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Roy Peter Clark: Further thoughts on the pandemic in paradise

Roy Peter Clark

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As we slouch as a country and a city towards the end of the year 2020, I offer a few random reflections:

* I begin with a note about the weather. I remember April and May being fairly pleasant, allowing us to walk our neighborhoods and parks in search of some safe escape from house arrest. Then it got hot. And hotter. And even hotter. And more humid. And stormy. Oh, we thought, can’t wait for October when it cools down. But it stayed hot. Toss in a bunch of tropical storms. Surely, the weather will get better in November. And it did for a few days. And now this morning it was COLD AND WINDY. The only benefit, if you can call it that, is that I get to wear long pants again. 

*I had such high hopes for the year 2020.  First of all, what a great number!  In common language, that number stands for almost perfect vision. When I had my cataract surgery years ago from Dr. Ambrose Updegraff, my vision went from 20/400 to 20/20.  But as my grandfather use to tell me, “Roy, never play the numbers.” 2020 sucked, and that sucking sound may not be silenced until we’re well into 2021 when the vaccine kicks in.

*My 2020 started out great. My new writing book about writing books Murder Your Darlings was published on Jan. 20. What an auspicious publication date: 1/20/2020. Earlier that month, my wife and I appeared before City Council on a day that St. Petersburg claimed the brown pelican as its official bird. Mayor Kriseman presented us with a beautiful framed photograph of a pelican in flight for our support of this effort. The Morean Art Center would sponsor a pelican art exhibit. I’d write the St. Pete Pelican Song. We were soaring.  And then….

*I don’t trust my wife with a razor in her hand, but she did a pretty good job trimming the hair on the back of my neck.  I reciprocated this morning with a pedicure and almost cut off the tip of her pinky toe.  I promised an endless number of make-up foot rubs.

*Nature continues to have its way with us. Especially the bird life. We were out at dusk and watched as a little bird flew from our oak tree to a neighbor’s. A dark figure swooped down and grabbed it and carried it off into a tree where the little bird made disturbing sounds. We thought it was some kind of hawk. But a neighbor pointed out white poop stains on the road beneath where an owl perches on a light pole looking for prey. We knew there were predatory owls here and there, but we had not seen one for 40 years, until now.

Lance’s oak. Photo by Roy Peter Clark

*I do not believe it was chance that attracted the owl to its perch. It chose a spot directly across the street from the 40-foot oak tree that looms over our house. Karen planted it in our front yard about 30 years ago in honor of our Golden Retriever Lance, who went to doggie heaven. It is a perfect tree – if you don’t care about acorns. We are in one of those years when acorns are plentiful. An online resource says that a mature oak tree can drop more than 10,000 acorns. I asked my neighbor Leo to estimate how many our tree had produced. “A billion,” he said. It seems that way. On windy nights the roof over our bedroom sounds like it’s being hit by a hailstorm. I’ll sweep off hundreds from my neighbor’s driveway, and the next day have to sweep off hundreds more.

*The birds and squirrels think our tree is a Morrison’s cafeteria. Black birds, blue jays, and mockingbirds swoop in by the hundreds. The squirrels, usually sleek and playful, now just sit on the lawn and munch away. I don’t mean to fat-shame these rodents, but come on, you nuts, what can we say about a country where even the squirrels are obese?

*Last Friday Karen and I drove past the Covid testing site in the parking lot of Tropicana Field. We saw only one car on line, so we said, What the heck, and 15 minutes later we had been tested. The first time we were tested it felt like they had stuck a probe up our nose and scratched our brains. The nurse this time let us off easy. Two days later Karen got negative results. I’m still waiting. I have a feeling that the results are in but that I have not been able to find them, or they have not yet found me.

*Karen and I have three married daughters. We think of ourselves as a single extended family, but also realize that we represent four households. Each of us celebrated Thanksgiving in our separate bubbles.  For about four bucks, Karen and I ate hot turkey lunch meat sandwiches with mashed potatoes, asparagus and canned cranberries. Pumpkin pie. No hint of a Normal Rockwell cornucopia extravaganza.

*The disease experts warn against Christmas and other holiday celebrations that penetrate the bubbles of our individual households. So many of us are asking questions like these: Should our daughter drive down from Atlanta to be with us, even if she tests negative? Are there vestiges of our traditional rituals that we can preserve: Christmas Eve Mass, opening gifts, caroling, great meals? What if we mixed households, but only one at a time?

*One final thought:  Let’s look back about one hundred years. It is 1920. The world is recovering from the Great War, what we call World War I, a global struggle that killed, maimed, and destroyed the spirit of countless young men and the families that offered them up. The world of 1920 still suffers the devastating effects of what we now call the Spanish Flu, a global pandemic that took millions of lives.  Over time, the world would become a little more peaceful and a little healthier. What followed was THE ROARING 20s!!!  I can’t help thinking about what will come next for us. Will there be a jazz revival?  Will the millennials open speakeasies?  Will I have to learn how to Charleston?   

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