Category Archives: Food for Thought

Taking Stock: Over 100,000 Deaths

As the grim title of this post indicates, covid-19 has killed over 100,000 people in the United States. The sorrowful weight of it presses down on me, and my heart is heavy. And rightly so. With no vaccine available and places opening all around the United States, it is likely the death toll will continue to rise. How far? To 200,000? To 500,00? Who knows?

Whatever the case, a staggering number of people have died of it in a short time.

Eliza Mackintosh, of CNN, puts it in perspective:

In less than four months, the novel coronavirus has killed more than 100,000 Americans — more than in Vietnam, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan combined.

It is a story of lost mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, spouses and even children. An even bigger tragedy: They didn’t all have to die.

Stephen Collinson, also of CNN, expands on this:

A Columbia University study released last week found that had the US started social distancing a week earlier, it could have prevented the loss of at least 36,000 lives.

In the New York metro area alone, 17,500 fewer people would have died if the US had acted one week earlier, Columbia epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said.

Shameful. Yet recently on Facebook, a friend of a friend commented: “The cure cannot be worse than the disease… We must resume to live.”

I wrote back: “The cure is worse than death? For the 100,000 people who have died of covid-19 in this country? For the many, many more who will surely die as standards are relaxed?”

An argument ensued, and nobody’s mind was changed.

All the while, our president has put the coronovirus in his rear-view mirror, as though the virus is a pesky driver that can be passed and left behind. Onward to the 2020 election, which appears to be what is chiefly on the president’s mind. Suffering and death? Not so much.

There have been glimmers of hope. Not every country has behaved as stupidly as ours has. As the writer Umair Haque writes, “New Zealand… didn’t just flatten the curve. It ‘crunched’ it, as epidemiologists say. Do you know how many people died of the virus in New Zealand? Just 21. Twenty one….That’s a stunning accomplishment….Sure, New Zealand’s a small country. But being a big country doesn’t give you a license to just watch helplessly as thousands die. That’s just a rationalization for negligence.”

Can the U.S. learn from New Zealand and its admirable prime minister, Jacinda Ardern? Again, who knows?

Despite my heavy heart, I live in hope.

Everything Is Waiting…

Despite the coronavirus, here we are at last, in spring, that green, blooming time of year. To paraphrase David Whyte’s moving poem, everything is waiting for me.

The ferns that continue to unfurl,

the tiny white violets on the lawn,

the tender blush of the newly emerging leaves,

and back inside, for our supper, a salad made with Farmer Kev’s greens and radishes, our neighbor’s eggs, and other bits and bobs.

Here is the last stanza of David Whyte’s Everything Is Waiting for You

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Even now.



Room for Snow

“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
—Pema Chödrön

“Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure”

I wasn’t planning on posting anything today, but then on Facebook a friend shared this piece—Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure—written by Aisha S. Ahmed in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Ahmed outlines how to deal with living in times of crises, in particular during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The piece is full of terrific advice for everyone, not just academics. If, like Clif and me, you have been spinning your wheels and have been feeling too much emotional turmoil to accomplish much of anything, then this piece is for you.

Ahmed writes “I have worked and lived under conditions of war, violent conflict, poverty, and disaster in many places around the world. I have experienced food shortages and disease outbreaks, as well as long periods of social isolation, restricted movement, and confinement.”

She advises us all to pace ourselves and to not expect life to return to normal anytime soon. “Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month. Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for 12 to 18 months, followed by a slow recovery. If it ends sooner, be pleasantly surprised. Right now, work toward establishing your serenity, productivity, and wellness under sustained disaster conditions.”

Take care of yourselves, blogging friends, and allow yourself to feel distraught and disoriented. As Ahmed noted, you will recover, but you need to give yourself time to adapt to the new normal.





There Is No Them, Only Us

I am a fifth-generation Mainer on my mother’s side, descended from French Canadians who came to Maine in the mid-1800s. Many of them had dark hair and olive complexions. They were all Catholic and spoke French. (My own mother did not speak English until she was six.) My ancestors were part of a larger French-Canadian migration that spread out through New England as well as to other parts of the country.

I would like to be able to report that these hard-working French Canadians were eagerly welcomed to Maine, but I cannot. Our story is a sad familiar story of prejudice and discrimination. In 1889, according to the British-American Citizen (Boston), we were  considered to be “a distinct alien race.”

This xenophobic attitude continued to trickle down even to the 1960s. As a small child, I was keenly aware of an “us vs. them” attitude in Maine, with we Franco-Americans being “them,” and the Yankee population being “us.” It was understood that “them” did not really belong in Maine, while “us” somehow had a magical right to be here.

Merriam-Webster defines xenophobia as “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.” Because of my experience, I have an intense aversion to anything that smacks of xenophobia.

For example, this incident on Vinalhaven, an island off the Maine coast, where according to the Kennebec Journal,

an armed group of residents cut down a tree to block access to a road to keep three people from leaving their home on Cripple Creek Road.

Deputies investigated and learned there was a general belief by some island residents that the Cripple Creek residents were supposed to be quarantined because they came here from another state and could have COVID-19.

Deputies learned that the trio had been residing on Vinalhaven for about 30 days, which is outside of the guidance issued by state officials, and none have any symptoms consistent with the coronavirus.


And then on Facebook, an acquaintance shared this gem: “STAY HOME…Do Not Come to Maine. It’s just Not Fair. Go back where you came from and kill your Own People!”

As it happens, three of my “own people” live out of state.

While I completely agree that folks should hunker down and stay in place, I so object to the wording of the above sentiment. I made this clear to the person who shared it. Unfortunately, as is so often the case on Facebook, that person was unrepentant.

As the coronavirus rips around the world, hitting country after country, the high and mighty and the low, it is clear to me there is no them.

Only us.


Coronavirus News from Maine

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 275

Deaths in Maine from Covid-19: 3

The News from All Over

From Mother Nature Network

Does it seem like time has slowed to a crawl since you’ve been holed up in your apartment, riding out this pandemic? Well, time marches on all right — to the same beat it’s always kept. But these days, your brain may be processing time a little differently. In fact, according to David Eagleman, one of the world’s foremost neuroscientists, your brain tends to slow things down when you’re under extreme stress.

From CNN

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.” President Donald Trump, who repeatedly suggested last week that a win was near, announced yesterday that nationwide social distancing measures would be extended for another month, days after floating the possibility of getting Americans back to work as early as Easter (which is when deaths are currently projected to peak).

The Latest Numbers

Global Cases: 732,153

Global Deaths: 34,686

My take: I’ve already written enough.

Nature and Technology: The Reconciliation of Opposites

The late great Canadian author Robertson Davies once wrote that the Jungian definition of balance is the reconciliation of opposites. That has always stuck with me, and I am thinking about this a lot right now during this time of the coronavirus.

As someone who loves the natural world, I’ve done a fair amount of grumbling over the  years about technology, screens, and the Internet. From the time I was a teenager, a part of me has longed to live on a small farm with chickens, apple trees, and a big garden.

But I am married to a computer geek, and a small farm was not one of his wishes. Therefore, as it is with many marriages, we have compromised. We live on a rural road, surrounded by trees and nature and wildlife. But our house is kitted out with computers and all the technology that goes along with it. And I’ve got to admit that during this period of self-isolation, I have been ever so grateful for computers and technology as well as the woods outside my home.

Last weekend, in our very own living room, we “visited” with our North Carolina kids via our laptop, where we could talk and see their shining faces. We chatted for about two hours, and it was great.

Daily, I have been visiting with various blogging friends, and through posts and comments, I am connected with folks all around the world. How I value these connections.

At night, Clif and I watch something from one of our streaming services. Last night it was The King of Masks, recommended by our librarian Nick and available through Kanopy. This poignant film took us to China in the 1930s, where it examined poverty, gender roles, love, and generosity.

Yesterday afternoon, via the Internet, our library’s movie club—Cinemates—got together to discuss the 2002 film The Hours, a moving and heart-wrenching look at Virginia Woolf, mental illness, caretakers, and how a book can ripple through the ages to affect both readers and family. One member of our movie club noted how you can tell an awful lot about a person by the way they fill their hours.

Maybe, just maybe, going forward, our society can reconcile these two opposites—nature and technology—and twine them together in a way that in a way that honors nature while electronically connecting us to each other and the world.

Coronavirus News from Maine

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 155

The News from All Over

From CNN

New York has become the national epicenter of the outbreak, as cases there are now doubling every three days, overwhelming hospitals. New York state’s hospitals have enough personal protection equipment for just two more weeks, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said, while it’s in need of 180,000 more beds.

To help stave off a crippling recession, the Senate voted to inject a $2 trillion stimulus into the US economy, a move that now needs approval from the House. President Donald Trump has pledged to get the economy “raring to go by Easter,” a goal that experts warn is too ambitious.

A record-breaking 3.28 million Americans filed for their first week of unemployment benefits last week…

The Latest Numbers

Global Cases: 487,648

Global Deaths: 22,030

My Own Take: Over this week, Maine’s coronavirus numbers have edged up ever so slowly. I am cautiously hopeful that with all the self-isolating and business closures, Maine will be able to stem the horrible  coronavirus tide. Only time will tell. Fingers and toes crossed.

Let’s Not Pretend

During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, different people handle it in different ways. Some people prefer to focus on nature and flowers. Others do yoga and meditate. Still others crochet and create. The really ambitious might do a combination of all these thing. What I do is read and write and try to make sense of what’s going on. It’s how I run. But any of these approaches are good.

However, what none of us should do is pretend that everything is all right, because it’s not. We are dealing with a world-wide pandemic that is swamping the medical community in many countries, and it’s my guess it will soon swamp the U.S.’s. In addition, soon there will most probably be a world-wide recession/depression as the economy comes to a halt.

Recently, a new term has popped up: Toxic positivity, the ridiculous notion that no matter how bad things are—your dog just died, then your best friend died, then your husband lost his job, then your mother-in-law died—you should smile, look on the bright side of life, and count your blessings.

Fifteen years ago, all those terrible things really did happen to me in the span of six months. And, yes, I was grief-stricken, depressed even. It eventually passed, as most grief does, and the time even came when I was happy again. But I had to go through my grief. I couldn’t go around it, or worse yet, pretend it didn’t exist.

I have a group of friends I have known for over twenty years. One friend’s mother is dying, and my friend can’t be with her mom because of the nursing home’s quarantine in response to the coronavirus. That same friend’s daughter is home from college, taking all her classes online. Another friend has a granddaughter who will be graduating from high school with no prom, no graduation party or ceremony, no last play, no last concert.

My friend with the dying mother wrote: “Emotions are hard for folks to keep in check with so many unknowns, but this is the world we have today. ”

Here was my response: “As for emotions…don’t deny them. They will have their way no matter what you do. Acknowledge the fear, grief, and panic you are feeling. Then, of course, do what you must do to keep things going.”

After having written the above, I want to emphasize that people should indulge in whatever simple pleasures they find soothing: flowers, nature, books, chocolate, comforting series, or movies. Or, in my husband Clif’s case, a bowl of potato chips at night. Whatever. When the world is in chaos, the spirit needs to be bolstered.

But let’s not ignore or minimize our fear, grief, or panic.

No good will come of it.

Coronavirus News from Maine

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 56

From the Portland Press Herald

Faced with a potential critical shortage of pandemic supplies – such as masks, shoe coverings, gloves and gowns – Maine hospitals are scrambling to conserve what they have, add supplies and keep workers healthy to treat COVID-19 patients.

From the Kennebec Journal

Wastewater treatment plant operators warn that flushing toilet paper substitutes is likely to clog sewer lines and could lead to costly repairs.

A Time Like No Other

Well, here we all are in the midst of a pandemic. In my memory, it is a time like no other. Schools and theaters are silent. The shelves in grocery stores are empty. Our town’s library is closed. Even 9/11, a horrible event, wasn’t this bad. People could still go out, meet each other, live their everyday lives. Schools weren’t shut. The library remained open. The coronavirus, a tiny but potentially deadly enemy, has taken away normalcy.

When the coronavirus struck China, I took note. Right from the start, it seemed to me that this was not business as usual, equivalent to, say, a cold or to the seasonal influenza. This particular virus, a novel virus, was something our bodies had never encountered and was terribly contagious. In addition, the mortality rate was much higher than the seasonal influenza. The numbers are still in dispute, but the death rate from the novel coronavirus is anywhere between 1% and 3%, compared with 0.1% from the seasonal influenza.

Even worse, perhaps, was the novel coronavirus’s rate of infection. It just swept through people, overwhelming hospitals and the medical community in China, making a bad situation even more lethal. Nevertheless, for a while in January, it looked as though China just might be able to contain the novel coronavirus. But no. Our society is too mobile. People travel from here to there without a thought, and cheap airfare encourages them to do so. We consider it our God-given right to go where we want whenever we want. Perfect conditions for a pandemic.

When the coronavirus spread to other countries, I knew it was only a matter of time before it would come to the U.S. Our mobile society all but guaranteed it.

Several weeks ago when the shelves were full, I stocked up on groceries and that precious material—toilet paper. A week or so ago, Clif and I began practicing social distancing, an unfamiliar term before the novel coronavirus. I felt a little foolish to turn down invitations to go out with friends, but I figured better safe than sorry.

I don’t feel foolish anymore now that the novel coronavirus has come to the United States. As it spreads daily, the novel coronavirus is something to be taken seriously. In fact, Clif and I consider it our civic duty to stay the heck away from other people. It is true that eventually we might become infected. However, if we can help it, we  want to avoid being part of the first wave of sick folks that overwhelms the medical community. What’s happening in Italy right now is heartbreaking. They didn’t take the coronavirus seriously and now  there are too many sick people and not enough supplies. This means many doctors are having to make decisions about who lives and who dies. Elderly people are dying without anyone to hold their hand.

Over the next few weeks or months or however long we stay home because of the novel coronavirus, I will be writing about how it has affected various aspects of our lives. Along with staying the heck away from other people, I feel it is my duty as a writer to face this horrible pandemic and to record my experience from the hinterlands.

But I will also continue to record what is going on in our very own backyard as winter turns to spring and the flowers begin to bloom. That is part of dealing with the virus, too. The return of life is a great consolation.

So dear blogging friends, stay safe, be well. And we will try to do the same.






Peak Ugliness, but Also Resilience and Sweetness

Here we are in March, which in Maine means peak ugliness. The snow is melting. There is mud. There are dirty snowbanks.

This little beauty is not far from our home.

See what I mean? I wasn’t exaggerating even one little bit about peak ugliness in Maine in March.

Flowers are still only a dream. Instead, we have last season’s dried remnants clinging to branches.

But, but, and but. I am an American, and even in this time of the novel coronavirus—whose true name is now SARS-CoV-2—and the terrible lies and incompetence coming from those at the top who should know and do better, I wanted to find something good in this God-awful month.

And, lo and behold: I did find something. Two somethings, actually.

Just up the road from us is a magnificent tree that was horribly damaged during the Great Ice Storm of 1998. After the ice storm, the tree looked as though it had been maimed. (Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the tree when it was in that sorry state.) Even though this tree is not on our land, we love it dearly and worried about it.

But twenty-two years later, the tree is thriving, beautiful in any season, even March.

Not far from this magnificent tree there are other smaller trees providing sap to a neighbor who taps them every year.

While March brings peak ugliness, especially this year, it also brings the running of sap, which in turn is boiled down to one of nature’s sweetest gifts—maple syrup.

Can pancakes be far behind?




Lessons from the Ice Storm of ’98: How I Learned to Stockpile

Twenty-two years ago, Maine was hit with the mother of all ice storms that lasted for two days and left three inches of ice on the branches. Guess what happens to trees that have ice that thick? Lord, how their branches crack and break! On the night of the second day of the storm, I lay in bed listening to what sounded like a nonstop volley of gunshots ringing through the woods around our house as branches came down. Reverting to my Catholic girlhood, I said my Hail Marys over and over, praying that our house would not be damaged by falling branches. Perhaps Mary heard my prayers because our house was spared.

But the storm left behind a terrible swath of destruction. More than half the state lost its power, and because the weather was so cold, restoring power was difficult. Lines would no sooner be repaired when more branches would fall and break the lines again. We were without power for eleven days, and as I have noted many times, because we have a well, no power means no water. In those days, we had five people in the house, and five people go through a heck of a lot of water.

Now, from reading recent posts where I write about being prepared for, say, other ice storms or a certain nasty virus, you might think I was completely ready for the ice storm of ’98. But you would be wrong. We had no extra water stored in buckets down cellar, no supply of canned soups, no extra propane for our camp stove, not much oil for our lamps. We did have plenty of wood for our furnace, but that’s only because that’s how we heated our house back then.

So we didn’t freeze, but we struggled with all the things we didn’t have, especially water. Fortunately, the town has a public water spigot where residents can get water in a crisis such as this, but because of the treacherous roads, we couldn’t get out for a while. In addition, we weren’t caught up with our laundry as well as many other small things we take for granted when we have power.

We made do. What choice did we have? But for a while, the toilets were hideous, and we parceled out every drop of liquid we drank. As we struggled through the aftermath of the storm, I vowed we would never be caught flat-footed again. Going forward, we would have a stockpile of food, water, and supplies to help us get through emergencies big and small.

I have kept my vow. We now have a stockpile of supplies that have served us well. There have been other storms and other power outages. In 2017 we had a violent windstorm that again knocked out power to half the state, and we were without electricity for a week. (Many rural Mainers have a generator. We’ve thought about it but have not yet bought one and so far manage pretty well.)

The Coronavirus is a different type of crisis, but I am using similar methods to prepare. I know some people are probably shaking their heads when they read about how we have four or five months worth of toilet paper, facial tissues, peanut butter, and other necessities. When I look at our stockpile of treats, even I feel a little foolish. But I also feel secure knowing I have prepared the best I can for this virus.

I’ll conclude by sharing what Rhonda wrote on her excellent blog Down to Earth: “It does make sense to have extra food and medications at home to cover you if you need them. Worst case scenario, the virus will run through the community… and you’ll have enough food at home to feed everyone without having to go out. Best case scenario, the virus is a fizzer and you’ll have a cupboard full of food and you won’t have to shop for groceries for a couple of months. Win/win.”


As Clif’s photo illustrates, the ice storm of ’98 left us with beauty as well as destruction.