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