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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

A Heart for Any Fate in the Time of the Coronavirus

 

Only three weeks since my last blog post and the whole world has changed. Newspaper and on-line articles are full of advice on how to weather your lockdown at home.  I don't need them. I put in so much time as the Queen of the Kingdom of Isolation while struggling to recover from physician prescribed opioids and benzos that I already know how to do this.  My calming, healing, daily yoga practice and forest walks have been in place for years.

 

But I also don't want to be the one telling everyone else how to handle this, making up suggested lists of projects and all that. This is the time for each person, each family, to marshal their own resources and figure it out for themselves.

 

People are quick to suggest what a perfect time this is for writers, citing stories of Shakespeare writing Lear while he was holed up from the plague. Well, for any fellow writers ambitiously working away, I say, more power to you. But I only write books when I have something to say, and right now I don't.

 

What I do have to offer is a book I already wrote: A Heart for Any Fate: Westward to Oregon, 1845. Twenty years ago I lovingly nailed down my own version of a story that thrilled me as a child, one book after another: the Oregon Trail.  In following the Kings who settled what came to be Kings Valley in Benton County, Oregon, I wrote of families marshalling their resources for this epic journey, banding together with other families for safety and support, experiencing the conflicts of the trail—hoarding, illness, despair.  It's also a love story. It won the Oregon Book Award, the Willa Literary Award (named for Willa Cather) and was short-listed for the Silver Spur, awarded by the Western Writers of America. 

 

If reading aloud with your kids, especially your restless young teenage daughters, is on your list for making the most of this self-enforced family time, I would suggest that escaping to a story of a  time when American families had to step up and show their true grit might make for a memorable experience.  If you're diligently trying to home school kids more formally, I can send you a great list of study questions put together by a local teacher.

 

I am always faithful in answering letters from readers, so if you want to suggest your kids write me with questions or comments, you needn't fear them being disappointed.  (LJC1@earthlink.net) I promise to answer.

 

Now is the time for each of us to show our best selves. This, too, shall pass, and we will come through it together, the better for having made the journey. Stay home, stay safe, stay well.  And love each other. 

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Love & Angst in the Time of the Coronavirus

I closed my last blog post with the promise of a report on my reaction to American Dirt, but the plot points in the Story on Planet Earth have moved forward so quickly, it's not what's been on my mind.  I'll bet the same is true for others, too, although I hear they're going to beat up the author, Jeanine Cummins, on Oprah pretty soon.

 

Before I started reading, I set aside the various reviews. I already understood the basic controversy, but I thought I should make make up my own mind.  My husband read the reviews and articles and wrote what he predicted my opinion would be on the back of an old envelope, folded and taped it shut.

 

I started reading and found the writing gripping.  After two chapters, though, I put it down and went for a walk.  Then it hit me: I didn't want to read any more of it.  Which seems to me like a good reason to quit. I didn't want to be gripped in this way.  So I ripped open my husband's prediction and here's what he had scrawled: I predict you will quit American Dirt early on.  Too violent.  A bloody chase story won't appeal.

 

Ha!  I loved this, that I'm married to a guy who knows me this well. So I will spare you my thoughts on so-called "cultural appropriation" and the intensity of envy among writers.

 

So now, here on the farm, we're watching the story of the Coronavirus unfolding.  I'm always struck by what this means when you've been married to the same person for almost 46 years.  We've watched history together.  The winter before we were married in 1974 there were lines at the gas station.  We were trying to fill our tanks to get up to the Cascades and go cross country skiing with my parents, something which, in retrospect, I realize was way more important to them than it was to us. At the time, I remember only thinking that if the gas ran out completely and we couldn't go anywhere, I just wanted to be in the same place with Herb, preferably at Wake Robin Farm, the property he had just bought.

 

Well, here we still are.  We bought a TV to watch the Watergate hearings the summer after we were married.  The twins were in kindergarten and we were putting in a new lawn in the backyard during the Clarence Thomas hearings.  My rage over the treatment of Anita Hill was white hot, and I will never forget or forgive Joe Biden's role in all that.  We drove the twins to high school on the morning of 9/11, then came home and stood in that same backyard, marveling at the quiet of the skies with all planes grounded. And what about our older son in China?  What would all this mean for our family?

 

And that same son was in Hong Kong at the epicenter of the SARS epidemic in 2003.  Seventeen years later, here in Corvallis with his Chinese wife's family still in Yanghsuo, skyping their anxiety, maybe he understands a little better how terrifying this was for us. 

 

We can go further back in our history and retell the story of how my husband's great-grandfather died of the Spanish Flu of 1918.  Because of his death, Herb's grandfather, enlisted and ready to be shipped to WWI's European front, was, as an only child, kept home instead.  A true example of the good luck/bad luck Chinese story of the Lost Horse. Without that Spanish flu death, Herb's entire line might not have existed, around 23 descendants now living by my count.

 

I was completely calm about the Coronavirus at first.  Staying home is what we like to do and we had no travel plans to cancel.  But it started to seem more anxiety provoking when somebody tested positive in Lake Oswego, Oregon, the town where our pregnant daughter-in-law works as a veterinarian.  Other links started cropping up—the elderly aunt just a stone's throw from the nursing home in Kirkland, Washington.

 

So, just hanging on tight here, staying calm, and then my heart gets stomped by Elizabeth Warren having to drop out of the Presidential race.  I can't stand it!  I hate the language describing her "poor performance in recent elections." Her performances, to my mind, were always brilliant.  The poor performances were by the people who ran, lemming-like, in fear of Trump over the cliff of Joe Biden.  Yeah, like a lot of women, I take this personally.  It's such a slap in the face to all the girls who were the smartest in their class and always got told to shut up and sit down.  It's like they're saying IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW SMART YOU ARE OR HOW HARD YOU TRY, WE WILL NEVER VOTE FOR A WOMAN! YOU CAN NEVER WIN!

 

I so wanted to watch her kick Trump's butt on the debate stage.  Now we're stuck with these two old farts.  I will vote for either of them over the despicable Trump, of course. As folks have said, they'd vote for Mickey Mouse over Trump.  They'd vote for a paper bag.  I just hope both Sanders and Biden have the wit to beg Elizabeth to be their running mate, because I believe she could set this ship straight as VP to either one of them.

 

Sigh.  Well, nothing to do but hold on and take comfort in the fact that I have been married for 46 years to a darling man who has said all along that Elizabeth Warren is obviously the smartest and best candidate in the Presidential race. 

 

So hang in there.  I wish you healing if you're ill, continued good health if you're not.  If you're quarantined, I hope you're with somebody you love.  Most of all, I wish us all freedom from the depressing, soul-crushing tyranny of the liar, liar pants-on-fire Presidency of Donald J. Trump.

 

 

 

 

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