the darker half of the year

10.31.20 ~ full blue moon, Barn Island Wildlife Management Area
Pawcatuck, Connecticut

I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children
who take pleasure in one another.

At our dinners together, the dead
enter and pass among us
in living love and in memory.

And so the young are taught.

~ Wendell Berry
(This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems)

It’s been almost a year since we’ve gathered to eat with our children and grandchildren and ancestors. I miss those times. Some day we will all be together again in person but for now we will be grateful for our video calls.

When we know about our ancestors, when we sense them as living and as supporting us, then we feel connected to the genetic life-stream, and we draw strength and nourishment from this.
~ Philip Carr-Gomm
(Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century)

We have reached the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. Earth’s energy has shifted and the veil between the spirit world and our world has lifted for a few days. It’s a time to reflect on and honor the lives of our ancestors. Three of mine died in an epidemic in the winter of 1711-1712. With this knowledge I do draw strength and nourishment.

We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation. All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.
~ Dr. Anthony Fauci
(CNN, October 30, 2020)


“Cleaning Corpses During an Epidemic” by Fyodor Bronnikov

The other day I finished reading a riveting book, Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. A terrifying account of the recent history of disease scientists investigating bizarre and unheard of new diseases of animal origins, a thriller written by a gifted storyteller. Quammen explained the science so well in layman’s terms. This is one of those rare books I couldn’t put down. The fact that it was published eight years before our current worldwide coronavirus pandemic, a fair warning, makes it all the more pertinent.

Spillover is the process by which pathogens, hiding in wild animal reservoirs (also in factory farmed animals), travel into and infect the human population. But near the end of the book, after discussing the plagues of gyspy moths, which come and go, Quammen introduced the concept of outbreaks. We had a memorable outbreak of gypsy moths here in Connecticut in the 1980s so I could easily grasp the concept.

Ecologists have a label for such an event. They call it an outbreak.

This use of the word is more general than what’s meant by an outbreak of disease. You could think of disease outbreaks as a subset. Outbreak in the broader sense applies to any vast, sudden population increase by a single species. Such outbreaks occur among certain animals but not among others. Lemmings undergo outbreaks; river otters don’t. Some kinds of grasshopper do, some kinds of mouse, some kinds of starfish, whereas other kinds of grasshopper, mouse, and starfish do not. An outbreak of woodpeckers is unlikely. An outbreak of wolverines, unlikely. The insect order Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) contains some notable outbreakers — not just tent caterpillars of several kinds but also gypsy moths, tussock moths, larch budmoths, and others.

We are prodigious, we are unprecedented. We are phenomenal. No other primate has ever weighed upon the planet to anything like this degree. In ecological terms, we are almost paradoxical: large-bodied and long-lived but grotesquely abundant. We are an outbreak.

And here’s the thing about outbreaks: They end. In some cases they end after many years, in other cases they end rather soon. In some cases they end gradually, in other cases they end with a crash. In certain cases, even, they end and recur and end again, as though following a regular schedule.

What could account for such sudden and recurrent collapses? One possible factor is infectious disease. It turns out that viruses, in particular, play that role among outbreak populations of forest insects.

~ David Quammen
(Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic)

Chills have been running up and down my spine ever since I read the excerpts quoted above. We are an outbreak on this earth. Our population explosion can be fairly compared to an infestation of gyspy moths. Provocative thought, I know. But it’s humbling and sobering to appreciate that we are part the cycles of nature and while we like to think we can control our environment to some degree, when all is said and done, we know so little about the forces shaping our existence here on this little blue planet.

We now have 114 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 1,276 confirmed cases. Of those 7 are still in the hospital and 102 have lost their lives. Hospitalizations are way down here, which is encouraging, but we are still staying home due to our health risks. Please stay safe!

tip of the iceberg

“A Late Riser’s Miserable Breakfast” by Carl Larsson

This is one of my favorite Carl Larsson paintings. I think it’s a combination of the appealing colors and the gentle reminder that some days just seem to start off on the wrong foot. For kids and adults!

There are 68 detected cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut now, all of them west of the Connecticut River in the western four counties, bordering New York. So far the eastern four counties, including our New London County, have no detected cases. But our state epidemiologist estimates there are 100 undetected cases for every detected case, so we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg. The suspense is getting to me. How bad will it get?

It was different in the last pandemic. The 1918 Influenza Pandemic entered Connecticut through New London.

In Connecticut, the state’s busy ports, and particularly New London’s Navy base, provided an easy point of entry for the disease. The state’s first recorded case of influenza appeared among Navy personnel in New London on September 11, 1918. By October 25, the State Public Health Service reported 180,000 cases. It appears the outbreak, after originating in New London County, moved to Windham and Tolland Counties and then continued on south and west to New Haven, Hartford, Fairfield, and Litchfield Counties. Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Waterbury recorded the most flu fatalities in the state, but smaller towns like Derby and Windham were also hard hit by the disease, with even higher death rates per thousand than in the larger cities. The war ended in November 1918, but the flu epidemic raged on.

By February 1919, the flu had finally subsided, leaving 8,500 dead in Connecticut.

~ Tasha Caswell
(Eighty-Five Hundred Souls: the 1918-1919 Flu Epidemic in Connecticut ~

Reading used to be my favorite occupation but in recent years I haven’t been able to do much of it because it would put me to sleep, even in the daytime. It’s been very puzzling to me why this would be so. But I think I might have finally figured it out. I keep losing my place when I finish one line of text and try to move down to the next. It was exhausting trying to focus and find the next line. Yesterday I tried holding a bookmark under the line I was reading and then moving it down to the next one. It worked! I read a whole chapter with ease! Looks like I can add reading back to my list of self-quarantine activities.

So now I am reading These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson by Martha Ackmann. It’s nice to escape from today’s reality, even if for a few hours at a time.