About Andrew Lewis

I am alive. And well. And thinking too.

Public Good.

https://www.kqed.org/perspectives/201601139710/public-good

Public Good

I recently spoke with an acquaintance who works on a local farm supporting their CSA.  Each day she has had to decide if she will go to work and help pack the boxes of vegetables for the waiting families.  As she considered the family that ran the farm and the various workers, she decided at last to not go in and sequester herself for a period of time as a precaution.  

It gives pause for thought.  Just like our health care workers and grocery store employees, in this new environment our farm workers are in fact first responders.

Between 47 and 70% of our farmworkers in this country are undocumented workers.  73% are immigrants.  Upwards of 60% of those working in the meatpacking industry are migrant workers from Mexico. 

That means that much of the fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds and frozen meat that we have emptied from our grocery store shelves in recent days, came from the labor of hardworking people who came from elsewhere.  And in this crisis, this vital population is as vulnerable as the rest of us.  

This is why Public Health for the entire public is a Public Good.

If our undocumented farm workers and meat packers become sick, the linkages in our food system begin to break. And if they can’t get help or are afraid to seek help because of their citizenship status, the problems for all of us become much, much worse.

Even though we all may be in isolation, let us perhaps consider the ways in which we can support and help these vital members of our community.

With a perspective, this is Andrew Lewis

Eight Days from Now

IMG_3487Last night we got our daughter home safely.  

I’ve had a chance to sleep and to breathe and now it’s time for a cautionary word.  

Consider this a letter from the future.  Depending on where you are, California may be living in a time five to eight days ahead of you.  As of this morning, in our state we have over 1,500 Covid-19 cases and 48 deaths.  The number of cases in our county have nearly tripled from 8 to 22 in the last day.  These numbers will feel far away and quaint three days from now.

Our governor is presently requisitioning school gymnasiums, sports facilities, and thousands of hotel rooms to hold patients.   And Department of Defense resources are being deployed to set up triage tents. School has been cancelled until at least September.  This is what we are preparing for here and in this moment – eight days ahead of where you may now be, going about your daily business, perhaps thinking that this is a short term thing, or that since you work from home or are so remote that it will not affect you. 

But this may be the strange and uncomfortable truth.  

The Covid-19 virus most likely is already in your neighborhood or community.

This is no longer about you as an individual getting infected.

It may now be about keeping you from infecting everyone else.  

In essence, you need to function as if you yourself already have the virus and that you are at risk of infecting your family, your children and every one of your loved ones.  

Why?  Because several preliminary studies suggest that Covid-19 can spread before you show symptoms and that may explain in part why it is spreading so rapidly.  

This is why you must act before anyone shows symptoms, not after.  Once you show symptoms, once sick people start appearing in your family or in your community, the window of opportunity has already begun to close.  You may already be too late.

This is why Louisiana is in trouble.  Eight days ago New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras, and hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the country and the world gathered and drank and danced and kissed and vomited in proximity to one another.  Now, today, Louisiana is facing a public health emergency.  The rate of increase in Covid-19 cases that are presenting in that state is one of the highest in the nation.

This is why, in our household, we have already begun to live as if it were eight days past our current situation.  

Controlled laboratory studies suggest that under certain conditions the Covid-19 virus can survive for up to three days on metal and plastic surfaces, and up to 24 hours on cardboard or paper surfaces.  When you touch something, you are not just touching that surface. You are in a sense touching all the people who themselves have touched that surface.  

When I say surfaces, I mean everything.  The doorknob. The toilet lever. The shower handle.  The dresser drawers.  The top of your dresser. Your car door handle.  Your steering wheel.  Your mop handle.  The shopping cart.  The handle to the freezer door in the grocery store.  We touch hundreds if not thousands of surfaces every day and we are not even conscious of it.  

As well, and more importantly, instinctively and habitually throughout the day we all constantly touch our faces.  We scratch our noses. We pull our lips. We wipe our mouths.  We kiss.  

If someone is sick and coughs and touches a surface, and then you touch that surface and touch your face, you are in danger of contracting the virus.  

To make this real, I’ll describe what it looks like in our family.  

My wife is a physician.  The current modeling suggests that she may very well soon be on the leading edge and taking care of a great number of people.  She is also very much the linchpin of our entire family.  She keeps us all together.  As a family, and as a larger community, we very much cannot afford for her to get sick.

Two days ago I started to experience a sore throat and a mild cough.  Nothing at all bad.  Our lilacs are blooming as well as the crab apple.  It is almost certainly allergies.  At the same time, in recent days I’ve been in a lot of public places in a county that has already presented with the virus.  I was in Safeway multiple times, touching multiple surfaces.  I was in the hardware store, in the Mexican market to buy tortillas and cornhusks, at Best Buy and in the checkout line at Whole Foods.  I gassed up at the gas station, touching the plastic gas handle.  In nearly all instances I passed people who were congregating.  I walked alongside people who had coughs.  

I touched multiple surfaces.  

Because of the possible consequences to my wife, and my family, and my community, I have to assume that I have come in contact with the Covid-19 virus.  And now, when I cough, even if at the moment it is only because of allergies, I’m spreading droplets.  

I may be a vector. 

And now we’ll take it up a notch.  Two weeks ago, our daughter was living as an au pair in Paris.  France presently has the seventh highest number of cases in the world.  Last week she flew from Charles DeGaulle Airport to Geneva to visit friends. As a function of population, Switzerland presently has the second highest infection rate in the world.  That weekend, both France and Switzerland issued shelter in place orders.  The borders in Europe began to close.  Our daughter remained in Switzerland for another week.  The United States further tightened travel restrictions and our family collectively decided that our daughter needed to come home.  Over the next 72 hours she passed through four airports and four global capitals.  She passed by hundreds of people from dozens of countries. She sat in a bar with a person evacuated from South Africa where a national emergency has been declared. Two others in Border Control had come from Iran.  Another from Delhi.  She passed through border control with hardly a question.

She touched hundreds of surfaces.

We have to assume that our daughter is now a vector.  

While she was in flight, traveling from Los Angeles International Airport, I drove down to SFO from Sonoma County.   As I drove down 19th Street in San Francisco on that late Saturday afternoon, I saw small groups of young men and women walking huddled together down the street. People laughed and joked. They ate sandwiches while standing at the bus stop. They wiped their hands on their pants, and their mouths on their sleeves. They spoke and kissed and coughed because of their seasonal allergies.  They shouted and spit. At that same moment, hundreds of people were walking and congregating in crowds at Point Reyes National Seashore.  They were all being human, living and loving one another.

And the thought of it all made me frightened. 

When I met my daughter outside SFO baggage claim, she sat with her luggage, a mask on her face.  We did not hug. We did not come close to one another.  Instead, I had brought her doggie who was able to run up to her. They hugged and greeted, I wiped off my hands with a sterilized wipe.  I gave one to my daughter and she wiped off her hands with a sterilized wipe.  We tossed them into the trashcan on the curb. We loaded her luggage into the back.

And then my dear daughter and I and her dog drove home together for one hour and fifteen minutes in close quarters in our car. 

So. 

Today is no longer today.  A little over a week ago, it was today.  

On that day, I stocked split wood and kindling for the wood stove in our field house.  The following day it was tomorrow.  On that day I moved some of my clothes and books into the field house.  Two days later it was in the middle of this week.  I moved in a box of food and stocked the fridge with beverages.  

Yesterday morning, as a final preparation, we did a deep cleaning of our house.  And then today, which is eight days hence from where you all are, my wife and I and my daughter went into fourteen days of relative self isolation.  

My wife and daughter have occupied different areas of the house. We try not to share bathrooms.  For the next fourteen days, except for cooking and gardening duties, I’m living out in the field house.  

Our daughter’s luggage, her guitar case, her backpack, all touched by multiple baggage handlers, remained outside on her porch until my wife could wipe them down with bleach. We had our daughter change out of her clothes as soon as she got home and we washed them.  We all washed our hands repeatedly that night.

We eat meals together, four feet distant.  We have cleared all the counters and every surface of objects to make them easier to wipe down. We have disinfectant and rags out at all times.  In our family, I make the coffee.  I am the only one to touch the machine. After I touch it, I wipe it down.  

You touch a surface, you wipe it down. You touch a surface, you wash your hands.  You touch a surface, you wipe it down.

We are starting to be conscious of our hands and our faces.  Where are they?  I recite a mantra.  Hands, hands.  Face, face.  When idle, I try to hold my hands in front of me, fingers touching so that they are aware of each other. This keeps me from idly reaching out and touching surfaces.  Hopefully it keeps me from touching my nose and mouth and face.

I rub my hands across my nose and face.  Dammit.  I wash my hands.  We each have different hand towels put in separate places.

These are extreme measures, perhaps far beyond what might be recommended in a normal situation.  But you have to remember why:  today is no longer today.

In our family, our today is eight days from now.  

And what does that world look like on that day?  That day is the day that Italy experienced seven days ago.  On that day, California hospitals are beginning to feel overwhelmed.  Triage rooms are filled. We do not have enough ventilators. We do not have enough physicians. My wife and many other physicians no longer have the luxury of performing telemedicine.  On that day, physicians start to work fifteen hour shifts. Patients line the hallways on gurneys.  Nurses and doctors and medical assistants start to break from the strain.  Personal protective equipment is increasingly no longer readily available.  Soon everybody knows someone who is sick or dying. As is presently happening in Italy, bodies start to accumulate in the churches and morgues. 

And for that day, my wife needs to be well.  We cannot get her sick.  When she comes home, she cannot afford to have any additional vectors. All of our lives, not just in our family, but in our larger community, may depend on it.  Touch a surface, wipe it down. Keep your distance.  

And here is the crazy part of all this dystopian time travel.  If we all do this, if we act in the extreme, if we actually succeed – then that tomorrow will never come.  We will actually prevent a terrible future from happening.  And then we will have the greatest of luxuries. Once again,  today will only exist as today.

And that will be a very, very, very, good thing.

Jupiter

 

JupiterOur cat Jupiter who held dominion over our house for nearly 20 years – a third of a lifetime — passed away yesterday morning. 

Jupiter was born in the summer of 2001 in the Taft dairy barn in Huntington, Vermont.  She had the colorings of a Holstein. And though small, and short of leg, her muscles were strong and her temperament was fierce.  She spent her first days with us in a small bed in the kitchen of Jubilee farm along the Huntington River.  And a few weeks later a stranger brought her to us in Seattle as a carry on.

Jupiter had more volition and more natural ability than some people I know.  One evening in Seattle when she was still a kitten, we came home and found her locked out of the house.  She sat on the porch and glared at us through the pouring rain.  She turned, walked to the door, leapt up, looped her paw through the front door handle, hung there and stared at us while she swatted at the latch attempting to open it. 

Each day she would awaken before the sun rose, climb on my chest and tag me in the face.  Sleepily, I would crawl out of bed and follow her to the kitchen.  She insisted on leading, yet would stop every few steps, turn and tag me on the foot, as if to say, stay in line and follow in step.  

For two decades all animals and people that came into our lives would sit or stand in abeyance to her.  The dogs would refuse to mount the stairs or go through a door until she had stepped aside.  

She lived in Vermont.  And Seattle. And Hopi where unlike many other cats she managed to survive.  She came to California.  She prevailed through fires and floods and moves and evacuations.

Seven years ago, a Thai hunting dog seized her in his mouth and shook her like a rag doll. Even then she held her own, rendering the dogs snout into ribbons of scratches.  A few years later, her appetite waned and we took her to the vet.  He looked in her mouth. She has cancer he said.  He gave her one to two days to live.  We returned home and fed her milk as a form of palliative care.  So much for cancer.  The two days turned into four years.  

Our daily routines became more contorted around her needs and desires.  We would evict the other cats so that she could eat in peace.  At other times the dogs would sit and stare from a distance. She would eat a small amount, cast them a glance and then walk away so that the dogs could have the rest.  This is how she held her power.  

In her last few months she refused to give.  Friends would call and through the telephone they would hear her meow loudly.  Is that Jupy? they would exclaim.  

And in the very last month family members begged me to put her down. But even in her weakened state, she would exit the bathroom where she slept and make her way down the stairs to be with people and all the other creatures.  She spent Thanksgiving surrounded and stood over by friends and family.  Jupiter, of all animals, if she had the will to live, then dang it, she deserved to live.  

During her last two days we were in San Francisco.  The daughter of a friend spent the days at our house and fed and bathed her.  When we returned home, Jupiter could no longer stand.  I picked her up, lay on the couch and placed her on my tummy – her favorite place to be when she was a kitten.  She purred and fell asleep.

We buried her this evening with a foundation stone and some manure from that dairy barn (long since torn down) where she came into this world.  Beside her we placed some Taft maple syrup from the sugar bush just up the hill from where she was a born.

That cat kept everyone in line.  Get up, she would say.  I demand to be fed.  It doesn’t matter if you are tired or sad or disheartened.  This is not your time.  Get up, she would insist, and get with the program.

Finding Power

And the radio version:
Kincade fire
During the last wind event of the Kincade Fire, I along with a few neighbors had returned to our Sebastopol homes to prepare for any flying embers.  All of us had been without power or water for days.
PG&E was in a bummer of a position, I thought.  “Sorry folks.  We have to turn off the only service we provide.  And if we turn it back on,  it might kill you!”  They were powerless.
I set to cleaning spoiled food from our fridge, raking up possible debris, setting aside additional possessions that I would take if I had to evacuate.  As dusk fell and the Diablo wind picked up, I carried a box of perishables through the pitch down to our neighbor who had been running a generator.
While there, another neighbor walked in the door.  She had just returned from a shelter. Alone in her darkened home, the stress of the previous days had overwhelmed her and she was having an emotional meltdown.  She sat on on the floor and sobbed violently.
We did what we could to console.  We made tea.  We cooked up an Angus steak that had been on ice for a few days, opened up a jar of olives and braised some chard picked from the garden.  We got some food in her.  Others showed up.  One with a bottle of Japanese whiskey.  It became a kind of mid-apocalypse party.
We told our neighbor that she was fine, that she was safe.  She was surrounded by powerful people.  One of them, after all, even had power.  But then I realized that she may have been the most powerful one of all.  If not for her, we would all have been sitting alone in our darkened homes.  If not for her, we would not all have come together.
With a perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

Kincade

 

First and foremost, Anna and I would like to thank everyone for their concern.  We and all the animals are safe and things are temporarily stable. 

In short, it’s kind of like in the olden days when every so often you‘d go outside and see a big fire breathing dragon a few miles away up on the ridge line.  You knew that at least for a little while you might be fine.  But then….  It’s kind of like that.

And for those wanting a little more narrative detail, here you go.  There might be some helpful tidbits for those who find themselves in a similar situation:

Our dog Tierra and I had been in San Diego for the previous 10 days.  On Wednesday, a Sebastopol neighbor called me after midnight (thank you, Toby).  He was out of town, but had word of a blaze that had ignited near Geyserville.  He was worried, he said, about the wind speed on the ridges.  The winds were gusting at 90 mph, driving the flames 200 feet in the air.  The next morning I looked at the weather projections for the coming week and my amygdala went into overdrive.  In anticipation of the current situation, I composed a meticulous multi-paged fire preparedness punchlist, organized by event and threat level, and I emailed the list to Anna.  And yes, in case you’re wondering, Anna’s attorneys could easily put forward the document as evidence if she were ever to initiate divorce proceedings.  

Sick as she was with a bronchial infection, Anna started preparing on Thursday.  She wet down the property (before the well power would go), filled buckets and trashcans with water, schlepped family archives and photos and journals to the steel shipping container (still on the property from when we rented out our house to Tubbs fire victims), loaded the cars, charged her electric car and all devices, etc.

We stayed in intermittent communication. She prepared all through Saturday until the power was cut.  She could not access the internet (even on her phone), but I was able to keep her apprised of the situation and sent text updates from San Diego.  Evacuation warnings were issued that evening. By then I had decided to come home, but couldn’t leave because I had misplaced both sets of glasses. With limited night vision it would have been foolish to drive the 10 hours in the dark.  I lay down at a midnight, but continued to check notices on my phone through the night until the mandatory evacuation order was issued at 4:30 am. 

Tierra and I got on the road.  I figured it would be light by the time I hit the Tejon Pass and I could drive blind until then.  A dear friend texted and said I could pick up some Latvian pirogs on my way out.  I stopped in Oceaside at 5:30 am, scrambled some eggs, placed them on a stack of Latvian rye bread, and grabbed the pirogs (Thank you Raz and Velta Sulcs!).  Most important of all, Raz gave me her glasses (Thank you again, Raz).

Back home, our friend Toby helped Anna carry the remaining irreplaceable items into the steel container.  The thousand dollars of All Clad? Replaceable.  The moldy journal from high school?  Not.   Anna loaded three dogs and three cats into her car.  She left the chickens.  With Jupiter clambering back and forth on the dash, she called for advice on evacuation routes because she could no longer access Google Maps.  I pulled over at the Las Pulgas rest stop at Camp Pendleton and took a look.  The patterns were self-evident. Rather than descend into the line of dead standstill evacuee traffic on the Gravenstein Highway, I encouraged her to drop off the back ridge from our home into Valley Ford from where she was able to quickly make it to Petaluma where one of her patients had generously offered up a one room cottage.   

I continued on up the 405 – fortunately the Getty blaze had not yet ignited. The Central Valley was a sea of dust.  The winds were sufficiently strong to create white caps on the California Aquaduct. 

Dropping in to the Bay Area, the skies were eerily clear and things felt strangely quiet.  Power had been shut off to much of the Berkeley and Oakland hills.  I thought it curious how even close to major situations, life can continue to feel quite normal.

I arrived in west county around 1:30 pm.  With no power anywhere in Marin, I couldn’t get gas, but I did find a zone in Petaluma that still had functioning pumps.

In Petaluma I entered a 21st century climate change version of Noah’s Ark.  It’s definitely not as big as they make it out to be in the Bible.  But we are so very grateful and it is definitely cozy and welcome.  I, along with all the animals and a sick and exhausted Anna, are now clustered together in the small room. We have internet via our phones.  And we’re close enough to home where I can check on our property.

I visited the house last night and it was definitely a little spooky and forlorn. The winds have desiccated many things.  Water and power are off.  A pallor of smoke infuses the air.  I ferried more things to the shipping container and fed and watered the chickens.  Tierra sniffed and explored the perimeter.  I checked adjacent properties for fallen trees.  I found my first edition copy of Stephens Hopi Journals and Titiev’s Study of the Hopi (one of only two type written original copies that exist in the world) and placed them in the car.  After I locked up, I felt like I was forgetting something.  I returned to the darkened house.  I rummaged in the warming freezer and there I found it.  I grabbed the foie gras.

I drove south through the smoky pitch.  By the time I reached Petaluma, the winds were receding.  Anna was passed out.  I crawled into bed.  Tierra jumped on top of me and we fell fast asleep.

As for the current situation:

Last night fire containment slipped from 10% to 5% and the grew from 55k acres to 66k.  Firefighters were battling most of the night to control the blaze in the Foothills Park neighborhood in Windsor (you can see the concentration of hotspots on the Sonoma Incidence map).  They are also working to hold the line at the 101 Freeway.

Depending on the shifting winds, smoke can be pretty bad.  Presently (Monday afternoon) much of it appears to be blowing south toward San Francisco and the Bay.

The biggest present concern will be what happens when the second wind event hits tomorrow afternoon thru Wednesday.  The 50 mph winds will be coming from the north east.  If they carry embers over the 101 it will be a big problem and could spread quickly down the entire Russian River corridor. Our property would be in the path of that event. 

For those who are concerned and want to follow, you can check out the dynamic incident and wind maps I posted on Facebook.

At present, however, we are all fine and any effect has been largely collateral:  At our home, no power and no water.  Lots of smoke.  And us and our animals living in our own private refugee camp in Petaluma.  

For those who know the full demographics of our household, Jupiter, our 18 year old Vermont barn cat (thank you Bruce and Mary Taft!) is napping in the cottage bathroom. Every so often she comes out and demands that we get with the program.  I love having her here because she is the definition of fortitude and resilience.  

Gene Therapy for a Fevered Planet

Greta ThunbergAt a recent North Bay Bob Dylan tribute, I met a biochemist who manufactured blood proteins to treat hemophilia,.  As we talked, however, she announced that one day her work would go away.  

She explained that blood coagulant requires twelve distinct proteins.  The genomes of hemophiliacs, it turns out, are unable to manufacture number eight.  But it’s now possible to engineer a virus that contains the missing gene sequence.  And if we introduce the virus to hemophiliac bone marrow, the DNA will repair and gain the ability to manufacture the missing protein.  It all sounded miraculous and strange.  

Musicians took up their instruments and the lilting chime of Mr. Tambourine Man filled the room.  

Fifteen months ago, a young Greta Thunberg left school and held a sign outside the Swedish Parliament. She stood alone. Skolstrejk för Klimatet her sign read.  

A year later, millions of young people around the globe struck for climate change. 

In this long hot summer without precedence in human history, it feels indeed as if our planet is burning with fever.  And yet I feel tremendous hope.   I marvel at the mechanisms by which the genome of the body politic can repair itself.  Change does not come just through governmental edict, but can sometimes begin with a single act.  Any small act taken by any one of us. We need not wait to take those small, but necessary and infectious steps — gene therapy, if you will — that will allow our children to have a future.   

We need a system change, rather than individual change, Thunburg said to the body of the UN.

But we cannot have one without the other.

To do your best is no longer enough.

We must all do the seemingly impossible.

Everything needs to change.

And it has to start today.

With a perspective, this is Andrew Lewis

https://www.kqed.org/perspectives/201601139098/gene-therapy-for-the-planet

Remembrance

paratroopersIt was the Day of Days.

On the eve of the invasion, the Allied commander penned a letter in the event of defeat.  “The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do,” he wrote. “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”

Before dawn, 13,000 boys fell out of the sky into the hedgerows of Normandy.  My mother-in-law’s father was among them.  Don Bowman was a radio man in C Company, 501st Regiment, 101st Airborne.  Each by each, the boys flew off the stick into a hail of fire.  One out of five would die that day.  Bowman did not.

There was the Day of Days.

And then there were the days after.  

Bowman’s military records hint at his story.  That year the 101st fought their way across Europe.  Operation Market Garden.  The Ardenne.  Battle of the Bulge.  Liberation of Dachau.  Eagles Nest.  One Purple Heart. A Bronze Star for meritorious valor.

Bullet after bullet.

Medal after medal.

Body after body.

Until victory was had.

But even in victory, the price paid cannot be measured.  In 1969, estranged from his family, alone in Los Angeles, an alcoholic traumatized by war, Don Bowman  purchased himself a cemetery plot.

When asked to list friends or family, he wrote, “None.”

Those boys gave their lives to save Europe.  And now that confederation is being abandoned for want of leadership and the erosive force of nationalist and isolationist fervor.

On this day I think of Don Bowman.

I think that perhaps we owe him more than simple remembrance.