Thursday, August 20, 2020

Status Update: Home in Quarantine

[Once again, I've had to dash into town to send an e-mail about a job.]

As this web site has recently observed, Tweeps, there’s something about trying to squeeze a thought into 250 characters that makes it easy to misrepresent our own opinions.

People don’t make it clear whether a tweet is addressed to our followers, as most are, or to the individual to whose thought ours is an answer. Results can be confusing, funny, or offensive. I stumbled over my own typing fingers this way, recently.

And people don’t make it clear which aspect of something they’re calling “a hoax” or “doctrinaire” or “politically motivated” or some other term of dismissal.

In comments on coronavirus, as in comments on glyphosate reactions, autism, fibromyalgia, or any disease condition where the symptoms seem subjective and the causes seem a bit mysterious, I hope we can all avoid what this web site has tagged as “Virus Karma.”

This is not the Hindu theory of karma accumulating from past lives; it’s a phenomenon I’ve observed in real life, where someone dismisses someone else’s reported health concerns and then, possibly because the person’s own conscience condemns the person, the scoffer somehow winds up feeling worse than the person scorned.

I first noticed this effect in 1973. A big strong veteran, just back from Vietnam, was rejoicing in his youth and held forth on the topic of colds and flu. “I’ve never had a cold. I don’t believe colds are real,” he told my father. Next day the younger man told Dad over the telephone that the young man now had the cold that was going around, a bad case. “I believe colds are real, because I’ve got the grandfather of them all.”

When people really are ill with something that is new or not fully understood, of course a lot that we hear and read about it will be a hoax, a scam, politically or otherwise selfishly motivated, etc.

A lot of what we read about coronavirus is ignorant, venal, greedhead garbage, and the people cranking it out ought to have to take their own medicine. On television.

“Coronavirus is fatal. Coronavirus is going to kill us all.” Coronavirus is not making most of us sick enough to spend a day in bed.

“Coronavirus is nothing, does not exist, is not worth missing work for.” Say whaaat? People have died. Horribly. Whatever else he was, Herman Cain was a strong, brave man. With Virus Karma possibly a contributing factor, he died of coronavirus. How many cases like his will it take to convince some people?

“Formula X will cure coronavirus.” Maybe. Most people need no cure; they hardly know they’ve had the virus anyway. People who need treatment for coronavirus are already fragile; hospitalization and treatment may help, or may only prolong and aggravate suffering.

“Person X could have prevented or cured coronavirus and didn’t.” Very doubtful. Coronavirus is not new. The reason why we didn’t hear much about it before this year is that nearly all humans are immune to nearly all strains of the virus. It’s the less-common cold virus; most colds are caused by rhinovirus. All virus operate through a process of constant mutation. Human activity—tampering with DNA, or changes in diet, or who knows what else—may have some effect on the process. Reportedly a virologist has been accused of doing laboratory work that might have caused COVID-19 to be more dangerous to humans than all the other kinds of coronavirus together, but it’s hard to prove. People other than virologists…

“Well, Person X was in the government and ought to have cut off all travel from virus-infested areas.” That might have delayed the arrival of the virus in other areas, or not; it would certainly have made people unhappy. High risk, no guaranteed benefit? No wonder Person X didn't do that.

“Person X was a doctor and ought to have known more or warned people in a different way or whatever.” Doctors have warned us about possibly dangerous virus every year or two. Most of the possibly dangerous virus mutate into less dangerous forms. Can it really be eleven years since doctors were banging the alarms about the swine flu, woo-hoo, gonna get you, getcher shots now, and most of us were saying, “Well, can it be…that cold I had, that cost me half a day in bed and an extra box or roll of tissue paper, was the dreaded swine flu!”  Doctors cannot warn most people adequately about virus. If they tell the truth, that most virus may or may not affect most people’s athletic performance, may or may not produce any noticeable symptoms whatsoever, depending on our medical condition, who’s going to listen? If they scream that some virus are going to kill some people, which is true even of the ones nobody notices (like most strains of coronavirus), then most people will say the doctors are alarmist fools and the virus are “a hoax,” and/or “The young are so pampered…” and/or “The old are so ‘entitled’…imagine the nerve of trying to save the world from a silly little cold.”

Doctors have been telling us for almost fifty years that there is a way for most of us to control the way virus affect us. It won’t work for a minority of people who have more serious diseases already, but most adults can, and to some extent do, choose to have high resistance to most of the common virus and other pathogens in the world. This is done by following all the boring advice our parents and teachers tried to force on us when we were children: 

  • Eat fruit and vegetables, as many different ones as possible; try to eat some of them raw. 
  • Early to bed and early to rise (let the girls go out with the other guys). 
  • Get exercise, even if you have to repeat boring little moves in a gym instead of walking to work or doing something useful while moving your body. 
  • Don’t lie out in the sun for hours; shade your face and cover most of your skin in very bright sunlight, but do tend your garden, walk to do errands, and get some of your exercise out in the sun when it is shining. 
  • Don’t add chemical pollution to the toxins that are naturally in the environment. 
  • Drink eight glasses of water every day. 
  • Don’t stand close enough to touch other people. 
  • Don’t take any drug you could survive without. 
  • Pray or meditate daily. 
  • Behave toward other people in ways that won’t make you feel guilty. 
  • If you have to be around other people, or around fungi (like the ones that produce that nice woodsy scent you notice while walking down country roads after a long hot damp summer), eat a raw garlic clove every morning.
This actually works…for most of us. Not, unfortunately, for all of us, all the time. Virus resistance is an individual thing but most people who don’t have to take prescription medication daily can choose to keep it fairly high.

Then there’s the Great Face Covering Controversy. No, a layer of cotton, or even a triple layer of cotton, is not 100% virus-proof. Face coverings reduce the number of individual virus that float out of our mouths and noses and into other people’s when we breathe. Exposure to a lower number of virus gives more of us more of a fighting chance to build specific immunities without going to the trouble of “having a cold.” It’s simple, it’s effective, and I don’t know about you but I think I look a lot better now that fashion gives me the socially acceptable option of covering my ugly teeth.

“But you, writer known as Priscilla King, spent several hours in a crowd, wearing your mask, which clashed with your clothes and with your complexion, and now you’re thinking you have the coronavirus. Does that not prove that masks are useless?”

It doesn’t, because, looking back, I believe I was most likely exposed when I allowed a cashier to press coins into my hand, rather than counting them out on the counter, as we were taught to do before the 1980s when too many of us were told that some people felt offended if we didn’t touch their hands. We should have stood firm and told those people to get counselling. People feel infected if we do touch their hands. Infected feels worse than offended. One way we can fight all virus is to place payments on counters and let idiot cashiers stand there, long enough that (being young) they want to die of embarrassment, before we snap “Put it on the counter! That’s what counters are for!” And then wash our own hands after transferring receipts, money, cards if we’re reckless enough to mess with cards, that have been in someone else’s hands, back to our pockets.

When virus are in the air, we’re most dangerous to others during the incubation period in between exposure and the appearance of symptoms. For anywhere from several hours (in the case of norovirus) to several months or years (in the case of slower-spreading virus like HIV), we have no reason to believe we’re infected, and this is when we’re releasing the highest numbers of virus into the world. If we feel, and it’s not always easy to notice, that special “fighting the flu” kind of tiredness—that’s when we’re at the peak of contagiousness, and of vulnerability, and we need to stay away from other people. What we do that keeps us away from other people may be chopping wood or even shoveling snow. (“Sweating out” helps many of us boost immunity.) We may not require bed rest. We do need for other people’s sake to isolate ourselves while fighting off virus. No matter how many bosses or school attendance officers might urge, “You’re fit to work! You’re fine! You shouldn’t slack off just because you feel ‘tired’ or ‘sniffly’!”, that is a selfish thought. If we don’t know that everyone at work or school has as good resistance as we have, or better, then we really ought to go into quarantine every time we notice a summer cold.

That mismatched mask I was wearing in the Friday Market had no chance of keeping me from feeling the effects of coronavirus. It probably did keep about a hundred people, many of whom live in the retirement project you can see from the marketplace, from having gone down with it. When I walked into town to return a key on the day after announcing I was going into quarantine, I saw some of those people, self-identified for years as old and sick, sitting out on their porch, enjoying the sun and chatting with their friends. That is the proof that face covering is a good thing. I was already ill on Friday morning, and didn’t know it. I may have infected one person who was obviously very old and ill, to whom I handed an object around a glass pane; I probably did not infect a whole apartment block full of other people who are old and ill.

I #WearAMask religiously now, having seen that. No, it’s not a cure. (Though I don’t find it interferes with breathing…I’m not sure what people are talking about, with that. Maybe the masks they’re wearing are too heavy? But paper ones are cheaper than cloth ones. Maybe they have emphysema? Maybe they just have terrible breath?) I wore one while walking three miles, briskly, in the afternoon heat. My face felt sweatier but my ability to breathe was just fine.

All summer, what face covering has been for me has been a way of nonverbally reassuring people, “I care about you or your fragile relative,” and also nonverbally telling them, “Back off, and put change and receipts on the counter.”

People feel shy about this because during the twentieth century we were exposed to toxic messages suggesting that crowding up to strangers in public was a way to relieve the emotions some people feel about not being part of a close-knit family. It’s not. We needed to take a stand a long time ago. People who feel a need to express affection toward their parents, children, or spouses need to work on being able to do that. Some of them may need to find a nice empathetic psychotherapist who can hold them while they howl, “Mommy, Mommy, I hate that you died and left me alone,” and murmur soothingly, “It’s all right, Baby, I’m your foster mother and I love you.” They will not feel better if some spoiled brat of a cashier, with one eye on the clock and the other on how to cheat the system out of a little money, presses things into their hand instead of counting them out on the counter. That is sooo stupid…

But I assure you, Gentle Readers…I am Highly Sensory-Perceptive. I have spent my whole life seeing, hearing, and feeling things that are hard for 80% of humankind to see, hear, and feel without some sort of mechanical aids to perception. With those aids you can perceive the same things, or you can just learn to take my word that they are there. Symptoms of infections are among those things. You can hear me cough but you have to take my word that it’s an unusual cough, that my throat is trying to pull up congestion from down in the chest rather than push it back from the back of the mouth or the nose. But it is an unusual cough. Some of you are going to wake up with this kind of cough, and it feels very different and alarming.

If your reaction to coronavirus is typical of people who are going to need to be hospitalized, the classic symptoms will be present:

  • ·          You might or might not have noticed its happening while you were awake—the surfaces inside your nose and mouth that usually drain water out of your body, fighting off rhinovirus or airborne allergens, don’t gush water but they do dampen in preparation. Your nose doesn’t run much but does lose some or all of its sense of smell.
  • ·          Your temperature shoots way up, suddenly. Those temperature checkers installed in the entryways of some buildings are there to verify that this happens to people who leave home with a temperature of maybe 99 degrees Fahrenheit and get into town with a temperature of 102.
  • ·          Your chest clogs up drastically. That abnormal cough becomes an involuntary reaction. It might be a “dry” uncontrollable cough that might linger for days before the chest clogging. You gasp and wheeze and may collapse. Somebody else may feel obliged to carry you into the hospital, or if you’re lucky the hospital staff will rush out with a wheelchair.
But that only happens to about 6% of humankind. Adults between ages 20 and 80, who are about as healthy as I am, are reporting different symptoms when they test positive for coronavirus. The range includes the symptoms I’ve had during the past five days:

  • ·          Your whole chest feels tight. In addition to the unusual cough, which might be occasional rather than constant or life-threatening, you feel pressure, maybe even burning or stabbing sensations, around the heart. You may never have had “heart disease” or chronic cardiovascular disease before, and the first thing you’re thinking is “Do I have it now?” You don’t, but the virus is attacking tissue around the heart. Doctors are discussing long-range studies to find out how much this will contribute to your risk of “heart disease” later in life. Meanwhile, you can take some comfort from knowing that most people who describe this symptom are describing it in the past tense, although I’m feeling it as I type this. Some say it lasted three to five weeks, for them. Some say less.
  • ·          Your pulse and blood pressure surge, although they’re not normally high. You are reacting to physical stress. If you don’t normally need medication to control your pulse and blood pressure, meditation will work. You can learn to lower your pulse and blood pressure in a minute or less, using simple breathing and maybe visualization, without even having to sit down…but they will zoom back up, from time to time, when you’re not thinking about them. This was the distinctive feature of last winter’s flu and it’s what I’m finding most tiresome about what I believe may be coronavirus. (Not that it matters which virus I have, or whether it’s both, for quarantine purposes. I’d prefer not to infect my friends’ parents with either one. Only virologists would really want to know.)
  • ·          From time to time you might also feel slightly feverish. Your temperature shoots up, but not very far or for very long.
  • ·          Feelings of weakness, fatigue, and fever are most likely to occur during physical exertion. While I’m picking out weeds in the garden I feel fine. When I applied my hand saw to an overgrown shrub, I suddenly got that “blood turned to cold water in the veins” feeling and wanted to go in and lie down.
  • ·          Digestion becomes very irregular. If you look at the contents of the toilet before flushing you might notice that they’re unusually dark one morning and unusually pale the next morning. If you normally use the toilet at 7 a.m., you might find yourself using it at 4 a.m. one morning and 10 a.m. the next morning.
  • ·          Appetite is low. Many healthy people believe in fasting, eating less overall, and/or restricting their diets while fighting off a cold. When I feel like skipping a meal I just do. Sometimes I’ve felt like skipping meals for two or three days. This seems to work for me and especially reduces the misery of norovirus (Norwalk Flu, 24-hour tummybug, etc.). I’ve felt only mild nausea only once; if it had hit right after I’d eaten a full meal I might have lost that meal.
  • ·          Most people don’t seem to be reporting grumpiness as a symptom. I’ve felt that one, too. Like the other positive symptoms that Something Is Definitely Wrong, it comes and goes and remains below the threshold of what others would notice as a symptom that somebody needs to go home from work or school.
  • ·          Sneezing, sniffling, and sore throat may be part of your symptoms, but they’re not nearly as noticeable as they are with a standard rhinovirus cold or bacterial “summer cold.”
  • ·          Muscle cramps and bone and joint aches may also be present, but again, they’re not nearly as noticeable as they are with flu.
  • ·          Mostly it’s a chest cold. The only symptom you notice, most of the time, is that taking a deep breath becomes difficult. If you can still take a deep breath you have to think about it.
All this does make my going into quarantine call to mind a TV comedy trailer I once saw where the “princess” fell down a ten-foot wall and gasped, “I broke a nail!” I’ve lived with this guilt during several flu seasons by now. I’m not sick; I’m walking miles and sawing wood and scrubbing under furniture just in case there’s any mold down there; why am I hollering before I’m hurt? Because we know old people and sick patients are dying from these lame-o little virus infections. That’s all. That’s enough.

I still don’t know whether it’s coronavirus or a rerun of last year’s flu, or whether last year’s flu was a COVID-19-like mutation of coronavirus. My untested intuition is that what I have is to what sicker people have from COVID-19 as “sore-throat flu” was to swine flu—either a weak form of the same virus, or a healthier person’s reaction to the same virus—and it means I should stay away from fragile people and anyone who lives with them.

And wear the flippin’ mask, already. (Yes, it flips; it’s nice to expose the sweaty side to the air and sun after an hour or so.) Yes, of course I think there are prettier, dressier, more flattering face-covering looks, but it’s still high summer and the other looks are still sweatier. Yes, I plan to design and sell a whole collection of stylish, versatile knitted cowls this fall. And no, the mask doesn’t make my chest feel one bit better.

But it makes my conscience feel vastly better.

That one person who saw my bare face through that glass pane… that person, and I’m not specifying a gender partly out of respect for the person’s privacy but also because the body was so bent and the voice was so wheezy I’m not sure, was already obviously not a healthy individual. When healthier the person would have been as tall as I am or taller. When I saw person leaning on the door, person’s head was somewhere around my shirt-pocket level. That is the kind of person we most want to avoid when we have any kind of infectious condition. It is also the kind of person whose going to answer the door suggests that person had only just come down with person’s current infection.

When I resume normal social life, which I plan to do in September, I should be safe for people to be around at a distance. The Grouch, who’s been retested and definitely had coronavirus in May, says there is some confusion about how safe it is to be around those who have built up immunity to a disease. People with immunity are breathing out killed virus, which could have a vaccine-like effect for those around them. Our blood is likely to be the source of vaccines. On the other hand, like the animals who are fully immune to diseases they can carry, people with immunity can be carriers of live virus. Live virus can linger on any surface, which is why you want to wash your hands after picking up objects off a counter, or opening a door, or touching anything in town during an epidemic. So, don’t be afraid of people who’ve recovered from coronavirus (or from flu), but don’t go around touching anybody if you want to avoid any infectious disease.

Stay well, Gentle Readers. And please, because you never know how fragile your friends’ parents may be or how desperately they may want to see their children and grandchildren anyway, cover your faces. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Do You Have Coronavirus? How Could You Tell?

Y'know, if I were seriously trying to manage a "pandemic" cold, however nasty a cold it was, I think I'd let the age-old problem of inventing a vaccine for cold virus wait, and think about making it possible for people to observe quarantine. If they care enough to do so.

I live in a town where most families are "headed" by a grandparent, or even a great-grandparent--someone over age 70--so I do care. But do I have coronavirus? Does anybody? Has anybody?

Here are the data points for what they're worth:

* I woke up early Friday morning feeling lazy. Anybody would have felt lazy in that 98% humidity. I also sneezed a few times. I figured that had something to do with the mold I could smell trying to grow in the 98% humidity, applied a bleach solution to the suspected surfaces, and felt better. I went into town and worked and came home feeling reasonably tired.

* On the way home I found a little cable for some sort of electronic device in the road. It looked brand-new, as if it had slipped out of the package. I was tempted to hang onto it and try selling it in the market next Friday, but since it was in front of a house I knocked on the door. The grandparent who shuffled out to the door stood about as high as my oversized cat Graybelle used to reach when she put her paws up for a hug--shirt-pocket level. I kept the glass panel of the outside door between me and the old dear who reached around to claim the cable, wheezing "Where'd you find it?" I didn't linger to breathe on the person. I felt fine but I had been in the market all morning.

* Then on Sunday morning I woke up feeling "OLD," as in "what doesn't hurt doesn't work." Mostly my pulse and blood pressure were very high. (I don't normally have high blood pressure, and was able to get it back to normal with biofeedback from years of practice with a hypertensive husband. But because I'm not accustomed to having high blood pressure, it feels very uncomfortable.) It's simpler to list the common symptoms of health problems that I did NOT have: a fever, a cough, or loss of the sense of smell. I felt slightly sick, slightly dizzy, slightly short of breath and generally all the ways you don't want to feel. I had stiffness and occasional pains in joints. I did not have a head cold or the official signs of coronavirus. I did not have a very pleasant day, either. But I wasn't too ill to work. I walked slowly into town, went into a friend's empty basement without seeing or talking to anybody, worked all day, and walked slowly home, actually feeling better than I'd felt early in the morning.

* Maybe that had something to do with mold. The deal with the basement was that I got to use it on alternating days in exchange for watering plants. The attraction was air conditioning. The Cat Sanctuary does not have air conditioning. After six weeks of maximum humidity day and night, I couldn't see or smell mold in my home office. I'd bleached the daylights out of surfaces I suspected of being likely to grow mold. But when the heat drops below blazing hot, after this kind of summer you know there's going to be mold...I've not seen mold growing on an actual mothball, but I've seen it starting to grow within a few inches from one.

* It was still very hot, and very damp, with a few loud storms and heavy rains. Today was the first day since June when, in the morning at least, the air was cool and not terribly humid. I put off coming into town to water the plants because it was so much fun getting things done in the house and yard.

* But I still had that tightness in the chest, and when I did anything very energetic I still felt as if my legs were full of water, and other not very pleasant things. Basically, I felt (and still feel) as if I had a very mild chest cold. Very mild. But the congestion is down in the lungs, below the throat where harmless little streppy-bugs "bite" or sinus allergies start. Also I spent a good part of Sunday reading about how, when people get this strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, and don't have the standard fever and head cold symptoms, sometimes the heart is what the virus attacks. Some people get cardiovascular symptoms, which aren't part of regular cardiovascular disease, but of course make it easier for the usual kind of cardiovascular disease to develop later on...

* Funnily enough, the surges in pulse and blood pressure were what people were noticing as symptoms of last winter's flu, before we were told that COVID-19 had reached our shores. I feel just exactly as if I were fighting last winter's flu, all over again.

* So if it's last winter's flu, I should not quarantine myself but should go into town and take care of business, I told myself. And I will, whenever it gets too hot to be irresistibly pleasant at home. (This took until late afternoon.) I walked into town and saw a sign on the front door of the person who'd claimed the cable, warning visitors to put their face masks on before the door was opened.

* So I was...within three feet of someone who now has the dreaded coronavirus. Only for a few seconds and only reaching around a glass door, but that could have been enough. Or the person from whom that person got it could have been in the market, probably not wearing a mask. I don't know that I've been exposed to coronavirus but I could very easily have been. In fact, in view of the symptoms I've had...I'm like 95% sure I've got the wretched virus.

* But I also saw evidence that some wretched fool had sprayed some sort of poison all around a lot of private property over the weekend. It wasn't "Roundup"; I could tell because the horsetail rushes around their section of the drainage ditch were affected differently, as was the kudzu. It could have been causing me to feel that my heart, liver, and kidneys, rather than the usual digestive and respiratory surface tissue, were taking the damage of this latest round of poisoning. How far did the vapors diffuse? In all that rain?

* So how do I find out? At the town hall we now have a temperature-checking machine to make sure people who have fevers don't breathe on the town government officials. That's nice but I don't have a fever. I could still have the virus. I could still be a carrier. I could still kill somebody's grandparents just by talking with them...maybe. But for sure nobody's giving out free finger-stick blood tests to confirm or disprove the presence of active coronavirus in a healthy person with no fever. Hospitals are discouraging people who can stand on their feet from seeking tests--much less treatment, which I don't need.

The Grouch still doesn't know for sure. He thought he had it in May. He was discouraged from trying to get tested at the time. He finally got tested in June, and was told he'd definitely had coronavirus in July. Then more recently it was reported that a lot of veterans had been misled by tests that gave false positive results. The Grouch is a veteran and might have been in that group. Who knows about him, either. Who knows about anybody. If what I have is COVID-19, then it's entirely possible that last winter's flu was--unreported--COVID-19.

I don't want to use up friends' willingness to help unnecessarily...well, if this isn't coronavirus, and if I get coronavirus later this winter, the odds are heavily against the people I know being able to help.

Gentle Readers, I prayed. I asked for a sign. If I opened my e-mail and saw a writing assignment that required me to be online, this evening, I'd wait for proof before scaring people with any concerns about coronavirus. I may not have it now. I may have it later. I have no way of knowing.

If I did not find such an assignment in this evening's e-mail, I'd at least try to go into quarantine today. I arranged to go to the grocery store with the Grouch, who has probably already had coronavirus. I'll be working on arrangements to get bills paid, mail collected, and groceries delivered during the rest of this week.

I am really hoping it is coronavirus, so I can get that out of the way before the air turns cold and be able to repay errands for older friends this winter.

How much of this decision is due to the pleasure of being at home when the heat breaks, and how much to concern about coronavirus, I can't really say. But I can assure you that I'm not sprezzing or trying to pull something. This is an ideal time for me to build immunity to a virus that's not serious for healthy people my age, but if I could have convinced myself that all I'd had were mold allergies or even chemical sensitivity, I would have done that. I enjoyed working out in the sunshine today and intend to do so whenever the sun shines during the next few weeks. I would not have enjoyed breathing on any friends who might be more vulnerable to the virus, or live with people who are. While working outside today I set my mind to figuring out how errands could be done without putting unreasonable burdens on friends, or breathing on or handing things to friends. I think it's possible and will be trying to do it.

See y'all in three weeks, Gentle Readers.

If you get any say in the matter, please lean on your local "health care providers" to focus on making it easier for people to get themselves tested so they can quarantine themselves appropriately.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Liberal Post 3: Language Challenge

Where in the world are our blogs' readers? One advantage of Blogger/Blogspot over the free versions of Live Journal and Word Press is that Google always tells Google-hosted bloggers from which countries we're getting page views.

This web site is based in the United States and is mostly about the United States, so no points for guessing that the US is always on our top ten list.

This web site moved from Live Journal and still has a shadow at LJ, which is based in Russia, so it's not surprising that Russia has usually been on our top ten list too. We know very little about our Russian readers. One or two of them have posted a comment in English on Live Journal, and one posts lovely photos and graphics, with English texts, on Twitter. We like to think, or hope, they're reading English-language web sites in order to keep the parts of their brains that have studied English active, the way I like to read things in Spanish and French. I've said this before and will say it again: Welcome, all international readers. Welcome, US State Department and FBI readers. This blog is our virtual front porch and sitting room, so feel free to pull up chairs, sit down, introduce yourselves...

The other eight countries on the top ten list vary from week to week, and frequently surprise me. Google can be positively pushy about translating everything, so it's possible that people in non-English-speaking countries aren't even reading English-language web sites for language practice, but how is it possible that, some weeks, we have more readers in non-English-speaking countries than in English-speaking ones? Google reports only the top ten. Have we offended everybody in Canada this week, or are they all on vacation?

This web site has no foreign policy. Although it's been written and edited by an "I," it does still belong to a "we," some of whom don't even have screen names. Individually we're a mixed group; though Yona looks White, when Grandma Bonnie Peters died we may have lost our last "ethnically pure" White member. Most of us have traced our ancestors to lots of different places, and our personal friends are also mixed crowds. We include at least one Trump supporter (as distinct from supporters of the U.S. Constitution), and we would just dare anybody to say to his face that we are in any way racist, if it weren't for social distancing.

Generally we think foreign visitors who are here legally and legitimately are interesting, and the ones who have been here for a while and still want to stay here probably have a contribution to make to our society and should stay. Generally we know that, although human beings can be friends, nations can only form alliances that change from year to year. Individuals have to respect our national policy makers' decisions about those, trusting that governments can aggregate more information about what's going on in other countries than individuals would ever have.

"Oh blah, that's just general Internet boilerplate, like the reminder that Google-hosted sites use cookies and that nobody should type any living person's real name or individual contact information on a computer that connects to the Internet, that this web site repeats every few months. What else is new?"

Well. Bloggers of the world, today this web site challenges you to greet your readers in their national languages, even if the equivalent of "hello" or "good morning" is the only word you know of those languages.

So, this week, this web site says:

Hello, US readers.

Merhaba, Turkish readers, at least those of you who are actually reading and not trying to hack into anything. The position of this web site is that all hackers should be permanently confined to dank, damp cells where, if anybody were able to smuggle in any electronic device, it would corrode instantly, and meanwhile the hackers would be too busy coughing and wheezing in the damp air and scrubbing little patches of mold off their skins to care. Actual readers are welcome.

Buon giorno, Italian readers.

Konnichi wa, Japanese readers.

Guten Morgen, German readers.

Zdravstvuyte, Russian readers. Zdraste, regular Russian readers who've been with us since 2011.

Bonjour, French readers.

Buenos dias, readers in Argentina. Why Argentina, where I don't know anybody, more than Mexico, Colombia, or Guatemala, where I do? Ni idea.

As salaam alaikum, Saudi readers.

Bom dia, Portuguese readers.

This web site wishes you all a good week...and that's a definitively liberal thought. (When I accepted payment for "liberal posts" I had in mind some posts about the good work done by people who've held left-leaning political views. Those will appear. Meanwhile, this web site is liberal in the sense of being generous with good intentions. We can't afford to be very generous with much else, but we have lots of good will and good intentions.)

Meanwhile, what the State Department and FBI want to know seems to be whether our foreign readers are telling us how to vote, or trying to use our names to participate illegally in the US political process. We certainly don't want to make that easy. (That's one reason why we never, never, never use any of our real-world names in cyberspace.) Several years ago some hackers in Turkey apparently used my individual e-mail account to make a campaign contribution to Rand Paul; they did that without my knowledge or consent, they fouled up the e-mail, and if I had any idea who or where they were I'd spank them. If you like any of the people who are candidates for political office in the United States, international readers, please feel free to buy their books and donate money to their charities, but stay out of other people's e-mail.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Bad Poetry: Let Me Explain Some Things

(All kinds of other poems on this theme are linked at Rosemary Nissen-Wade's blog hop, with the Neruda poem as inspiration... )

If I'd put more time into this I could probably have written a more encouraging poem about men who work, as opposed to an "explanation" for the ones who don't. I didn't. These grumpy half-assonant lines commemorate a long, sultry morning in the Friday Market during which eleven men tried to flirt with me, two more made big shows of not, and I had a lot of time to reflect that if any of them really wanted to attract me they'd stop trying to act like teenagers and try acting like men, as in mature and responsible, with bodies toned by purposeful activity, and minds...oh who cares, they're not The One For Me anyway. A few of them are married, for pity's sake. Can anything be more pathetic than a married man trying to flirt with other women just because that's the only way he's ever learned to make conversation?

Meanwhile other women act as if they felt the same way I do. Middle age recapitulates high school. Just as all the girls used to ignore most of the boys and trail after the few who had jobs or cars or vestigial mustaches, now all the unattached women in my generation seem to ignore most of the men and trail after the few who have jobs or vocations or businesses. And funnily enough, though there are lots of women sitting at home and rocking slowly in recliner chairs in front of television sets, those women seem to be lamenting an alleged shortage of men. And some of them are still married to men who are trying to flirt with women who have jobs, vocations, or businesses.

To all the sad old men
who think they're supposed to flirt
with anything that suggests a skirt
to their old bleary eyes:

It's not just what you're given,
it's what you do with what you got,
but unfortunately a lot
of you hardly seem to be living.

Men pensioned off at fifty
seem to have an idea of a life
that's probably cost them one wife
or more than one, already,

television and take-out food
and for "occupation," lawn care
done on an air-conditioned riding mower
that feels just like that recliner chair

that looks so remarkably like
an extra-large padded coffin
to sink into, and doze off in,
and never wake up. Or be missed.

The women they're all running after
have in common with the men
whom the women are running after
a different definition of life.

Between seeking "tall, dark, and handsome"
and seeking "old, rich, and sick"
middle-aged women find winsome
men who still think and still act.

Though there is no shortage of bodies
flab forms on bodies and souls
the practical mind no longer controls.
We like men who take care of business.

I find attractive only
one man, who, although tall and dark,
when asked the secret of attracting women
as he still does, said truly: "I work."

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Liberal Post: Some Things Never Change, Although They Should

Schools opening? Say whaaat? When I was growing up, in most States schools opened on the Tuesday after Labor Day (which is the first Monday in September). In California it was the day after California Admission Day, which is the ninth of September. In Virginia we felt very hard used having to go to school in the last week of August.

Some people still farm, school boards. August is a busy season. The whole idea of summer vacation was, traditionally, to allow students to help on the family farm in the month when their help was most needed...and most enjoyable. (August is also a time to pig out on fresh raw fruit and veg.)

My feeling about school opening this year, however, is that maintaining healthy distances among students is a priority.

When I was in school, before school choice, when it was understood that any normal healthy child would prefer not to go to school whenever we had any choice, I would have preferred to give up summer vacation and gone to school, maybe one day a week, as one of five or six children in the classroom that day, rather than packed into the dreaded school bus...

The baby boom was subsiding, and my district had received funding to build big new consolidated schools, so once we got to school there were enough desks for everyone, usually with a few extra. Funding for all the bus transportation people "needed" to haul their children to those schools, however, lagged behind, so on nearly all the bus routes there would be a bus built to hold 60 to 66 primary school students, carrying 70 to 80 students of all ages through grade twelve. The last third of the people to board the bus would stand in the aisles rather than squeeze in beside the rest of us until the driver got nervous and ordered people to squeeze in, three to a seat. Then when the bus unloaded those 70 to 80 students the driver would turn around and roll out on another route to bring in 70 or 80 more. While waiting for the lucky lugs on the second route to get to school by 8:30, those of us who lived along the first route would have a half-hour, an hour, or more when most of the classroom doors were locked and we had to hang out in the schoolyard, on the frozen pavement, waiting to watch the sun peep over the hill. Or, if lucky, we might be allowed to sit in the cafeteria, smelling the delicious (urrggh!) school meals being cooked, and listening to the music (ouch!) of the school band practicing. Very few students were allowed to walk to school, although my brother and I certainly lobbied for that privilege as often as possible, insisting that we were too big enough to walk three miles. Even people who enjoyed actual classes and sports, at my school, hated waiting for school to start in the mornings, and it was no secret that the second routes were the ones that served the families of teachers and school board members.

School itself was probably not a significant reason why I was such a scrawny, sickly child, but it certainly didn't help. I would have hated elementary school much less if each of the 20 children allowed to board the bus on one day a week had had seats to ourselves. Classes might even have been interesting if, on any given day, only two or three of the six people in each classroom had been there to give the teacher a hard time, rather than twelve or fifteen of the thirty...I think the crowding was the primary cause of the interpersonal hostility. We weren't learning how to have friends; we were learning how to avoid having friends, how to maximize interpersonal space by having and being enemies. We were also swapping colds and flu and worse. Some parents wanted their children to get those perfect attendance certificates, and would make their kids report for roll call no matter how visibly ill they were. You'd sit at the far end of the classroom and wait to see whether those kids, who were "popular" because they were rich but not really easy to like, would faint or vomit and have to be sent home, even if the family chauffeur was also ill and couldn't whisk them back home right after roll call.

Of course trying to build healthy interpersonal distance into the school system, which should have been done a hundred years ago and should be continued after the Dreaded Coronavirus is forgotten, will be a big change even today, when many school districts already have room to give everyone adequate personal space. I've even found posts from teachers complaining that, when they've formed a habit of addressing a lecture hall with every one of 100 theatre-style seats filled, seeing only 20 people scattered at a healthy distance from each other among those seats makes the teachers feel rejected and as if they're wasting their time. Psychologically it does look as if four out of five of the students had decided to blow off their lectures, even if they've worked out plans to repeat one lecture to 20 students on each day of the week and have the students do the balance of the work online.

Persevere, teachers. Get used to it. Success is not lecturing to a packed hall every day. Success is having enough space to see that each student is engaged with the material, that by the end of the term all of them have learned something.

In this fourteenth-century illustration, though all the students are adults who have paid to be there, just being packed into the hall is...showing that some things never change! Note that, despite the grey beards, being crowded together is still motivating these students to distract each other--or doze off. Photo contributed to Wikipedia's article on "Lecture" By Laurentius de Voltolina - The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

Teachers have always been excellent copers.

"But, but..." Don't start sputtering, teachers. I know. The real problem is that too many schools receive their funding according to the number of students who report for roll call every day, rather than the number who are enrolled. This always was a bad idea. It needs to change. School funding should not be compromised by the need to make schools healthier places than they've been since, in the United States, the 1930s. Schools should not lose a penny when a student chooses to observe quarantine, without warning, for two weeks (or longer, in the case of, e.g., mononucleosis). If anything, schools should gain money (for the necessary substitute teacher) when a teacher chooses to observe quarantine. 

Yes. You read that right, Gentle Readers. Although this web site is fiscally conservative and recommends cutting back DoE funding if not cutting out the whole federal Department of Education, on some specific points this web site recommends liberal spending on school budgets. Freeing up money, such as the cost of sending out all those buses five days a week instead of one, for better uses, like paying (and probably training and recruiting) more substitute teachers, as well as paying regular teachers when they are public-spirited enough to observe quarantine.

Now, for readers who don't do Twitter: This web site was run for years from public-access computer centers, mostly, but it was hard to write for clients there. The computer center that was nice and quiet and uncrowded, with state-of-the-art computers, was a 25-mile walk and I found myself actually walking it in the worst possible weather because, of course, that was when the cell phone didn't work. (And although 25 or 30 miles a day is a reasonable distance for a healthy person to walk, it is a full day's work, leaving insufficient time or energy to do much else that day.) This web site's purpose is to promote my writing job, which depends on an adequate computer. Much as I believe that people should use public-access computers for anything we do online, it's been a great deal more practical for me to use a privately owned laptop that neighbors have been willing to let me keep in a building in the business zone.

So, someone gave me the historic little Dell laptop we nicknamed The Sickly Snail, from its very best operating speed. It still works, too, though it's unlikely to work much longer, for Open Office word processing and not much else. Then our late lamented Grandma Bonnie Peters decided she couldn't bear to watch me spending whole days doing a lot of knitting and relatively little online business, and bequeathed to me the laptop on which she'd started but not finished one blog post (which was to have gone on this site). It was a premium-grade HP Pavilion in 2009...of course, by 2015 various web sites were giving it static about its being "old." It worked longer than it was really built to work, but it started overheating and crashing daily last winter, and about a month ago it blew its lights out.

By that time, of course, someone had given me this thing. In fairness to a good friend with good intentions, I must say, he didn't actually give me the laptop on which I'm typing this. He doesn't believe in computers, actually, and doesn't go into computer shops, so he gave me the cash to buy a used laptop. I then found a lift to Compuworld and called ahead to make sure the shop would not be too crowded on the day I could finally pick up a used laptop, planning to be able to pick and choose from a shelf of a few dozen glossy, gently-used HP's, which the shop usually maintains. The wizard who picked up the phone said, "Since the virus panic we've sold out of used laptops." So, well, there's a newer, cheaper store on the other side of town. We were driving past them. We stopped. They had just one used laptop left. This was it: a Dell Latitude. With the dreaded Windows 10 operating system. I held my nose as I hauled it in.

And it is a POG (piece of garbage), Gentle Readers. The way I go through computer memory, working full-time? This little lightweight wasn't built to last me one month, nor do I expect it will, and if I have another laptop by the time this one dies, I'll be glad to send it in for recycling. Much as I hate the pollution and toxic waste that are involved in "recycling" anything electronic. Firmly as I believe that, if we insist on buying electronics--which we should try to avoid--we should buy them to last our lifetimes.

O POG, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. A sonnet should be forthcoming. 

I still need a laptop--a decent one, with a version of Windows from before the company grew arrogant enough to alienate customers like me with constant sales pushes. (When a computer prods me to buy something for it or replace it, I'm definitely motivated to look for a different brand and browser.) My clients prefer Word documents to Open Office, although they convert almost perfectly. 

And. as those who do follow me on Twitter know, an e-friend of an e-friend has been looking for a laptop--a completely different kind, with whatever it takes to run Zoom so he can teach an e-class. I've tweeted on his behalf. No conflict there. There are laptops that run Word and laptops that run Zoom. I need one. He needs (or may already have found) the other.

I suspect the HP Pavilion (or whatever they may call the equivalent newer model) could run Zoom, but if I get a good laptop, the first thing I'm doing is stripping away as much of its audiovisual capabilities as possible. AV wastes a lot of the memory I need to handle long elaborate Word documents. 

The first thing a lot of people, like that teacher, would probably do is to strip away high-memory professional Word. 

Twenty years ago when Earle, God rest him, was building that desktop computer for me to use in his business, computers were not a thing people had used and decided to hand down. If you didn't want to pay a thousand dollars for a Toshiba Satellite or two thousand for a similar custom-built desktop computer, you chose your own software, installed it yourself, and prayed that one application wouldn't destroy another. MS Office was a huge advance because all those different applications it had were guaranteed to be compatible. There were a lot of other word processing, data processing, image processing, and other businesslike software packages on the market, and most of them were not compatible. 

Now everybody, whether they're teachers, students, or even writers, can afford some sort of laptop that comes with the applications they want already built in and checked for mutual compatibility...even if the laptops some of us want are, by definition, the ones some of us consider POG. 

I think this POG was just about DOA (dead on arrival) and so, probably, would anyone looking for a laptop that could handle Zoom, but for somebody who just wanted to tweet or e-mail to a few long-distance relatives every few days, this POG might have been custom-made. It's such a tiny flimsy doesn't overheat, its battery runs even Word for more than an hour at a time, it probably adds even fewer kilowatts to the monthly bill than my computers do, although mine add remarkably little. 

I need Word, Google Chrome, a few utilities like Explorer and Task Manager, and as little else as possible. I need lots of free memory. 

For those who've read my pleas for a new laptop--my kind--and already replied that what you have wouldn't be my kind, this "liberal" post urges you to think liberally. If what you have is not infested with toxic virus-ware, there's somebody out there who is looking for it. 

Schools--which are not really underfunded, but are funded in a sick, outdated way and have allocated that funding in even more questionable ways--are good places to find those people. 

Phenology: Yes, but Which Datana?

On the way into town this morning I saw an unusual caterpillar on the road. It looked as if it were trying to cross the four-lane highway from where it joins an exit ramp, not a very safe way for a caterpillar to cross a busy road.

It was about two inches long. Its ginger fur and yellow lateral stripe made it look like a fat, out-of-season Eastern Tent Caterpillar from a distance. Of course it could hardly be that. On a closer look, its skin was striped in orange-brown and yellow, with thin lateral stripes on all sides rather than the fancy pattern of a Tent Caterpillar. Its head and tail ends were orange-brown. It looked like one of the several laterally striped caterpillars in the genus Datana. While the Walnut Caterpillar, Datana integerrima, is black with white fur, sometimes very fluffy, several other Datanas are stripey with much shorter and sparser hairs.

Though I found closer matches elsewhere, here, for those in search of an immediate caterpillar gross-out, is a free photo of D. ministra from Wikipedia.

Shared at by Gerald J. Lenhard, who says: "This image is Image Number 0014042 at Forestry Images, a source for forest health, natural resources and silviculture images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service."

The test of a Datana caterpillar is how it squirms if threatened. The whole moth family to which this genus belongs, the Notodontidae, is recognized by the insects' tendency to arch their backs into a J or even a lopsided U shape. The caterpillars will raise their head and tail sections at the same time and squirm as if they thought they could bite and sting, although they're bluffing; like most caterpillars they're harmless if not swallowed. (They are, however, working themselves up to excrete little drops of bodywaste from each end. This blogger, observing one of the Datanas that is not stripey in its final stage, was able to photograph Datana major threatening him with a tiny blob of frass: )

But I didn't take the time to threaten the caterpillar I saw to see how it would react. It just had a Datana look. I walked on into town where I could look it up.

At least two Datanas are called "Yellow-necked" because the caterpillars have a yellow or yellow-orange patch or band just behind the head. D. ministra is fairly common in our region but its caterpillars are usually described as having black and yellow stripes and relatively short, sparse white hairs. Though soft rather than spiky hair is visible all over these caterpillars, it's hardly thick enough to be described as fur, as D. integerrima's and the Tent Caterpillars' hair can be.

The caterpillar I saw was more yellow than brown all over, but might have been described as yellow-necked. I looked it up on the Internet. Much remains to be learned. The first thing I learned was that D. ministra caterpillars are variable, with some color patterns--usually photographed at an earlier stage of life--that can resemble the ginger-and-saffron specimen I saw. Trigger warning: in the early stage little Datanas are very gregarious. They strip branches of host plants because they spread themselves over the plants, within touching distance of their siblings. When approached by a human, like the photographer whose report of this species is linked below, they go into their threat display for a major gross-out effect.

And of course the reason why lots of information about D. ministra is available online is that the caterpillars can be a nuisance. They usually eat azalea leaves but will also attack blueberry bushes. Like Walnut Caterpillars, when they strip branches or bushes in August or September they don't really harm the plant. Further south, where it's possible for caterpillars to hatch in spring, they can be a minor pest. Since they're harmless and usually found in easy reach, the recommended way to control them is to pick or shake them off the branch and kill them.

But...notice how irregular the brown dorsal stripe on those caterpillars in the photo looked? That's not mine. Mine had a smooth, even, yellow dorsal stripe...

I found web pages for the other Datanas but, as the moths and caterpillars all look very much alike and none of them is of great interest to farmers, I did not find clear photos or descriptions of the caterpillars. Mine could have been something less common than ministra, but nobody had taken the trouble to explain what. Photographs of D. drexelii (Drexel's Datana) caterpillars seem a closer match to what I saw, though not perfect.

There is no major economic difference between ministra and drexelii. One of those cases where both moths and caterpillars have almost identical looks, ranges, and habits; entomologists say they are two distinct species, but find it hard to explain why. (In such cases, sometimes there is a consistent difference in the body shape that's visible only under a microscope. Describing these differences would require entomologists to use technical language and grossly magnified images.)

There's also D. angusii (Angus' Datana), also very similar to ministra and drexelii, and some other species in this genus look remarkably similar to all three. Clear photos of the caterpillars of several species are not available. Photo galleries available for angusii, drexelii, ministra, and another confusible species contracta, suggest that the looks of individual caterpillars vary considerably. Further, because all the Datanas are most likely to be noticed in the early stages when they travel in packs, photos may be misleading with regard to final-stage caterpillars who roam alone. Consider the difference between next-to-last and last-stage D. major at the BlueJayBarrens Blogspot link above, or the fact that very young D. integerrima are red.

I'm guessing that what I saw was a full-sized drexelii who had been stuffing itself on somebody's blueberry bush, along with twenty or forty of its siblings. Squick per-yuckety urgh ugh ick, but no long-term damage, and little risk that this native species will proliferate and be more of a nuisance next year. All three yellow-necked Datanas and several of the other species are fairly common throughout Eastern and Central North America, but none of them seems to overpopulate in Virginia. As with integerrima, if we see them one year, that does not mean we're likely to see them again next year. Apparently our birds aren't intimidated by their group-squirming display.

I checked...although some people have described some of the Datanas as orange and black, they're another species that might stray onto a hibiscus bush during that final stage when caterpillars look for places far from their homes to pupate, but none of the Datanas is reported to eat hibiscus.

On the whole, the Datana I saw this morning seems to have been a harmless individual animal, doing its bit to maintain its species' insignificant place in our ecology by removing itself from the gene pool at an early age.

It would have been interesting, though, to have found clear descriptions of all the Datanas at all stages of their economically insignificant lives.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Pre-Obituary: Grandma Bonnie Peters Moves On

KANSAS CITY, Missouri.--Bonnie Dale Lassiter Peters, 18 January 1935 -- 9 August 2020

The nurse, teacher, patient advocate, life coach, Health & Temperance Minister, Celiactivist, cook, restaurant supplier, frozen-food entrepreneur, church youth group leader, active grandparent, model of active seniority, and less-successful writer known as Grandma Bonnie Peters has taken her next step forward.

Upon reaching a plateau in recovery from a stroke, which was where she was the last time I visited her, she had some symptoms tested and learned that she had liver cancer.

She was 85 years old. She had been the home nurse for patients whose liver cancer had reached the almost unbearably disgusting stage at which they were sent home from hospitals. She rejected chemotherapy and planned, for this summer, The Last Road Trip, during which she planned to revisit scenes of her childhood in Kansas and Oklahoma in the company of relatives in Missouri.

Though willing to continue helping her friends at the retirement project, if able, on return from The Last Road Trip, she was making no commitments and was eating only a few bites of food at each meal before the Trip. On being notified of her plan to take the Trip, I said to relatives who doubted that she had the strength to survive it, "That's the point."

According to her younger daughter, who was driving, GBP rented two rooms for the two of them for a week, in a suburban hotel outside Kansas City. Her plan was to go to bed early Sunday night, wake up early Monday morning, and spend the day with relatives. She never woke up.

She wanted people to remember her as someone who could still walk, talk, make plans, and manage her own affairs, and so they will. Though she never recovered the fortitude to walk back up to the Cat Sanctuary, she will be remembered as the retirement project resident who practiced walking with great regularity and determination, and encouraged others trying to recover to practice walking around the track at the project, also.

She was the one who responded to the news that friends and relatives were postponing visits, for fear of infecting project residents with last winter's flu, by saying, "I'm here in my friend's flat, helping nurse her through the flu." She wanted to die "with her boots on" and almost literally did.

A lifelong advocate of simple memorial services, GBP was minimally insured to cover the cost of only the simplest. Following an open-coffin service in Missouri, which was attended by the disappointed relatives, she will be cremated there, and the ashes will be disposed of at a simple service on the Virginia/Tennessee border next week.

She was the daughter of Everett McCoy Lassiter and Ruby Jewel Garrett Lassiter ("Texas Ruby"). She was preceded in death by her sister, Mabel Lassiter Kerby; her husband, George Albert Peters; and two sons, David Floyd Peters (1969-1982) and John Kevin Peters (who lived fewer than 24 hours in 1984). She is survived by two daughters, four grandchildren, a large extended family, and many friends, students, and patients.

Status Update: Another Friday Market

I'd been thinking "At least I can use this cheapie laptop in Friday Market. At least, because it was such an annoying piece of garbage that its previous owners never got much use out of it, it still has a juicy new battery that will run for four hours."

Hello? The edge of the storm was expected to have moved on by now. Edges of storms have a way of lingering here, though. It was far too humid to take a laptop out of an air-conditioned basement.

I had thought of making a blog post out of the Friday Market experience. Did any winners from the antique car show drive through? (Not that I saw.)

Did people cover their faces and maintain healthy social distance? Most did.

A man who's been told that he had coronavirus but wasn't ill enough to get treatment, then that some veterans (he is one) were wrongly told they had it when they didn't, then that he might have it or get it again, was in the market, looking frazzled, staying inside his truck and shouting to people from whom he bought things to throw his purchases in the back.

A woman who left a child in a minivan while she shopped and haggled shouted to the child not to shout out of the window, as the child could see adults doing.

One woman with lovely long thick white hair came up to me with her bare face sticking out, defensively explaining to people who weren't asking, "My COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders, the catchall word for asthma, bronchitis, etc.) is so bad I can't wear a mask." Right. The panic is about a chest cold that kills older people who have COPD, so she's out in a crowd...

During the past week I've read of crowds turning ugly on people like her. I don't like that. She is the one in danger. She is the one who was likely to die from some other "natural cause" this winter anyway, and is likely to go out like a light the minute the coronavirus hits her. Why would anyone want to make her more miserable than she is? I was praying for her.

Weather? The 90-percent humidity was worse than the 70-degree (Fahrenheit) heat for the first hour or so. Gate City was swaddled in one of those "fogs" that are actually low-flying clouds, where you can feel only a few of the actual raindrops because you're filmed with steam already. Fogs and clouds are the same thing at different altitudes. Our altitude is high enough that we spend quite a lot of time in these clouds, but we have to go to higher ground to get a chance to stand in the sunshine above one and watch it rain or snow on the valley below us. People set up their displays, and most people did their shopping, in this cloud before full daylight to beat the heat.

By about 9 a.m. the sun was starting to beat down. The temperature was recorded as 99 in the shade. In the Friday Market any shade is provided by vendors. By about 1 p.m. I started to feel too parched to talk to any remaining shoppers, so though I don't like to take down my display while anybody is still shopping, I went inside. I did not see any reactions to the heat and humidity more serious than (a) a lot of people repeating that it was hot, and (b) a church group bringing in an enormous cooler and offering people cold bottled water.

Fashion notes? I saw just one veil, very pretty and decorative though not matching the woman's clothes. Masks ruled. The coolest design I saw all day was worn by a young man. It was brown and yellow sunflowers on a forest-green background, and really blended in with the camouflage-colored shorts and shirt he was wearing.

One of the worst matches between mask and clothing colors was mine. Bright pastel and white mask, soft rose and cream dress...I figured it would soon be too hot to care that I have a knitted cowl that matches the dress, which the cotton mask did not. So it was.

I saw three separate shoppers wearing skirts that didn't cover their knees as they walked. Two of them were wearing tunic-type, semi-fitted, short-skirted dresses over shorts. Survey says, if you forget and bend over while wearing that style, you may be decently covered, but the shorts still "read" visually as underwear and you still look more ridiculous than someone wearing a shirt over shorts, even though the shirt and shorts expose more thigh than the tunic and shorts do. (This "survey" consisted of people's reactions, as in out-loud laughter, when one of the fashion victims bent over to load purchases into the back of a car.) Mainly I noticed how much shorter and fatter all three of those women looked than they would have looked in regular shirts and skirts (the kind of skirts that cover the curve of the leg and swish when you walk). They all had decent "matronly" figures and they all looked fat.

Meanwhile the family who dress like Mennonites, though some smaller churches have similar dress codes, were baking their bread snacks in their snack wagon, the women's skirts every bit as long as the man's trousers. A long skirt does not feel hotter than a short skirt in summer, although it does feel warmer than a short skirt in winter. A long skirt can be used to fan cool air around you on a hot day. A long skirt also keeps off the deer flies that had invaded the market, possibly because people have sprayed stuff that killed their natural predators. Everybody was perspiring, however bare or covered, but my guess would be that the people whose skins were burning while being bitten by deer flies were a lot less comfortable than the ones perspiring into roomy cotton clothes.

I mention this because one shirtless sufferer asked how we could stand to wear ankle-length dresses in the heat. The answer is: very easily. How anyone can stand to bare their skin to deer flies is what I don't understand.

It was a pretty good market day, on the whole. I last worked an open-air market in temperatures above 100 about 25 years ago; I felt less bothered by the heat than I remember feeling then. I felt parched and tired at the end of the day, but not nearly as bad as I've felt after milder days when somebody's sprayed poison near the market.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Phenology Post: Shade, Heir to Jade

A question, Gentle Readers. Would you send your monthly (or bimonthly or quarterly) $5 to this web site if it looked more like this Real Phenology Blog?

Browsing through that guy's notes from the Midwest, I noted a synchronicity. Yesterday morning a new Grass-Carrying Wasp was asserting her claim to the office.

She flew smack into the Lasko fan, which was running at the time, fell to the bottom and spent some time checking herself for permanent injuries. There didn't seem to be any. She's young; she's probably in love, whatever that feels like to insects that seem to live in loose pairs; the world is her oyster. She flew back to the desk lamp and sat there surveying her territory. Summoning her mate? Watching for a mosquito to eat? Checking out her human companion? Possibly all of the above? I admired the way her iridescent wings and skin shaded from purplish behind to coppery-green in front, and thought, "That can be her name. Shade, heir to Jade."

There's no reason to imagine that wasps have names for themselves, and reason to doubt that they ever know they've been given names by humans, but it does help us keep track if for some reason we're watching an individual wasp. My reason for watching Shade is to make sure I don't inadvertently crush her, or her mate, who showed himself an hour or two later. (He's less outrageously disproportionate to her than the male Steel-Blue Cricket Hunter; smaller and less iridescent, but easily recognized as a wasp rather than a skinny fly or oversized gnat.)

When we think of wasps many of us are conditioned to think "sting," but the mud-dauber tribe of wasps don't sting. Some do have pointy bits they can use to stab in self-defense. They don't have any noticeable amount of venom and they're not aggressive. They're actually very congenial office companions. They eat gnats, mosquitoes, and other nuisance insects, and stuff them into the little houses they build around their eggs.

Jade was the wasp who actually became familiar enough, over the weeks of her life, to dare to perch on my eyebrow and pick a gnat right out of my eyelashes. Comparing the efficiency of her tiny claws with the clumsiness of my own thick fingers, I was charmed.

The daubers are considered solitary wasps but, since the paper wasps left and I've had the opportunity to share the office with daubers, I've come to suspect that they live in pairs. At least there's been a resident female who obviously learned her way around the office and, after she's taken over, there's been a male who's learned his way around too. Males may be slower learners than females, or different males may approach before one is chosen to move in; I'm not sure. In any case it's been obvious to my unaided and rather slow-focussing eyes that I've been sharing the office with one pair of daubers for about two months at a time during the warm season. The weeks between generations have been gnat-infested times when I've missed having wasps in residence.

The office windows have screens on them. The female wasps are too big to slip through the mesh, but are able to slither between the screens and their frames. Gnats can slip through the mesh, or around door frames, as can the male Steel-Blue Cricket Hunter, and the horrid invasive "tiger" mosquitoes. (Native mosquito species probably could slip through the mesh, too, if they were motivated to bite humans, which they're not. They occasionally bite Mother but they really prefer to annoy the cats. They also annoyed the chickens, when we had chickens. Tiger mosquitoes, unfortunately, seem to prefer to bite me before they bite any other living thing. I can still usually see them and kill them before they bite; I'm not looking forward to growing old with this species of nuisance insects, but I'm not going to start a Vicious Spray Cycle.)

Earlier this spring there was a problem with dauber overpopulation. I had noticed, while the paper wasps were the dominant species, that daubers used to seem to be annoying little animals that were always flying out in people's faces, although they lost more than they gained by this threat display. I had then observed, after the paper wasp colony collapsed, that the daubers only seemed to do the threat display when other wasps were about. Presumably their motivation was to impress other wasps rather than humans--my family would leave them alone if they didn't fly at us, but have tended to swat them like flies when they did. When there was only one pair of daubers in the office I noticed them mainly by the absence of gnats and mosquitoes. This spring I noticed both a Steel-Blue Cricket Hunter and a Grass Carrier, and they were a nuisance, one or another of them flying at me almost every day. I put up with them but was not pleased. When they reached the end of their short lifespan I saw why the territorial displays had escalated. Three female Cricket Hunters and two female Grass Carriers all expired within a week. They all seemed to have arrived about the same time, so presumably they all belonged to one generation and died old.

Unfortunately, like humans, daubers seem willing to put up with crowding and stress in exchange for the things that motivate them to settle where they do. For daubers that seems to include proximity both to damp clean earth (mud is the main component of the little nests, or huts, they build) and to larger animals that attract mosquitoes (which they eat). A human home located about twenty yards from a stream seems to suit both of these species just fine. The population is probably destined to increase, and the wasps' compatibility with mother is the one who feels most nervous about daubers' displays, and my mother probably won't have another summer at the Cat Sanctuary in any case.

Meanwhile, one pair of Grass Carriers is nice to have in an office, around the time songbirds are molting (and thus not flying and chasing mosquitoes). I welcome Shade.