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.

The Last Undecided Voter in Ohio

It’s election eve and I’m working an Obama phone bank in California.  Forty five minutes before the polls close in the midwest, the autodialer beeps and on my screen appears the name of a woman in Ohio.   Continue reading

Where We At?

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In broad strokes:

We’re set on a low ridge about 18 miles inland from the ocean. We’re high enough that the ridge holds back the maritime fog and moisture, yet close enough to the coast that we escape the summer heat of the valleys to the east. There’s lots of water.  Artesian springs seep out all along on this slope, while atmospheric moisture rides in as fog most mornings.

The San Andreas fault – that neat crack marking where the Pacific Plate abrades against and is peeling away from the North American Plate runs just to the west of us. Coming down off the ridge, you can actually see the gash in all it’s violent beauty. You can even drive into it. As you approach the coast, the rounded hills bunch up like crumpled tissue. As you push out you emerge into the narrow strait of Tomales Bay where the ocean has seeped into the San Andreas. Just across the water rests Point Reyes, slowly calving away from our continent at a pace at which we can actually feel it. I hid out there last month, and from the rocks at dawn I watched the tidal pull and stared back at that old land from which I was then receding.

By another designation we’re in the Green Valley sub designation of the Russian River appellation. We have soft sandy soils. The cool moisture and the more moderate temperatures make us good for Pinot and perhaps Chardonnay, though I don’t know much about that.

Just to the south the ridgeline gives way to a wide channel that draws the moisture inland from the Pacific toward Petaluma. That swath, buffeted by cold winds in the winter and summer, is marked by high undulating grassy hills best suited for dairy and grazing. In the spring it looks a bit like Ireland. That’s where you find loads of goat farms, Bill Niman’s beef, Straus milking cows, the Cowgirl Creamery and a wide range of artisinal cheese makers.

But where we are to the north it’s considered the banana belt – a perfect marrying of temperatures that near anything can grow here. Luther Burbank’s original farm sits about two miles to the north. There he developed hundreds of new varieties of apples, stone fruit, cacti, vegetables, ornamentals and what not. He supposedly thought it was the most perfect growing environment in the world. The land we sit on has grown cherries, prunes, plums, apples. It can support Meyer lemons and blood oranges. Figs and olives and grapes and walnuts. Peaches, nectarines, lettuces, winter brassicas. California oak acorns and redwoods. You name it.

And by yet another designation, the north of us is home to a vestigial group of Algonkian speakers – Yurok and Wiyot left over from the ancient middle incursion onto the continent. They most likely stayed put on the coast while their relatives pressed onward to the east, ultimately populating the entire eastern seaboard. The Algonkians are surrounded by a once heavy population of Athabascans – later arrivals from the third migration. They had come down from the Alaskan interior and the Arctic circle, having left their Inuit and Yupik cousins sometime way back. Resourceful opportunists they filled in the territory in north eastern California. Their De’na relatives pushed further, of course, down into Idaho, Colorado and the Southwest. To the south and east of us, it’s mostly Uto-Aztecan, the domain of the Paiute that ranged into the Sierras along with many of the central valley Sonoran tribes: Colorado indians, the Chemehuevi, Mojave. Some were Quechuan. But most, like the folk down south on the coast – the Kumeyaay, Diegueño, Cahuilla – are mostly cousins of the Puebloans – all folks left behind on the great historic primary migrations from the south.

As for us, we’re living on Pomo and Coastal Miwok land. Back in the day, winters were spent on this ridge line where we now live. In the summer, families and clans settled on the perimeter of what is now called the Laguna de Santa Rosa – the enormous seasonal estuary that extends from Petaluma and the Bay tidal marshes all the way up to the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley. The lagoon is the heart of this place. In the summer, the flat oak studded grasslands extend across the valley to the Mayacama mountains and the delightful hump of Mount St. Helena. In the winter, the tidal reach and flooding extends right up the valley, inundating the land near to the Gravenstein Highway. The lagoon is rich land. Our food comes from there. Literally. For the time being we get our veggies from Laguna Farm – a group of industrious folks who have intensively planted a small area on the edge of the lagoon. Right now we’re getting radishes, kales, chards, brussel sprouts, broccoli, an abundance of salad greens, carrots – most of it hauled out of those wetlands or the areas planted on a knoll adjacent to our house.

I was born in California. It’s my native land. And now after decades away we’ve returned as Californians. I explain to my daughter that this ultimately is the place which we are from. But we also return as guests of those residents that preceded along with all those energies still present.  In the morning after the fog burns, I look out the window.  The possibilities are manifold.  The world sparkles in all it’s glorious frission.

 

Berkeley

My father came here once and he camped out in the Doe library one foggy summer in the 1960’s searching the stacks for archival material about mining journalism in Nevada during the great silver rush.  He found a forlorn journal kept by a woman named Martha Galley in which she recorded her lonesomeness, the absence of her husband and the death of her children.  The last thing my dad did in this world was try to publish it, but by then it was too late and he was already out of time.

My grandmother and my aunt came to join him.  When my grandmother was a little girl in Philadelphia near the turn of the century she was run over by a carriage and it broke her back.  After that she was hunched and stooped and couldn’t play with the other kids and so she set to walking and that she did, up to ten or twenty miles a day.  Tilden Park? she once asked me.  Do you know Tilden Park?  Up in the hills?  Every day I would walk from the Rose Garden all the way up the hill to Tilden Park and back down again, she said.

My grandmother was in her sixties at the time and she would walk all the way to goddamn Tilden Park.

I went to Berkeley once.

I had completed my sophomore year in college and all I wanted to do at that time was run fast and far away.  I studied Russian during the summer and I stayed on for the fall.  I worked at Blondie’s pizza, sometimes prepping in the back, sometimes delivering on a scooter at night.  Once I didn’t strap the pizza boxes on right and they flew off the back all over the road.  I ended giving them up for free to the college kids who had ordered them.

I liked the feeling of riding that scooter fast through the night.  The scooter was red.

I found out that summer that my girlfriend was fucking some other guy.  It was my fault, she said.  I wasn’t there for her, she said.  It didn’t matter.  We didn’t have a good relationship anyway.  I’d cheated on my first girlfriend to go out with her.  None of us were any good.

I was living with a guy named Don at the time, right up there near Tilden Park, and I couldn’t stay down in town past three-thirty because that’s when the Livermore shuttle took it’s last run.  I didn’t want to walk up that hill.  My friend Kenny wondered what my problem was, why couldn’t I walk up a hill? he asked.  You walk up that hill, I told him and he tried and he scarce could do it.

Don was dating Maddie Wegner that summer.  He was madly in love and he confided in me that he loved her so much, that she was the one and he was going to propose to her.  He had it all planned out.  He bought her a ring and later in the summer when they were going to be driving through South Dakota, one sunset evening he was going to propose to her.

And that he did.  Except that she had no inkling he was in love with her.  She sat there with him somewhere in the midwest, embarrassed in the waning light, looking at the ring he held in his hand.  He was a nice boy, she said.  A sweet boy.  And that’s where she left it.

I would get out at the Livermore Center and walk the deer trail along the hillside and would hunker down by the wind organ and watch the sun make it’s way toward the horizon and at times the colors would be so profound that I would laugh and howl as if I’d lost my senses.

But now, on that afternoon, the one that matters most to us, my daughter and I and the bird arrived unclean and tired and needing food. We cut into town and found the Bread Board across from Chez Panisse.  We ordered pizza topped with goat cheese and peaches. We ate it sitting on a grassy divide in the middle of the road. The flavors were rank and disgusting and it made me such.  Mazie hardly touched it.  For Poe it was much the same.

All journeys, all races run, pass through a place of dissipation and I guess for us maybe this was it.  Mazie and I ate what we could in this place transitional and transcending as it has always been, and we piled then into the car and we headed north taking wrong turn after wrong turn after wrong turn until we found ourselves passing across the Delta, that swampland once parceled to the wanderings of Jack London and the tin boot fortunes of China camps, and rogue vagrants and bums and residents who had but fled all there was to flee from.

On this evening the light glinted flat across the misty water, posing an ephemeral halo for the yawning dilapidated penitentiary, and for Saint Quentin himself, I guess, tortured and beheaded as he was.  And now what stores of the unrepentant, lead and gold alike, were bound and locked tight within his chest, doing time for whatever crimes done unto?

Unseen, hardly a mote we were, Mazie and I and our companion bird passed across those mud flats, past chambered prisoners and flocks of crane set to taking flight.  By them all we passed.

 

Promised Land

Some of you want to know what all has become of Poe.  The questioning, the wondering is fair enough.  And the silence and all has been unfair.  But some’s too much to tell.  But now you can have it. We can carry on.

We – Mazie, the bird and I – we left Barstow at dawn.

But not before absconding with some boiled egg and bread and sausage from the Best Western breakfast nook.  Once on the road, Poe set to caching his food amidst the newspaper in his carrier.

We blitzed California, racing up the 99 through that industrial farming hell, past warehouses, processing plants, sprayers, herbicide distributors, and miles of enslaved trees, genes, and soil and vine, Poe the raven himself bearing witness to the near incomprehensible machination and subjugation of all life to sate a specie’s hunger.

I told Mazie that her grandmother came to California because of a book written by a man named Steinbeck.  It was East of Eden and had been made into a movie by Elia Kazan and starring James Dean in which he became movement and life and desire incarnate.  It was about old California farming communities, and rivalry and lust and inheritance and the inevitable despoiling of the world through our actions.  About the Monterrey morning mist and the fields outside of Gilroy, and about old honor establishing itself in a new land.  My mother had wanted, I think, to be part of California before it was all gone and now it mostly was, at least this part of it.

And in this moment, we, my daughter and I, came to this place to be the bad kid, to find wildness and prove it upon the world once again.

Ashley, our GPS guidance system gave us a few bum steers, out of malice I think, because we hadn’t been giving her much due.  We passed out of the Central Valley, now draped with box stores and outlets for extruded meat, potato and corn products and descended into the Bay Area. Past those quixotic wind mills, harvesting that relentless mass of air pressing itself eastward from the pacific.  Past Livermore, that cesspool of life and death, beginnings and ends, where Edward Teller, in all of his fin de siecle Mitteleurop sensitivities, gave birth to the hydrogen bomb.  Is that what this state, in so much that it’s a state of being, is good for?

Of these things, though, I couldn’t intimate to my daughter.  And lest of all the bird, fragile and innocent and all-knowing intelligence that he may be.  Mazie was cranky and tired.  The bird was cooped.  And so relentlessly we pressed on.

The Bay Area. The Area of the Bay.

Faultlines

I’m airborne now, soaring above Mt. Bruno, and gazing over the dipping neckline of the Golden Gate Bridge and the gemlike buildings glinting like chiseled quartz at the tip of the Peninsula. Winds blow in from the Farallons sending whitecaps skittering across the Bay. In all, I feel sadness. I need to flee this place. I think of Rannie, of the service for her this afternoon, and the fact that she once breathed life but no longer does, shadows this whole place in illness.

And she wouldn’t have wanted that. Get the heck out and eat some good food for me, she might have said. No one should feel sad. She joked to her friends to be careful because she was going to come back and haunt them, but only in a good way. They just better keep their eyes open. I feel the haunting has only begun.

The plane arcs across the Pacific, over Mavericks. I look down trying to detect that monster wave but to my eye it is indistinguishable from the rage of other froth that embraces the shoreline. Braver folks then I, though, are even now thrusting themselves into that bracing water. We arc again, up from the Monterrey Bay and across the forested coastal hills. Somewhere in there a little Elliot happened across a charming extraterrestrial whom he would take home and secret away in his closet. And the hills give way to the Salinas valley and the slender ribbon of water that feeds this vast floodplain that each season is transmuted into millions of tons of leafing and fruiting vegetables. This water and this soil rendered into food is ingested each day by human beings all around the world. But already below us are the chock-a-block formations of the Diablo range and the Pinnacles, and in the distance to the west the gentle valley home to the Mission San Buenaventura and the Hearst hunting lodge and dry foothills that may yet become carpeted in vineyard. This is Steinbeck’s Red Pony country.

Eastward we cross yet another coastal range – but now the folding hills support grasslands and cattle until even further east when the water gives out and the land becomes laced with winding strings of road that lead to nest upon nest of oil derricks. McKittrick country. The heaving biblical tempest portrayed in There Shall Be Blood. Here you may own the surface skin of the land, but nothing underneath. The oil and mineral rights were sewed up by conglomerates decades ago. Even from the air the expanse feels like an evil infected tract, our machinery sucking the crude oozing up through the seams.

And then the grand big valley, but harvest is over. The pilot carves a wide circle around a broad patch, mile upon mile, of vineyard – undoubtedly low end grape. He essentially executes a sharp right hand turn, and I wonder why he didn’t choose a more gentle route and wonder if it has something to do with the gale winds building over the coast.

I look down and notice the San Andreas Fault, that rent in the earth signifying where California is slowing tearing away from the rest of the continent. I want to consider this formation, but I don’t know enough and I want for a companion to marvel with, someone who can appreciate the intricate delicacies of this amazing landscape. I look about in the cabin. Nearby passengers are engrossed in books or magazines or iPods. And then my own attention drifts away.

I email Danny Feikin many hours later from a motel in Flagstaff.

Rannie Yoo died on Sunday and her memorial service is today. I debated staying all the way up to when I was standing in the security line at SFO and then just decided I needed to get the hell out of that city. Flew into Flag in 60 mph winds in a prop plane. I thought that you must be use to that shit, but I’m not. And I thought I wanted to just fly around the sw with you – you’re the only other person I know who would really give a rip about flying over the san andreas fault or the pinnicles or an open pit copper mine in bagdad (I later learned from google maps because no one else on the plane knew or cared), or the colorado river, or the duststorm blowing beneath us in the mojave. Or some vast tract of subdivided desert subdivided for what? Or over the boneyard.

His reply:

The USG must not have liked what Rannie Yoo did. Barracuda web filter blocking all websites referring to her. Was she the kindred spirit you blogged about during your xrt days?

I can’t wait until life is as simple and immediate as flying over the san andreas fault as the goal and summit of one’s day.

To which I feel there is only one response.

That we can’t wait. That the future does not exist. That Rannie will never know it. That the only faultlines available to her were her final breaths.

A fact that now begs me to seek the fault lines in my own life, no matter how big or how small. I need to recognize them. I need to investigate. If only for Rannie’s sake.