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!

Umbellularia Californica – Or, the California Bay Laurel

Only thirty seconds up Andrew’s and my new favorite trailhead stands a majestic sprawling oak the likes of which cannot fail to transport me into fits of exultation.

This essay is not about that tree, though I’ll be shocked if by next fall I haven’t followed up with many unhinged rhapsodic lines on the matter. The moss! The lichens! The flock of red-headed woodpeckers! I’ve got to wait for its leaves to come in fresh so I can be sure of its species.

No – but today’s story begins beneath that tree, under the warming late winter sun, with me gazing through the oak’s branches, my new phone (with its new and better camera!) in my hands. I raised the camera between my face and the tree. Shook my head. Crouched down and raised the phone once more. Hesitated between portrait and landscape mode. Tried to imagine what Katrina, the photographer of the family, might do. Then looked disappointedly at Andrew.

“We’ll need to come back on a greyer day,” I said. “It won’t look right in the pictures with the sun so nice.” I rose and snapped a close-up of a gnarled scar where a small branch had once been.

20200201_151815.jpg Continue reading “Umbellularia Californica – Or, the California Bay Laurel”

Crystal Metamorphing into Something Dad-ish

When I was three or four years old, random friendly grown-ups started asking me what color this or that was, what my favorite food was, and what my daddy did for work.

“He’s a geophysicist!” I’d announce, and they’d look at my parents with something like awe, and make a comment about how smart I was to know a word like geophysicist.

I’ve always enjoyed a compliment, but if we’re being fair, I didn’t actually know the word. I could pronounce it, sure, and that’s not nothing for a pre-schooler, but I didn’t know what it meant. Flabbergasted I could use in a sentence, thanks to a Little Golden Book featuring poems about Sesame Street characters. Geophysicist, not so much.

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Left to right: Me, my oldest brother, Dad, and Katrina in 1992. Photo taken by my mother.

Continue reading “Crystal Metamorphing into Something Dad-ish”

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.

Continue reading “Inhaling the Vanilla Forest – Or, The Arboretum at Flagstaff”

Memento Mori V – Or, The Deer and the Turkey Vultures

CW: Animal death, decomposition, blood, death

The deer had been struck by a car a few hours before, as the sun warmed the early-dawn horizon. At least, I could only assume this was the case. I hadn’t seen the impact—wasn’t present for any last struggles or last breaths. All I had was the evidence as I came upon it: the fresh deer carcass, glossy-coated and gracefully arranged even in death, surrounded by seven or eight dark, stooped turkey vultures going about their grim business like so many Reapers.

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Close-up of a turkey vulture’s head and shoulders. Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

Continue reading “Memento Mori V – Or, The Deer and the Turkey Vultures”

Harsh, and Brimming with Life

To begin by saying nature is changeable would be to state the obvious, but I hope my readers will indulge me. Obvious or not, the cycles of nature can’t help but fascinate. And nowhere have they seemed more pronounced to me than in the desert.

Early this March, a week and a half after Las Vegas’ historic snowfall, I and a group of extended family members went on one of my favorite hikes in Red Rock Canyon, just west of the city. Red Rock Canyon consists of a thirteen-mile scenic driving loop off of which twenty-six marked hiking trails can be reached. Each offers something new and special: archeological information, unique rock formations, conservancy initiatives. Continue reading “Harsh, and Brimming with Life”

Memento Mori II – Or, A Bone in the Streambed

When northern Utah’s spring comes and the accumulated mountain snow begins to melt, the canyon creeks swell and roar with clear churning water. Hikers beside them must shout to be heard. Tumbling rocks scuttle and scrape beneath the surging torrent. The frothing rumble of the deluge echoes against the red cliffs. Winter is swept away with a welcome violence, clawing at its last stone-shadowed hollows.

But on this February day in 2012, winter still ruled Rock Canyon. Continue reading “Memento Mori II – Or, A Bone in the Streambed”