sobering numbers

“Window” by Zinaida Serebriakova

Latest statistics: New London County now has 16,753 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 80 people are currently in the hospital and 364 have lost their lives. That’s 10,105 new cases since December 6 when I last reported. I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t thought of updating the statistics for almost 2 months.

Connecticut’s positive test rate is now 3.64%. 9% of Connecticut’s residents have had their first dose of vaccine. I’m getting antsy. So far individuals over the age of 75 can make appointments to receive their vaccinations. Waiting impatiently for it to be 65+ for Tim and who-knows-when for me (being only 64)…

Connecticut has had 7,020 deaths since the pandemic began. We lost 8,500 in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. I hope we don’t match or go past that number before this is over. 😟

I’ve been having trouble with one of my eyes. I had a flasher episode for several days late in December and when I got a clear bubble shaped floater a few days later I decided to put my fear of COVID-19 aside and headed to the ophthalmologist. I went back for a one month check on Thursday and everything is looking okay so far. The doctor said the month and the year following a flasher episode is the danger zone for damage to retina. So I have to go back in three months for another check. In the meantime, the floater looks less like a bubble and more like a blob of diffused light. She says the floater is actually shaped like a horseshoe.

Tim says his floaters are dark specks. I mentioned this to the doctor and she said the clear ones are more serious. But she’s cautiously optimistic that the situation has resolved itself.

At first I was finding the floater too distracting to do any reading but my brain seems to be getting used to the mysterious blob and sometimes now I don’t even see it. So I started reading a wonderful story, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, which my daughter and son-in-law gave me for Christmas. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any fiction and this reminds me of Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, but set in medieval Russia rather than medieval Norway. I’m loving it so much!!! It’s a wonderful distraction from the pandemic and the weather.

staying home

this morning, my dwarf river birch

But that January day. It neither rained nor snowed, but both. There was no steady wind from some one point, but stinging blasts that came from every quarter. It was neither warm nor cold, but chilling to a degree that made all wraps unavailable. I stayed home.
~ Charles Conrad Abbott
(Days Out of Doors)

midwinter in self-quarantine

12.21.20 ~ 7:11 am, foggy winter solstice sunrise

After nine months in self-quarantine life still seems pretty bizarre. The coronavirus pandemic still rages and is getting worse with every day. Our fervent hope is that getting everyone vaccinated will turn things around sooner than later. Two of our elderly relatives-in-law have caught it, one is still fighting for his life in the hospital and the other is still sick and isolating at home. Some of Tim’s friends have lost loved ones. These are truly dark days.

Since I took a sunset picture for the summer solstice in June I decided to take a sunrise picture for the winter one. But we had fog and clouds on solstice morning, not even a hint of daybreak in the sky. There was a travel advisory for black ice on the roads so we stayed home and I took the picture from an upstairs window.

We had tried to take a walk on Saturday but found a sheet of ice on top of the snow making it too hazardous to continue. So instead of attempting another trek out on Monday I put Grandfather Frost out on our balcony, hoping to catch him casting the longest shadow of the year at noon. At first there was no sun and no shadow but by some miracle the bright star came out from the clouds right at solar noon for just a quick minute! I took the picture and then it disappeared again. (If I had known where the railing shadows would fall I would have located him standing fully in the sunshine!)

12.21.20 ~ 11:46 am, solar noon
longest shadow of the year!

A year indoors is a journey along a paper calendar; a year in outer nature is the accomplishment of a tremendous ritual. To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimages of the sun, and something of that natural sense of him and feeling for him which made even the most primitive people mark the summer limits of his advance and the last December ebb of his decline. All these autumn weeks I have watched the great disk going south along the horizon of moorlands beyond the marsh, now sinking behind this field, now behind this leafless tree, now behind this sedgy hillock dappled with thin snow. We lose a great deal, I think, when we lose this sense and feeling for the sun. When all has been said, the adventure of the sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it and awe of it, not to share in it, is to close a dull door on nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit.
~ Henry Beston
(The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod)

12.21.20 ~ yule tree

We kept trying to get a decent picture of our lovely “snowball and icicle” tree but our cameras refused to focus — at least you can get a vague impression of it from this one. I suspect the camera doesn’t know what to do with the little lights and glass reflections. Then again, I’ve never mastered the art of indoor photography. Outdoor light is my friend. I tried to get a few close-ups of ornaments with mixed results. The best ones follow….

May your holidays be merry and bright and full of blessings and gratitude. As the light returns and as our days grow longer may the coming year sparkle with hope, love and peace. 🌲

8 inches of snow!

12.17.20 ~ nisse by our dwarf river birch 

Nothing captures our imagination more than the idea of nature spirits. Stories about them are found in every tradition upon the planet, and they never fail to touch us in some way. The truth is that most of us have had amazing nature spirit encounters, but we have either forgotten them, didn’t realize what they were at the time or allowed others to convince us that they weren’t real. But the truth is that Nature is one of the most powerful realms of spirit contact and guidance available to us.
~ Ted Andrews
(The Intercession of Spirits)

morning at the tree farm

12.4.20 ~ Yetter Road Tree Farm, Mystic, Connecticut

With 16 acres of 11 kinds of evergreen trees, we had a nice long walk at this tree farm before we (I) settled on one to take home. We thought we were looking for a Fraser Fir but none of them seemed right and with the guidance of a helpful employee we finally came home with a lovely Nordmann Fir. I’m in love!

An excellent needle retaining species with soft glossy dark green needles. Nordmann Firs are the preferred Christmas tree of Europeans, with long, full, lush, dark green foliage, similar to a Fraser fir, but soft to the touch and with excellent needle retention. … Their soft and lustrous black-green needles stem from symmetrically arranged branches, producing the ideal pyramidal specimen for a Christmas tree.
~ Pick Your Own Christmas Tree website

We liked the color of the Nordmann better, for some reason we never noticed how yellowy the Fraser was before we saw two, one of each, growing right next to each other. The only thing the Nordmann is missing is fragrance, but we’ll just burn some scented candles to make up for it. 🙂

I was so busy trying to stay six feet away from the young man helping us that I forgot to take a picture of our solstice tree before he cut it down. I have to say, he was very patient to answer all our questions, and my last minute change of mind didn’t faze him in the least. Tim was relieved when the tree was finally cut and loaded into the truck. It was all bundled and ready for us when we returned to the holding area.

On the way back I saw a bluebird! But it was too quick for me and the pictures came out too blurry to use. Sigh… My luck with birds seems to be waning.

There seems to be a shortage of Christmas trees this year, or so I’ve been hearing on the news. More people looking to make their pandemic holiday extra special. Every time we thought we spotted a good looking tree it turned out to be tagged already. Next year we might just pay the extra few dollars to tag a tree before Thanksgiving. But we’re still happy with the one we finally found.

ready for pick up
this pretty decorative ball was hanging from a tree
waiting for twine
all set up and ready to be decorated
(it will take me a few days)

Since my last post the new guidelines say that those over 65 years old should have their groceries delivered now during this surge. So it’s back to Instacart for us. Staying home except for our walks in the unpopulated woods.

Latest statistics: New London County now has 6,648 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 54 people are currently in the hospital and 180 have lost their lives. That’s 1,980 new cases since November 15 when I last reported.

Connecticut’s positive test rate is now 5.7%. (It was 6.4% on November 15.) It looks like we’re doing better than many other states. Still, we’re hunkering down for the next few months.

my first earthquake!

epicenter: New Bedford, Massachusetts

I felt my first earthquake at 9:10 am this morning! It was only magnitude 4.2 and the depth was 12 miles but it was enough to get my attention. We live in the western protrusion of the second blue ring on the map. Tim slept through it. An exciting start to the day for me.

Edit: The magnitude has been recalculated to 3.6.

family treasures

“Bergaporten (The Entrance in the Mountain)” by John Bauer
(a guardian of family treasures?)

The real continuity, what we truly love and cherish, is not confined in the forms. And perhaps there is something infinitely freeing in letting all these relics go. Perhaps holding onto our family treasures is actually painful. Because we know deep down that we are holding onto dust. We are clinging to nothing at all. And yet, at the same time, it is beautiful to have things in my life now that were there in my childhood, things my mother and father cherished and touched, things they found beautiful.

Sometimes people feel obligated to keep family treasures that they don’t actually want. My mother was great that way. She told me repeatedly, “These are my things, from my journey, and you don’t need to keep any of them you don’t want.”

~ Joan Tollifson
(Death: The End of Self-Improvement)

by courtesy of the light

10.4.20 ~ Beebe Pond Park, Groton, Connecticut

Almost two years ago, Nate took Larisa and me and three of the grandchildren to this magical woodsy park, chock full of glacial erratics, and I couldn’t wait to share it with Tim now that he is taking walks. Originally I wanted to go to another park, but the parking lot there was overflowing so we moved on. It was a Sunday and I didn’t have much hope for this park either but when we drove up there was only one car in the tiny roadside parking area so we were in luck!

It was a beautiful, sunny, warm autumn day. We heard and saw plenty of birds but only managed to get a good picture of one, a new one for my list. Of course, every time Tim rang his bell they got quiet for a few minutes. 🙂 There were still leaves on the trees and yet many on the ground, a nice moment in the middle of autumn.

an interesting root formation
the water level on Beebe Pond is very low due to the drought
fall flowers, asters
swamp sparrow

Swamp Sparrows perch and forage in vegetation near the ground or water surface, where their rather long legs—longer than those of Song or Lincoln’s Sparrows—enable them to forage well. They typically forage near the water’s edge or in brushy patches within the habitat.
~ All About Birds website

Now that I’ve decided not to feed the birds this winter I feel blessed to have found one in the woods who allowed me to get his picture. Hopefully there will be many more on future walks. The background scenery in the woods is much nicer for pictures than our balcony.

By courtesy of the light
we have the beautiful shadows.
Because the trees darken
the ground, shade-lovers thrive.
To one who stands outside,
the woods is a wall of leaves
impassable by sight, passable
by foot or wing. Come in
and walk among the shades.

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

a dab of color
huge glacial erratics
autumn colors
gold and rust
sunlit path
the trail was very rocky and narrow at times
a rare bit of red

It’s all about the light for me. I’m glad this walk worked out on the weekend because on Monday we got some much needed rain. And then, after the rain, some excitement! A flock of pine siskins feeding on the arborvitae trees off our balcony! Another new bird for me! (And I wasn’t even in the woods…)

pine siskin

I took the pictures through the glass of the sliding glass doors and am surprised they came out as nicely as they did.

Pine Siskins often visit feeders in winter (particularly for thistle or nyjer seed) or cling to branch tips of pines and other conifers, sometimes hanging upside down to pick at seeds below them. They are gregarious, foraging in tight flocks and twittering incessantly to each other, even during their undulating flight.
~ All About Birds website

In July of 2017 we had a house finch visit our arborvitae trees, so now we have had another kind of finch enjoying the seeds. Many thanks to the good people in the What’s this Bird? Facebook group for help with both identifications.

chickadee memories

image credit: pixabay

Inside their skulls, the sophistication of the neural capacity of black-capped chickadees increases in autumn. The part of the brain that stores spatial information gets larger and more complex, allowing the birds to remember the locations of the seeds and insects that they cache under bark and in clusters of lichen. The superior memory of the birds that I hear in the tips of the fir tree is a neuronal preparation for the hungry days of late autumn and winter. The seat of spatial memory in the brains of chickadees that live in these northern forests is particularly voluminous and densely wired. Natural selection has worked winter into the birds’ heads, molding the brains so that chickadees can survive even when food is scarce.

Chickadee memories also live within societal relationships. The birds are keen observers of their flockmates. If one bird should happen on a novel way of finding or processing food, others will learn from what they see. Once acquired, the memory no longer depends on the life of any individual. The memory passes through the generations, living in the social network.

~ David George Haskell
(The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors)

Chickadees were probably the first birds I became aware of when I was a little girl. They frequented my mother’s birdfeeder which was right outside our dining room window. (Our tiny Cape Cod style house didn’t have a breakfast room or eat-in kitchen.) I still remember eating my breakfast at the table in the winter and the cold blast of air that made me shiver when Mom opened the window to spread more seeds out onto the protected platform.

I remember playing out in the snowy winter woods with the chickadee fee-bee song playing in the background. And the well known chickadee-dee-dee alarm call. My father taught me to recognize their warning call, which I often hear out of the blue on our walks in the woods these days. My guess is we might be entering someone’s territory so we respectfully move on quickly.

10.25.15 ~ woodpecker
photo by Tim

For many winters now we’ve been hanging a suet feeder on our condo balcony to attract the woodpeckers I also love. Chickadees hang around and glean the seeds that fall out of the suet while the woodpeckers are feeding. Unfortunately starlings have figured out how to hang onto the suet feeder and they wreak havoc with their large numbers. Why can’t they come one or two at a time like the woodpeckers and chickadees? We also welcome a fair number of titmice, nuthatches and juncos.

Every winter our neighbor complains that the birds poop on his balcony. For this winter I had planned to not put out the suet feeder in the interest of being neighborly but, unbeknownst to me, my thoughtful husband bought a few months worth of suet cakes he found on sale. A woodpecker already came by the other day and was hanging onto the sliding glass door screen, inquiring within about the missing feeder, no doubt. And the chickadees have also been checking out the balcony, it seems to be much earlier than usual this year. I used to put the feeder out mid-October, after Columbus Day. But the fall colors have arrived two weeks early; perhaps the birds are ahead of schedule, too.

Because our neighbor goes out on his balcony to smoke a cigar and the unpleasant fumes come into our unit even when the windows are shut, we’ve mostly ignored his complaints about our bird feeding. Tit for tat. I have a funny feeling my resolve to not feed the birds this winter is crumbling. Watching them brings me so much joy in the winter! Maybe just one more winter, since we are in quarantine? I’m going around in circles weighing the pros and cons… I have to decide now!!!

Wish the bird feeding quandary was the worst of my worries. Connecticut College now has 24 students in quarantine, a cluster of 4 positive cases and their friends. One of the students was in my sister’s class a week ago. All her classes are outdoors and all her students are wearing masks, still, I worry about her safety. It’s a grim feeling, the virus keeps coming closer and closer…

And now our reckless president has tested positive for COVID-19.