Unprecedented Challenging Time of Crisis

You’d think, what with the pandemic, that I’d’ve had more time for blogging over the past several months. But no – somehow it seems as though I’ve had far, far less.

I hope no one’s been too worried about my wellbeing. I’m safe, and healthy, and employed, and able to work from home. Andrew and I have always had enough toilet paper (though it was close!), and we enjoy one another’s company. So I’ve been among the lucky ones here in the States. I hope all of you can say the same.

All that said, though, I’ll admit that I’ve felt significantly less than wonderful through all this. I do all right navigating stressful times in terms of keeping the necessary pieces in motion, but it does wear on me in ways I’m often unsure how to manage. It could be that expecting any different is completely unreasonable – these are, after all, wildly unprecedented, challenging, emotionally draining times. But I think it’s fair to say that I greatly dislike feeling anxious and overwhelmed and helpless all the time for months on end, and I’d really prefer to not feel this way. I think that’s fair.

So a lot of my time has been spent self-soothing. Andrew and I have been fortunate to live close enough to local trails to enjoy frequent hikes this spring, so I’ve been using my iNaturalist app to identify wildflowers. I’m partial to the tangled purple vetches that took over the hillsides in April and the woolly Indian paintbrush tucked along the shadier, rockier paths. Andrew loves the blue-eyed grass and the sprawling patches of white and violet lupines materializing from day to day. We’re both enjoying watching the blackberry brambles putting up their wide happy flowers, and spotting the first few green berry clusters starting to form as the first petals begin to die back.

We’ve also seen some fun wildlife – turkeys, deer, gopher snakes, alligator lizards, a North American racer snake my sister later told me is extremely hard to photograph since they’re so fast. The turkeys freaked me out one evening, gobbling at me from the trees above the trail. I didn’t realize turkeys roosted in trees. Now I know!

Andrew pointed out a couple weeks ago that whenever I told him I was “resting” after work, he’d discover me feverishly clicking through news coverage on YouTube, refreshing the latest fatality numbers, and spiraling down internet forums that only seemed to agitate me further.

“That doesn’t seem very restful,” he observed carefully, knowing how defensive I can get about these things.

And of course he was right. You shouldn’t need to rest from your resting. This is why Andrew’s so great. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather shelter in place with.

Around the same time, my friends – who started a tongue-in-cheek Doomsday WhatsApp group soon after all this began – started fussing at me to take better care of myself. “We know you’re worried about other people, Crystal,” they said. “But you need to remember to worry about yourself.” This is why my friends are so great.

I’ve watched a great deal of Hulu and tried my best to make art when I can. I’ve gotten into pen-and-ink again, for the first time since late high school, and I think I enjoy it more now than I did then. I’ve made cloth masks for Andrew and me, out of some of my favorite fabric prints, which I’d been saving for something special. There’s been quilting – I used some of the money I didn’t spend on gas to order some nice thread I needed for an ongoing project. Card-making. Origami.

There was a weird moment, with the masks, the first time I folded laundry after washing some of them. I didn’t know where they went, and I didn’t know how to fold them. Here I was, at almost 33 years old, with this completely new item of clothing to put away. These pretty little cloth creations, made out of my favorite fabrics (some with skulls and roses, others with gauzy pink batik designs, others in prints Andrew refers to as “grandma flowers”) – all pleated and tangled up in each other’s ties.

I puzzled over them for a minute, then folded them in half hamburger-style and rolled them up into little tubes to add to my socks-and-underwear drawer. They strike me as a sock-and-underwear item. This must be what they mean when they say the New Normal. Now there are masks in my laundry, and it’s normal. They go in my socks-and-underwear drawer. There’s a proper way of folding them. Apparently it’s normal now.

It’s definitely still weird to see them in my laundry as I unload the dryer.

I’m expecting to be wearing them for at least a year at this point. And I don’t mind, really. It’s another accessory, and one that lets other things be a bit more normal. When I see people out on the nature trails, I can stand six feet away from them while I excitedly tell them, through my purple-splashed mask, why the California bay laurels look so spooky or why I’m so excited about the turkey vultures hanging out in the oak branches. Having made the masks myself makes me feel more in control. In times like these, I desperately crave every little bit of control I can get.

For that reason, I’ve been grateful for my job. Working in the nonprofit sector, I’m tangentially addressing with the pandemic’s effects. I may be stuck at home, but my actions are helping, and they’re helping other people help as well. There’s comfort in that.

I guess that’s the wonder here, glittering through all the muck and drama, the protests and the finger-pointing, the loss and the futility. We wrestle through things. It’s messy. We have our big feelings and we express them in big ways. But we kind of eke out some kind of stubborn hopefulness from day to day. It might not even be hopefulness. More a deep-seated will to survive. We fumble around for reasons even when we’re not thinking about it.

We create things. We try. We make jokes about the toilet paper to help each other laugh in the face of the absurdity in the catastrophe. We figure it out, maybe, sort of. We figure out what to make of it. Or we try to, day by day.

Someday, the sense we’ve tried to make day by day will make a picture they’ll write about in history books, and it’ll be something complicated and ineffable that we can’t fully see now. But it’ll be ours, and those of us who have lived through it will each feel some kind of way about it. There’s something wonderful and strange and human in that.

But it’s definitely very weird to live through, I’ll tell you that.


Let me know in the comments how you’re doing. Have you found any wonder as we’ve navigated the pandemic together as a world? Have you created anything cool since this began?

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Happy witnessing!

Wonders Ramble

One hope of mine, when I started this blog, was that regularly writing about wonders would force me to seek out new material week by week. Hopefully, I thought, this practice will make me pay more attention.

And it has – so much, in fact, that I sometimes find myself at a loss for which wonder to write about on a given occasion.

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Milkmaids – among the first wildflowers of spring.
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Inhaling the Vanilla Forest – Or, The Arboretum at Flagstaff

Before we get to the Arboretum itself, here’s a fun fact I didn’t mention last weekdendrochronology, or the scientific study of tree rings, was first founded in Flagstaff, Arizona, at Lowell Observatory.

How, you ask, did such a skyward-focused establishment stumble upon something so terrestrial?

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Ponderosa pine cross-section on display at the Arboretum at Flagstaff. Notice the particularly thick bark layer. All photos courtesy of yours truly.

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An American Goth and a Belgian Designer Walk into a Boneyard…

When my dear friend Hannelore arrived in Las Vegas last month on her 1988 Honda Africa Twin adventure bike, I asked what she and her boyfriend, Jasper wanted to see. Both wanted to experience the Strip, of course—there’s an unspoken rule that you really can’t visit Las Vegas without having at least seen the Strip, just to say you did. Beyond that, Hanne listed two specific sites: Seven Magic Mountains and the Neon Museum.

As you’ll recall from last week, I hadn’t heard of Seven Magic Mountains until Hanne requested it. But the Neon Museum?

Oh, I had definitely heard of the Neon Museum.

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The Neon Museum’s newest acquisition, and the first thing you see when entering the Boneyard. Photo by Katrina Reinert.

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European Adventurers Discover Seven Magic Mountains, Las Vegas, Nevada

Sunset only added to the stones’ fluorescence. I had not expected this. Usually, dimming light can be relied upon to fade any colors within reach, but Seven Magic Mountains challenged the rule.

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Two Magic Mountains, with the sunset over the Mojave in the background. Photo by Jasper.

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Temple of Goddess Spirituality – Cactus Springs, Nevada

Katrina and I stepped under the pale stucco archway. To our left, tucked between the eastern and southern arches, stood a tall statue of Sekhmet, ancient Egypt’s lion-headed goddess. To our right, between the eastern and northern entries, was an altar covered in small representations of the Divine Feminine: Quan Yin, the Venus of Willendorf, Parvati. The flagstone floor glistened with desert rocks, sand, and small glass pebbles.

Above us, open sky beckoned beyond a dome of intersecting copper circles.

Gazing up, I realized I’d made an error. The small, open temple wasn’t cut off from the Mojave Desert surrounding it, but the feel within its walls was different enough, and familiar enough. Sacred space.

“Hey,” I said, looking back at my sister. “I need to take off my shoes.”

Katrina stepped backwards several steps. “I was thinking the same thing.”

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View of the sky from inside the open-air Temple of Goddess Spirituality. Photo taken by Katrina Reinert.

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Chiaroscuro

Through the vast rocky desert of southern Nevada, Andrew and I are returning from an afternoon in Pahrump when we round a bend and see Las Vegas sprawled below us. 

The city appears like a mirage. Approached on desert roads at night, Las Vegas glimmers like a lake of stars, the Luxor Sky Beam suspended between heaven and earth like an anchor’s taut chain. In the daylight, the Mojave Desert opens wide and reveals a civilization of millions.

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View of Las Vegas from the southeast. Photo by Ryan Hafey on Unsplash

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