Maybe good news?…

It’s really too soon to tell, and it might just be an anomaly, but the total number of COVID-19 cases shown on a bar graph on the Santa Clara County Board of Health Web site has not been rising at the same breakneck pace in the past three days:

The bar graph showing the number of new cases also declined in the last two days. However, that graph has a lot more noise in it, and two days’ worth of low numbers doesn’t indicate a trend.

In other good news, the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic began, has “partially re-opened” according to the BBC. Now it appears that the biggest threat is coronavirus imported into the province of Hubei from elsewhere: “On Saturday the province reported 54 new cases emerging the previous day — which it said were all imported.”

We started sheltering in place a week ago. Let’s hope that by mid-May, the number of cases in California will have gone down enough that some of our restrictions can be loosened.

Mushrooms

We had a long dry spell which lasted through most of January and February. The soil got dry, and not much was growing. March has brought us some rain, and finally the soil is getting damp again. Although the total rainfall for this season is still only half what it should be, there’s enough moisture that weeds are starting to grow in our garden beds, and a few mushrooms have started to appear, sometimes in odd places.

Like this mushroom, probably in genus Psathyrella, which just appeared today, growing up through some rounded rocks spread around one of the memorials in the cemetery:

And this Turkey-Tail, Trametes versicolor, growing on a stump left after the cemetery crew cleared some brush last fall:

The shelter-in-place order in our county forbids us from driving to parks or nature preserves, but fortunately you don’t need to drive somewhere else to find nature. These mushrooms, and several others, were all within a five minute walk of our house. And by having to stay at home, I find I actually have more time to spend looking for mushrooms, flowers, insects, and tracks — I’ve uploaded more observations to my iNaturalist page in the past week than I had uploaded in the previous four months.

Shelter in place

We got the shelter-in-place order from the San Mateo County Board of Health:

“Effective midnight tonight, the Health Officer of San Mateo County is requiring people to stay home except for essential needs. The intent of this order is to ensure the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible. … This order is in effect until April 7. It may be extended depending on recommendations from public health officials.”

We’re allowed to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy, and we can go for walks outdoors if we stay away from other people, but that’s about it.

So Carol and I went up to the local grocery store at 5 p.m. We usually go shopping every day, but now we’d rather minimize our trips to the store, so we thought we’d pick up a few things. The store showed all the signs of panic buying — I call it panic buying because while there were no bags of rice on the shelves, there was plenty of bulk rice available. I also noticed that the only canned beans left on the shelf were good old B&M Baked Beans; Californians don’t really like New England style baked beans, not even when they’re panic-buying. In any case, we found plenty of food for our needs.

Then we went off so I could do my own panic buying. You see, the libraries closed a couple of days ago, and I’ve already finished the books I had taken out. I hate ebooks because they make my eyes tired. And if I don’t feed my reading addiction, things get ugly. So we went to Barnes and Noble, and I bought some books:

Yes, most of the books I got are junk — pulp fiction and cozy mysteries and science fiction magazines — but I got some serious books too. The book by Thomas Piketty should be dense enough to last me a while.

But … I don’t know … this may not be enough books … maybe I better rush down and buy more books before the bookstore closes….

Update, Friday, March 20: The Seminary Coop Bookstore in Chicago is offering free shipping to its book-deprived customers. Amazon doesn’t need your business right now! Feed your book addiction, and help keep one of the last independent coop bookstores in the U.S. alive. I just place an order with them, why don’t you? Below is an excerpt from the email they sent out:

Fifty years ago yesterday…

…on Nov. 15, 1969, Son House was recorded live, performing “Death Letter Blues,” “John the Revelator,” “Preachin’ the Blues,” and “I Wanna Live so God Can Use Me.” House accompanies himself on guitar on the first and third songs; the other two are a capella. Since he was Son House, he did a little preaching too. All four songs are worth listening to, but the first song, “Death Letter Blues,” is my favorite. Listen on Youtube.

Ducks

Yesterday I went for a walk along Charleston Slough in Palo Alto at high tide. It was a gray day, and the light seemed to make the colors of the ducks appear more dramatic than usual. Looking at the ducks helped me forget the crazy stuff that’s in the news these days.

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca carolinensis)
American Wigeon (Anas americana)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Notes: Common and Latin names from Dunn and Alderfer, Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 7th ed. (2017); however, the AOU now assigns American Wigeon to its own genus, Mareca. Photos: inexpensive superzoom camera (cheaper than your smart phone) and free image manipulation software.

Making your own burial shroud

A week-long event called “Reimagine End of Life” is taking place in San Francisco right now. As a part of this, Carol and Ms. M. will offer a workshop on Saturday called “It’s a Wrap: Design Your Own Burial Shroud.” The point of the workshop is not to make the actual shroud you’re going to be buried in, but to start thinking about a design for something that you’d like to be wrapped up in after you die.

Tonight, Carol and I decided to play around with some materials and try a few things out. So we went down to Joanne Fabric and got 3 yards of 90 inch-wide unbleached cotton muslin, and a couple dozen different colored fabric markers. We wrapped Carol up in the muslin to see how much cloth was needed, and discovered that 2 yards of 110 inch fabric worked. (But if I were to do this again, I’d use a 90 inch square. And if I were making one for myself — Carol’s five foot nine inches tall, but I’m six foot five — I’d probably want a 110 inch square of fabric.)

Carol lay on the cloth diagonally. I flipped up the corner down by her feet first, folded over one side then the other side, and finally flipped the top corner down over her face. After flipping the corners back down, I used a pencil to make faint lines about where I folded the fabric; then when I started drawing, I knew about where to draw the designs.

Carol wanted to draw a face, but I said that would be far too difficult. Instead, she let me draw an abstract design within an oval shape:

Next I drew a design on the final flap of fabric that would be folded over her body. Ultimately, I suppose you could draw designs over the entire piece of fabric. But most of what would be exposed would be those two flaps of fabric, as you can see in the photograph below:

(That took me about an hour. But I have excellent hand skills, and years of training and experience in making art; someone with less experience could easily take two hours to get that far.)

To complete the shroud shown in the photo, I’d use fabric paint to fill in the design — perhaps a light wash inside the drawing at the head, with a dark bold color outside it; and then a light wash inside and around the swirls in the part over the body. If I wanted a more carefully crafted shroud, I’d get another piece of fabric and hem all the edges, and repaint the design on the hemmed fabric.

Really, though, for me this isn’t about coming up with a carefully-crafted final product. It was very pleasant working with these materials, and it was a chance to reflect on — not on death so much as to reflect on the entire life cycle.

Cost: 90 inch cotton muslin is about US$8 a yard. A nice set of fabric markers is going to set you back $20-35. If you want to use paints, that will cost you about $3 per color (for good-but-not-expensive paints). If you want to try stamping or printing with dyes, expect to pay about $45 for a starter kit.

Registration is closed on the workshop, but if you contact Carol directly ASAP, she might be able to get you in.

Shutdown

PG&E, the utility that everyone in northern California loves to hate, is going to shut down our power tonight, due to a forecast of high winds that could cause a downed wire that could in turn spark wildfires.

Why does PG&E have to shut down the power? Because they are owned by hedge funds, which demand maximum short-term profit instead of efficient running of a utility company, and they have skimped on power line maintenance for decades. Or, to put it more pointedly, as the governor of California recently said about PG&E: “Years of mismanagement, years of greed.”

Power could go out very soon, so I’m setting up the propane stove so I can cook dinner.

UU youth climate activist

Lorraine forwarded an article from a local newspaper about the Silicon Valley Youth Climate Strike, which is organizing a march on Friday, September 20. Lorraine and I are co-directors of Ecojustice Camp, an annual week-long ecology camp run from the UU Church of Palo Alto, and Lorraine noticed that Peri Platenberg, one of the co-organizers of the march, is a junior counselor at Ecojustice Camp. Peri is also a member of the UU Fellowship of Sunnyvale. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the article:

“One of our main goals is to make sure that we combat environmental racism,” Plantenberg said. “It’s traditionally a very whitewashed movement. We make it a priority to take a look at who is around us and make sure that we are including different ethnicities and different types of people.”

Read the full article here.