Swimming Out of the Pandemic Bubble for Thanksgiving

I push my card key into the slot and open the door. I inhale the scent of chlorine, feel the humid air on my skin. I bend down to feel the water in the pool. Warm. There is no one else here. I strip down to my bathing suit and ease in. Oh! I love being in the water. If I could live my whole life in water, I would. I love swimming, even though I’m not very good at it. After two years, do I remember how? 

I do. I go through my routine of breast strokes, back strokes and front crawl. I feel the chlorinated water pushing against my hands, feel the buoyancy of my feet on the concrete bottom. I lean back and float, giving control of every inch of my body to the water. It’s the only place I ever let go. I hope no one passes by and thinks I’m dead.

I’m writing this on Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend. I have been overeating for days and wasn’t following my diet or my exercise resolutions before that. My old Walmart bathing suit is stretched out. I look like a turquoise walrus. My muscles remind me that I haven’t done these moves in a long time. My spine whispers, “You’ll be seeing the chiropractor this week.” But those are just body parts. My spirit is soothed and renewed.

I have had many firsts over the last nine days. My first trip outside Lincoln County, Oregon since Covid started. My first salad bar. My first elevator rides. I refuse to ride a boat, plane or train, but my car trip has placed me in contact with many people, mostly strangers, lined up at rest stop bathrooms, side-by-side tables at restaurants, in line at Target and other stores, and at the breakfast buffets in the motels where I have stayed. Is it safe? I don’t know. I have had three vaccine shots, the regular first two and a booster, but there’s a new variant floating around. 

I hadn’t seen most of my family in two years. The young great-nieces, nephews and cousins have grown from babies to little people with big personalities. They call me Aunt Sue or get confused and call me Grammy. They don’t remember me from before. But it is so exciting to get to know them now. 

The adults have changed, too. My brother has a full white beard now; he was clean-shaven when I saw him last. Some are heavier or thinner or look older. Some have changed jobs and residences. It was so good to see them, hug them, and talk, talk, talk, not over Zoom or Messenger or some other electronic program but sitting in the same room, hugging a child or a dog or drinking tea and eating pumpkin bread. 

I got to see my friend who moved to Livermore and be her “sis” again. Such a gift. 

I went home to San Jose and neighboring Santa Clara. I saw buildings that weren’t there before. I saw the monstrosity the new owners of my childhood home built in its place. I visited the cemetery where there are more names now on the wall where my parents’ ashes rest and around the loved ones whose bodies went into the ground. I was able to see and touch their gravestones and sit with them for a while. 

As always, getting away from home and the usual routine sparks new ideas and new resolutions. I’m going to lose weight, renovate my house, and get a grip on my schedule. I’m going to go back to the gym, do yoga, and swim at the rec center. I’m going to start calling my family and friends more often. But I can see it will take me a whole day just to go through my mail and figure out how much I spent on this trip. I’ll need to restock the refrigerator, wash my clothes and deal with all those work chores I put off because I was “out of town.” 

I’m writing this in my last motel of the trip, the Holiday Inn in Yreka. Nice hotel, but it’s in the middle of nowhere. Nothing else here but a truck stop where I got takeout Chinese food. The whole trip, I had hoped to swim. But the other pools were all outdoors, and it was too cold. When I saw this indoor pool, I knew I had to use it. 

Traffic has been thick the whole trip. I think a lot of people left home this holiday for the first time since COVID started. Will there be a new surge of people getting sick? It seems likely. So many people together, so many without masks. The pandemic is not over. We’re all tired of it. Mask-wearing is slipping. But we can never be sure we’re safe. I even wondered if somehow the virus could be in the water in that pool. It doesn’t seem logical, but I wondered.

It will be a long time before I can return to my home state, but I will treasure the memories and photos and the feel of that warm water against my body as I made my cumbersome way back and forth, the nearsighted, half deaf turquoise walrus full of Chinese food from the truck stop across the road.  

How did you spend Thanksgiving? Did you venture out of your COVID bubble? Tell us about it in the comments. 

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Thanksgiving Drive Shows Us How Lucky We Are

IMG_20171123_141503571_HDR[1]If things had gone differently last summer, we might not have been eating Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s house in Cathey’s Valley, California, down the hill from Yosemite.

The massive Dewiler fire, which came roaring through so fast people barely had time to get out of the way, burned up to the back gate of Mike’s housing development. It threatened to destroy the town of Mariposa where he works and forced him and his family to evacuate for a week, not knowing if they’d have a house to return to. The food in their refrigerator rotted while they crowded into my niece’s house with the dogs and the kids. Mike stood on Hornitos Road watching firefighters set backfires and helicopters drop retardant.

For over a month, they breathed smoke. Ash covered everything inside and out. The power poles and lines burned, so they didn’t have power for another week. When the fire was completely out in October, CalFire reported that it had burned 81,826 acres, It destroyed 63 homes, 67 minor structures, and one commercial structure. Mariposa survived, as did most of Cathey’s Valley, but the fire was huge, and no one who experienced it will ever forget.

It was only one of the many wildfires that ravaged the West this year. This one reportedly started with a gunshot that probably caused a spark and set the wild grass on fire.

While Thanksgiving dinner was cooking, Mike took Dad and me for a ride to see the burned area. It took a minute to recognize the damage. Nature is already starting to repair itself with hints of green grass sprouting up everywhere. The power company has replaced the damaged poles, and road workers have rebuilt the fences along the area’s narrow hillside roads. Much of the charred wreckage has been cleared away. But the burned ground is smooth, dark, and marbled-looking, and the trunks of the oaks are charred, their remaining leaves an odd shade of orange. Some of the fence posts are black. You round a bend and see a chimney sticking up. Down the road, a new mobile home sits where a house used to be. Around the next curve, a house that was saved sits surrounded by burnt ground.

Big signs along the road thank the firefighters for their help. First responders from all over the state fought that mega-fire.

Outside the burnt area, the yellow grass grows tall enough to hide my niece’s dachshund. Cows graze as usual. Wild turkeys that escaped Thanksgiving scurry through the oaks and pines looking for food. Alpacas soak in the mild sun at the alpaca farm down the road. Life goes on there, but for many miles, it will be years before it looks or feels anywhere near normal.

We had a lot to be thankful for as we gathered around the table to eat the food prepared by my sister-in-law and my niece and watched my niece’s baby taste his first stuffing and pumpkin pie. I wonder what the folks who weren’t so lucky were doing.

The day after Thanksgiving, Mike put a new chain on his chainsaw and went out to cut brush and fallen trees. Anything that might burn near the house has to go. One hopes it will never be as bad, but in that hot, dry country, fire is as expected as the rain falling here on the Oregon coast.

Thanksgiving California trip: from honks to hugs

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Geese greeted me at the Rogue River rest stop, pecking at my car.

Once again, I saddled up the Honda and drove south to spend time with my dad in San Jose and Thanksgiving at my brother’s house in the bustling metropolis of Catheys Valley on the road to Yosemite. This year, the weather was cold but mostly dry and I got over the Siskyous both ways without snow or ice. The holidays were the usual overload of too much food, too many loved ones all at once, tons of hugs, and the sadness of having to say goodbye again. My dad is doing well, and the growing family is flourishing. All is well.

I’m writing this in a motel room in Medford, Oregon. By the time you read it, I’ll be back with Annie in South Beach missing all that sunshine and family love. Here are a few pictures. Feel free to comment or substitute your own captions. Happy holidays to you and your loved ones.

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My cousin Rob and his Clarabelinda, whom I met for the first time.

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My brother Mike showing off the lake near his house in the Sierras.

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Isis the psycho dog staring at the reflection of her tags on the floor.

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Rogue River again. Thanksgiving? I’m going fishing.

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 A season worth of autumn leaves in one tree at Lake Shasta rest stop
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Why?
 

 

 

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