Circling : A Year of Coronavirus and Quarantine, my family and the wheel of the year.
Circling by Dean Jones
“We are circling
We are singing
singing our heart song
This is family, this is unity
This is celebration, this is sacred” (Buffy Sainte-Marie — We Are Circling)
Within the last year Coronavirus (or COVID-19 as it is more commonly called) hit everywhere and like many people I was caught like a deer in the headlights of an SUV barreling down a country freeway. As my family and I struggled to grasp how we could deal with this ever-increasing danger in our lives, we also watched society politicize the virus and make it a cultural issue. Adding to the danger of the virus was the debate on the topic which rendered the hazard incomprehensible.
I do not think any of us anticipated how long this quarantine would go on. After my workplace closed to the public and had established remote library services, we began to determine what was negotiable and what was not. Dates for reopening were scaled back to the fall, then winter, then spring of the following year, now it is slated for next summer. None of us were sure when we would be able to go back to a “normal” work life.
While we grappled with facial coverings, hand washing, sanitizing everything we could think of sanitizing and praying to every god we could think of to spare us from what sounded like a pretty crappy way to die, many of us experienced acquaintances dying of the disease. Coworkers, friends’ acquaintances began to report losses in their families while other coworkers, friends and acquaintances declared this disease “fake news”. Toilet paper became a commodity, as was hand sanitizer. People began stealing both from my workplace and often we would make trips to the store to secure this disappearing item that was as rare as yeti sightings.
Once while standing in line for toilet paper at a Walmart store (you read the right), I saw a bunch of vegetable seedlings. It was a little late in the season to plant things, but I grabbed a bunch of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and other things and decided to take them home and make a garden. I was home more often now, so why not? The previous year I had tried to grow some plants and none of them flourished and then ultimately died. Part of the reason for this was my lack of attention to detail, being distracted by work and things outside of the home. Too often I would arrive home late from work and forget all about the dying plants in our yard outside.
I planted the wheat I had saved from a previous year along with the seedlings. I created a makeshift raised bed garden from an old rickety shelving unit and large cat litter canisters as pots. Soon I had a small garden going. I was not sure what would come of this, but excited to have a diversion from the life-threatening illness.
As spring came to life around us and the earth warmed up, we realized all the events that we would be missing. Increasingly good weather made us want to be out in it, and it was depressing to realize that we would be limited to our own home, sort of a self-imposed house arrest. We also began to realize how very long it would be until we got to see relatives and friends who had compromised immune systems.
As spring turned to summer, I saw the wheat grow up strong and green. The zucchinis I had planted sprawled beyond the limits of the makeshift raised bed garden and shot outward beyond the limits of the enclosure. Young people all over the country, like one of our boys, were unable to graduate with their class and had to settle for an online graduation. My wife and I had begun to walk outside wearing masks at times when we would not be around too many of our neighbors. I would walk sometimes with my son in mornings and my wife in the evening. I had lived in our city for over five years, but somehow, I had never really seen my community until this time. Viewing the different neighborhoods and seeing the various types of trees and bushes helped me feel more in tune with my environment. Watching the days lengthen and the nights become shorter I felt like I finally was able to reserve the time to get to see the change of the seasons, I just had to become more cut off from society in the process.
Being crowded together in the same house has created its own issues. Often, we are stepping all over each other and driving each other nuts. Traits and tendencies that you never realized drove you nuts suddenly are front and center and making you crazy. On the other hand, being cooped up together gave me a chance to see the kids and my wife more clearly. I found that there was more time to talk, and we had a chance to break down some of the walls that had impeded communication. My wife and I walking and talking on our own as we passed through the neighborhood parks became a treasured activity that allowed us both time to get out of the house and breathe.
Summer reached its apex, and it was hot every day. We were glad of our time indoors out of the heat, as the air quality from the fires was also unbearable. As the summer progressed so did the number of wildfires that we had, until we were threatened with watching the online alerts for a possible evacuation warning. The air outside was like sticking your mouth and nose over the chimney of a barbeque grill and it made the danger of a wildfire taking our home even more palpable.
“We are spiraling
Creature to creation
This is Mother Nature
This is sacred”
Lammas the harvest celebration arrived, and I hauled my scythe out of the closet and used it to cut down the wheat that had grown so tall. Gardening has this weird ability to make time become more apparent, when you realize how long it’s been since things were planted and you see them come to fruit, it’s staggering to think that so much time has passed. We had by this time became so used to being in quarantine, it is a matter of realizing that quarantine had become normal. Of course, we still wore masks in public, and were keeping away from others — but the reality of why we were in quarantine had been pushed to the background. The reason I had so much time to grow vegetables was so apparent, the previous year I was too busy with projects and not home enough. Now, we were home so much, weeding, watering, and keeping the plants insect free was not hard to do.
In addition to growing the food, I love putting food by (preserving food). Freezing and canning are my passions. I love to wildcraft when I can do so. Being able to freeze of can the foods I grow thrills me. I remember seeing some peaches growing in a community area on one of my walks, seeing them become ripe and picking enough on a few walks allowed me to can several cans of peach preserves. My peppers and zucchini became part of dinners, and I was proud to eventually gift people with jars of jam or pickles I had made.
Halloween came and we decorated our house in anticipation of a holiday that would be increasingly difficult to celebrate. We set up altars to our beloved dead, baked seasonal things, watched scary movies, and gave our kids cauldrons full of goodies. Over the course of our marriage my wife and I have developed some traditions, and this is one of them. We waited for Trick-or-Treaters who did not come (probably a good thing) and later burnt a bonfire where John Barleycorn would be burned so that he could be reborn in the spring. Looking around the bonfire (a very small micro bonfire to be more transparent) I saw the faces of the kids that I have been watching grow up during this time of quarantine. I saw my wife and all the growth we have achieved during this difficult time.
As we set up our altars to the beloved dead, we were able to appreciate how fortunate we are to be among the living and be able to enjoy this holiday season. Even though we are in quarantine, no one so far has succumbed to the virus and we are so thankful for that. Still, we want to take the time to be grateful and respectful of the inevitability of death. Margaritas were made for some of our deceased friends and relatives who we thought might be visiting, and offerings of whiskey were poured out on the earth to honor the god of the harvest, who died to be reborn in spring.
I know so many people face such bad things since the quarantine started and it is not over yet. I have tried to think about what positive things I have done during this quarantine and I hope that my intent has been clear. I sometimes have joked that the quarantine has been going on for several years, and it sometimes feels that way. Looking at the wheel of the year, I can see where I have been in this last year and what I have achieved. I hope that this next year will be better and give us a cure and if not at last a leveling off the virus.
“We are ripening
Babies, elders, bozos, and angels
This is how we grow
This is how we get to know
This is family
This is sacred”
We Are Circling Lyrics Songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
Article originally published in “Amoral Beatitudes Magazine” 2021. You can purchase Amoral Beatitudes Magazine on Etsy.
Dean Jones is a Librarian, Cookbook Reviewer, and writer. Originally from San Diego and having lived his teen years in the Pacific Northwest, Dean has lived for over 20 years in the wonderful but barely affordable San Francisco Bay Area. Dean has graduated with an MLIS from the University of North Texas and has a BA in Liberal Studies from JFK University in the Bay Area. Dean is the Library Director for Hurwich Library in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dean can be seen at Book Festivals, and Library field trips with the BayNet Libraries Group, of which he the Vice President. He can also be seen haunting farmers’ markets, bookstores, and local restaurants. Dean lives in the SF Bay Area with his lovely wife, six kids, and many books. Dean has been published in “Amoral Beatitudes Magazine” and writes for “One Table One World,” “The Cookbook for All,” “An Idea,” and “Authors what are you reading.” Contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org