Covid, Bronchitis and a Miscellany of Pastimes

For three weeks I’ve been triply sick. The illnesses began with covid. A mild case. But, after four or five days, bronchitis set in. Next came a nasty sinus infection. All the good things I was doing lessened the discomfort only a little. Extra vitamins C and D, steamy showers, ivy leaf cough syrup, lots of rest, litres of hot fluids, echinacea capsules, oregano oil, Tiger Balm.

Me, fresh from a hot shower, pretending I’m not sick…the creases in my brow give me away

At the two-week mark, on the advice of the nurse on the heath-care hot line, I visited the emergency department of our local hospital. What a speedy experience that was! A prolonged cough rattled and wheezed under my tight-fitting medical mask. A concerned nurse whisked me off to a solitary waiting area. In record time she had me registered then placed in an isolated room. During the next two hours I was seen by a different nurse, a doctor, two x-ray technicians, then the doctor again. Between visits I read a few chapters of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat.

The novels I am presently reading

The good news—no pneumonia. That possibility concerned me a lot. During three consecutive winters, I suffered with pneumonia. Each case lasted longer than the previous one. In the spring of 2012, a CAT scan revealed scar tissue in one lung. I got a pneumonia vaccine. Was told it would last 10 years. The emergency doctor said they now recommend one every five years. When my health improved I was to arrange for the shot. In the meantime, the viral bronchitis would have to heal on its own. Antibiotics would cure the bacterial sinus infection. Or, so the doctor said.

The week of antibiotics ended two days ago. My health has seen little improvement. Maybe the sinus problem is viral too? My wise yoga teacher suggested that I take the antioxidant NAC—N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine. Here’s what the label says:

NAC is a highly stable form of cysteine and is a precursor in the body to the critical antioxidant glutathione. [It] helps to reduce the severity and frequency of influenza-like symptoms in adults over 65 years of age.

As I am an adult somewhat older than 65 with flu-like symptoms, I researched several brands. I bought a “Bonus Size” bottle of the capsules. Three days and six doses later, I can almost breathe through one nostril or the other. I also began taking an echinacea-based tincture five times a day. When I had bronchitis in the winter of 2002, it held me hostage for six weeks. I plan to extricate myself much sooner this time.

So, how have I occupied these sick days?

1. Reading novels. Most just okay. One exemplary—I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. The same author wrote One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I never knew that the Disney movie was first a book. I wonder did the firm studio do it justice? I will have to read the novel. The castle book is extraordinary. It boasts one of the most original narrators I’ve encountered in years. Young, clever, confused, honest, and at times hilarious. The eccentric characters are treated with vivid details and much good-will, the ordinary ones give balance and believably.

2. Reading non-fiction. My 91 year-old far-away friend regularly sends me hand-written letters. How happy I am that she never learned to use a computer. Words penned on paper are intimate. They speak to your heart. And, how much we can learn from their physical presence. Pat always uses thin, pale blue, letter-sized sheets. She’s been doing this for years. I wonder if her supply will ever run out. Oh, I do hope not. Few of her words are ever crossed out. However, there are sometimes carets inserted to add a necessary adjective. I think of Jane Austen writing entire novels on tiny sheets of paper in minuscule script. No delete, backspace, edit, cut, copy, paste. Maybe brains worked differently back then.

Pat never fails to mention the book she is reading at the time of the letter. The last was Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, copyright 1968. I wondered, would I enjoy it as much as I did Walden so many decades ago?I looked it up. Excellent reviews, especially with regard to the writing. The library system on Prince Edward Island has only one copy and there was a hold on it. I broke my rule about not buying any more books and ordered it online. Now I will have to discard one. That shouldn’t be a problem. Lately I’ve been eyeing a few that have lost their lifetime-of- pleasure promise.

3. Completing challenging crosswords. Two or three a day. Usually in bed at night. When the pen falls out of my hand and stains the sheets, I know it’s time to quit and try to sleep. By the way, I don’t use a pen because of extreme confidence. Rather, it is easier to see in the semi-light of the darkened bedroom.

4. Making soup. Mornings are best for serious endeavours. I have some energy then. I like to cook. I haven’t been able to taste much for weeks. Some say that’s a result of covid. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that my sinuses are full most of the time. Homemade soups are equally time-consuming and rewarding. Yesterday I roasted russet potatoes, turnip, fennel, yams, celery, carrots, onion and a whole head of garlic with bay leaves, several sprigs of fresh rosemary (I over-winter a plant in my garage) and generous sprinkles of dried thyme. Organic veggie broth and more seasonings produced an exceptionally fine soup…so said my husband. I couldn’t taste it but the compliment rang true as Gilles is a mostly honest man. He wouldn’t lie to me just because I’m sick. Well, he may. Perhaps, when my sense of smell is recovered, I should cook with a clothespin on my nose and trust that end result will also be “exceptionally fine.”

Homemade soup…I ate mine without the yogourt swirl…no dairy for impaired respiratory systems

5. Watching NetFlix. We gave up cable TV three or four years ago. I have never missed it. Especially the commercials. I don’t know how to stream programs nor do I wish to learn. So, NetFlix is my only visual escape. I am embarrassed to admit that I enjoy Korean drama series. Gods and goddesses, monsters, high technology, fantasy, corporate corruption, little-known history, all with a predictable romance thrown in. A bonus is that I can mute the program and just read the subtitles thereby convincing myself that I am not a vegetable.

6. Feeding the birds. Winter blizzards batter houses and trees and knock out power lines. I keep my three feeders full. I spill some on the ground for the mourning doves, jays and crows that are too big to fit inside the caged seed silos. It is so cold this morning that the chickadees and finches don’t wait for the crows to disappear before heading in for breakfast. Courageous creatures. Watching the birds is as rewarding as watching NetFlix.

Out-of-focus bird feeder frenzy…taken through a less-than-clean window

7. Necessary household chores such as laundry and vacuuming. Last week I spent two hours ironing. I forgot how much I enjoy watching wrinkles disappear. I wonder if there is a metaphor in that last sentence. Or a longing. Ages ago I considered writing a piece called meditations while ironing. I may still compose that. My recent happy experience with a steam iron was probably enhanced by my breathing in the hot mist.

8. Communicating with family and friends. Phone calls, FaceTimes, messenger, instagram, emails, postcards, real pen and ink letters, and this blog. Reaching out to others in a time of forced isolation feeds our need for intimacy. What I love best are the moments of shared laughter. Medicine for the soul.

9. Sleeping.

I have always been attracted to multiples of three. So, I’ll stop now. Maybe I’ll nap. Writing demands a lot of energy.

Why Wait for the 0’s and 5’s to Celebrate? Every Birthday Can Be a Festival

Today is my 74th birthday. Upon rising, one of my first thoughts was, “Next year I’ll turn 75. I will have to plan something special.” The next thought was, “Why?” Children’s birthdays are celebrated every year. Just look at the card racks. “Happy Birthday One Year Old,” Two, Three, Four, Five and all the way up to Ten. Albeit, the higher you go, the fewer cards there are. What happens then? Well, there are 20’s 30’s 40’s 50’s and 60’s greeting cards. More after that, the 5’s get included…65, 75, 85 and then 90. I can’t recall seeing a 95 one—perhaps not enough are sold to make their manufacture worthwhile.

For my Mom’s 95th my sister hosted a family gathering. A smaller group met for her 96th. The following year, because most of our small family was widely dispersed, there was no celebration at all. I know Mom was disappointed. She died two weeks before her 98th birthday. I suspect her passing then was intentional. Impossible to be disappointed if you’re not here.

Mom’s 95th Birthday

As for me, on my 65th, I invited five women friends, including my daughter, to my house for brunch and a session with a spiritual healer. Kerrilynn is a gifted intuitive. She “saw” deceased loved ones and communicated with them to bring comfort to those left behind. I have no memory of my “reading”, but I do recall that Kerrilynn had a great deal to say to the others present.

My 65th Birthday

That was the last time I honoured a birthday with a group of friends.

Here’s what I have done today:

a) Luxuriated in a hot Epsom salts bath perfumed with jasmine essential oil. I always let the fragrance choose me. Without looking at the labels of my identical blue bottles, I uncap and sniff each one, accepting or rejecting the scent. Sometimes only one says, “Yes!” If there are two of three contenders, I repeat the sniffing exercise until the best one emerges. Then, I look up the qualities of the oil in my aromatherapy handbook.

A few of my aromatherapy oils

Here’s a small part of what I read about jasmine:

In India the jasmine plant is called “queen of the night” or “moonshine in the garden.”

The fragrance penetrates and diminishes fear. No other essential oil is quite as capable of changing our mood so intensely. Jasmine oil does not simply lighten our mood, it brings euphoria to darkness. Jasmine is helpful for recapturing self-confidence and defeating pessimism.

No matter how often I allow an oil to choose me, I am amazed by the appropriateness of the fragrance. I had been feeling low for a while. Little energy to do anything but necessary tasks. Creative projects held no appeal. During my twenty-minute soak, ideas tumbled out. I’m not a fan of stream-of-consciousness writing. It confuses me. However, a form of that technique seemed appropriate here. I wanted to put down, (mostly) unedited, thoughts about my birthday. The task is proving difficult. Most of my writing is edited at least half a dozen times. I don’t know how much of this will stay when I’m done…but the doing is fun.

Speaking of blogs, according to Wikipedia,

A blog is a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries. Posts are typically displayed in reverse chronological order, so that the most recent post appears first, at the top of the web page.

Only one or two of my thirty or so posts have been diary-like. I guess I will have to add this one to that list.

b) Walked with my dog in warm October sunshine.

I love having been born in the fall. As Anne Shirley said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Of course, there are Octobers everywhere. But I know what Lucy Maude Montgomery meant—a land rife with sugar maples that exchange their summer-green gowns for vibrant orange and red and yellow canopies that dance in the autumn sun.

Strathgartney Provincial Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

My walking companion
Pitou

c) Vacuumed the whole house.

d) Stripped my bed and remade it with freshly laundered, line-dried linens.

e) Manicured my fingernails.

f) Written this blog.

All this before noon! Furthermore, all were activities that I enjoy. Well, vacuuming is not that great. But, I do have an amazing stick vac that does a thorough and time-efficient job.

I realize that I have already celebrated my birthday in hundreds of happy moments. And just think, there are many hours left in this day to fill with joy. Why does anyone need a “big” event for a birthday to be special?

Me on my 75th birthday enjoying snow crab for lunch

PS I may still plan something “big” for my 75th. Or, I may not.

Nature’s Wisdom: Learning from Trees

My first tree was a climbing tree. In the yard of the house of my early childhood. It was a perfect tree. A giant maple. Limbs stretched out parallel to the ground before turning upward to tickle the sky. The lowest bough hovered five feet above the lawn. Regular-sized kids could run, leap, catch its bulk then hoist themselves onto its sturdy breadth. Although six, I was puny. I would have needed a ladder to reach that branch. Or, a bigger person to hoist me up. But, kids can be mean. If the others ran away, how would I get down?

I don’t know why my brother scaled the tree. Maybe the others dared him. Gordon was only fifteen months my senior but he was a proper size. Up and up he climbed. No one had ever gone that high. Was he being taunted? Most early memories are fuzzy. Maybe it’s better that way. Too many details would be harder to erase.

At the time, I didn’t know how it happened. I gazed up into the branch-maze. Watched my brother disappear. First, an eerie silence. Then, the clatter of breaking things. The tearing of wood. The ripping of leaves. A hideous thud. My brother on the ground. Inert. The uncanny emptiness. The others ran away. I ran for our parents.

That afternoon, in the upper branches of the big maple, my brother had his first epileptic seizure. Is that why he did not scream? Is that why he escaped with only some scrapes and scratches and a broken arm? Did he know how lucky he was? Probably not. When young, we are immortal. Just like Bugs Bunny who crashed through walls or disappeared beneath a steamroller and emerged unscathed.

As for me, I learned respect for trees that day. When I grew big enough to climb them unassisted, I

stayed a safe distance above the ground. Left the loftiest branches to the birds.

*****

A year after Gordon’s accident, we moved across town to a new home. I played among the weeds and the wildflowers that crowded the empty lots next to our property. Two trees dominated that vast realm. A climbing tree very much like the one with bad memories that we had left behind. And, a toppled tree, broken but alive, just like my brother. The second, its limbs lush with leaves and bowed to the ground, furnished a perfect hideaway.

One summer afternoon, I crawled inside the ragged green dome. I was hidden. I was safe. Still, I trembled. How long would I have to wait, this time? This time had been the worst. I had run from my brother before. But now my words sparked vengeance. He came at me with a knife. A butcher knife yanked from the kitchen drawer. I had teased him. I was mean. From where did such cruelty come? From example, I suppose. Parents, siblings, peers.

In high school we read Lord of the Flies. I refused to believe that children, left on their own, ceased to be good. Embraced evil. But, who had provoked my brother? Some part of me that I didn’t want to believe was there?

He never found me. My brother. Inside my emerald igloo. One hour. Two hours. I thought it safe to emerge. It was. I never told my parents. I never again tormented my brother.

*****

A few decades later, a native teacher told me to go into the forest. Wander until a tree called my name. Sit at its base, back to its trunk. Observe my breath. Empty my mind. Wait for a message. How silly. Trees don’t talk. Not English anyway.

I am often not good at following rules. They get in the way. They slow me down. This time, however, I did as I was told. Perhaps because of the undisputed authority of the elder. Or, perhaps because it was a warm afternoon in June and I had nothing better to do.

I rambled. Followed no path. Allowed my intuition, and the trees, to lead me. Mossy ground moulded to the shape of my leather soles. The whistle of a warbler sweetened the air. Twigs snapped. Leaves kissed. After a small eternity—stillness. A solitary oak beckoned me forward. “Come. Sit

beneath my canopy. Lean against my rugged bark. Rest in my strength and in my wisdom.”

No, the tree never spoke those words. But, if the tree had been granted speech, that is what I imagined it would have said. As it turned out, my tree was far more eloquent and succinct than I was.

I sat. Bathed in leaf-dappled sunlight. Breathed and pondered. “What knowledge could a tree possibly give me?” Another eternity. I may have slept. The words came as they do in dreams. Not as language

but as a knowing. An absolute truth conveyed as a wordless thought. The words come later. There must be a special part of our brain designed to decode such truths.

Keep your consciousness in your feet.”

There was no possibility that I could have said that. I didn’t know what it meant. My surprise gave way to speculation. Just how was I supposed to “keep my consciousness in my feet?”

I never acted on the tree’s wisdom. How could I act on something I didn’t understand? But, neither did I forget the message.

Some years later, mindfulness found me in the guise of a book—Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are. At last I understood. I could not be present in the moment if I was always in my head—remembering, regretting, apologizing, planning, arranging, fantasizing, formulating, arguing, writing. If I focused on my feet, on the softness or solidity of the ground beneath them, or, going deeper, on the earth energy moving up and through me, or, on the fragrance of crushed grass or sun-

softened tar that enveloped me as I ambled, then, all worry, all troubles would fall away and my life would unfold in the most effortless fashion.

Now, when I walk my dog, or tend to the gardens, or vacuum the house, or scrub the dishes, I try to remember my feet. To put my attention there…on the ground. Connected to the earth. Connected to my self. It is not always easy. In fact, I am not especially good at it. Even so, every time I do remember, I think back to the elder who taught me to be still and to listen. I smile and thank that long ago tree.