Thursday, October 22, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Eight Nations by Chris La Tray

Pandemic Meditations is a weekly series in which artists and writers share work that responds to the current pandemic. Please welcome Chris La Tray to the series.

 😷


Eight Nations

by Chris La Tray

Photo by Chris La Tray, used with permission

[Author's Note: In July I traveled all over Montana visiting each of our resident Indian reservations to report a story I was writing for Montana Quarterly magazine about Tribal responses to COVID-19. I was flying under the radar, talking to people when I could, and just looking to observe. The following are some reflections in the wake of that trip. I've taken sort of a pseudo-Haibun approach to this, combining haiku poetry—sometimes related, sometimes not—with prose. I hope it works for you.

It should be noted that in the time since I made my visits and reported my story (currently available on newsstands around Montana in the Fall 2020 issue of MQ), COVID-19 infections in Montana have spiked dramatically and continue to do so, with Tribes particularly hard-hit. This isn't close to being over.]

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Glimpse of sunrise
From haunted overpass
Warm morning breeze


Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes

Highway 93 north out of the Missoula valley in the second week of July. The powwow in Arlee—122 years running, created as a 4th of July celebration back in the days when it was illegal for Indians to practice our religions—didn't happen. Nor are they happening anywhere else. For folks who make their living off the summer powwow circuit, it's devastating.

RVs and gigantic pickups towing boats form a long glittering line of metal and glass snaking through the Jocko and Mission Valleys. My friend Shelly Fyant, the CSKT's Chairwoman since last fall, says she'd love to close all access onto their land but that isn't an option. Too much state tourism money is at stake. Instead the CSKT close access to Tribal recreation sites because they are being overrun by tourists and non-Tribal people hiding out from COVID. Now, anyone who can't show Tribal ID at the entrance checkpoint is turned away.

Last January, addressing the audience at the celebration in Great Falls to honor the Little Shell Tribe's federal recognition, Shelly says, "I've only been chairwoman for a couple years . . . I mean, a couple months!" The crowd laughs at her slip. "I guess it just feels like a couple years," she says.

I wonder how many years it feels like now.

 

Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians

We are a scattered people still figuring out what is next for us. The bureaucracy involved, and the limited resources of tiny federal offices stretched thin in their efforts to serve huge swaths of remote landscapes, makes for glacial progress in determining a way forward for something, likely a newly-recognized tribe with thousands of members, without an established framework. So federal recognition so far amounts to little more than some grandiose words from people having had little to do with it and some nauseating photo ops (like Matt Rosendale, currently running for Montana's single seat in the House, who voted twice at the state level against Little Shell recognition, but has the audacity to show up at our pipe ceremony to grin in photographs with Chairman Gerald Gray).

Fistfuls of clouds
Crumpled tissues over the Hi-Line
Winter evening drive

The upside here is that our recognition means we are eligible for money when the federal CARES Act is passed last June. Our bank account swells. What do we receive, a tribe only recently upgraded from being financed by bake sales and raffles? $25 million. That's $23.5 million more than Chairman Gray, in his wildest dreams, imagined getting. We are able to initiate projects that would likely have taken years to begin. We upgrade the kitchen in our community center, repair facilities in our Tribal offices, and, most importantly, buy our own health clinic. We don't have any other option because if we wait for IHS—Indian Health Services—to provide one, they tell us that, given current level of appropriations vs. Tribes in front of us, repair backlogs, etc., that we will have to wait more than 100 years. We already waited 156 years for federal recognition. We are finished waiting.

 

Blackfeet Nation

The Blackfeet are in the news for denying access to Glacier Park through their lands. Businesses are closed. I am struck by how much of a ghost town East Glacier is as I roll through town, particularly stark after the experience on the other side of Marias Pass where Glacier and its surrounding towns, like West Glacier and Polebridge, are overrun with tourists. A man holds a sign along the highway, beseeching the Tribe to open Glacier National Park—that he is not afraid of getting sick. He is not Indian, but tells me he loves the town and he loves the Tribe. But he also tells me that he doesn't believe the disease is real—that it's a hoax.

At the park entrance I see a gaggle of rangers, all white guys with buzz cuts and beards, loitering out front, armed and armored and laughing, as if preparing to deploy to Portland, Oregon, where protests are raging and federal thugs are engaged in the 200+ year American tradition of violence aimed to keep the plebes in line, whatever it takes.

Browning looks hot and tired, but the drive I make to pass through Heart Butte on my way south, with the Front Range of the Rockies before me, during a July where the rolling landscape is still surprisingly green, is one of the most beautiful routes I've ever chosen.

Open East Glacier!
Beseech the unemployed
$1M RV rolls by

Crow Nation

Photo by Chris La Tray, used with permission

The town of Crow Agency is completely locked-down. Has been for months. The tribal headquarters was already condemned and vacated when it burned down over a year ago, but its blackened shell lingers—right next to where people in crisis are supposed to seek aid, delivered as best as the social workers can manage under the conditions of a global pandemic. It breaks my heart to think of someone at their lowest, driving up, seeing these remains, and wondering why bother to hope when their own people can't seem to get their shit together? This is harsh, I know, but in coming weeks the Crow Tribal Chairman will take the stage with Vice President Pence to endorse President Trump in his scorched-earth campaign for reelection. He—Chairman Alvin Not Afraid, Jr.—also endorses the other shithead republicans running for office. This is unconscionable, as his people die and die and die from COVID. The Crow are in the most stricken part of the state. What is so damaged in Not Afraid, Jr. that he can't see that this Trump administration is the epitome of everything bad that has ever come from colonial motherfuckers in America, all the way from the tip of Patagonia to the Arctic Circle?


TX, CA, VA
KS, TN, FL, IL, NY
MO, WA, UT

— License plates in parking lot of a non-Native owned tourist trap on a locked-down Indian reservation

Photo by Chris La Tray, used with permission


Northern Cheyenne Tribe

It is 105°, the first real heat wave of summer, as I visit Lame Deer. It is tense. There is conflict between the Tribal council and groups of traditional Northern Cheyenne warrior societies who have been engaged to help police the reservation, enforce curfews, and keep out-of-state traffic moving. Life is complicated on these remote reservations, and resources are stretched. People need help. A man at the Tribal headquarters offers me a blessing, won't tell me his name, and says I should probably go. I don’t linger long. It is not my business and I don't need to be warned twice.

North out of town I pick up two hitchhikers, a young man and his uncle. It's no time for standing roadside when the pavement is shimmering with wavy distortions of heat. I give them a lift to the town of Colstrip where the younger man has plans to visit his Grandfather. The wind blasting through my car, with all the windows down, is furnace-like and stifling and I love it. This is a part of the state I've never visited before, and it is good to have companions if only for thirty minutes or so. The young man is very grateful. So am I.

The breeze
Calls the flag to dance
Pole knocking on wall

 

Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes

In Wolf Point, the county seat of Roosevelt County, the only places even requiring masks are the corporate chain gas stations and grocery stores. I'm told it is because mandates out of the governor's office in Helena require masks only for counties with more than four active cases. I'm pretty sure this county has more than that, but who am I to argue? I'm wearing my mask. I consider driving farther onto the reservation, to the Tribal headquarters in Poplar, but I don't. I'm road weary and even though the day is cloudy I still feel the effects of the previous day's blazing sun and heat. I'm also depressed. On the way back west on Highway 2 I stop to take photographs of pelicans and cormorants hanging out in a wetland just off the highway. This cheers me.

 

Photo by Chris La Tray, used with permission

Fort Belknap Indian Community (Assiniboine/Gros Ventre)

My Great Great Grandmother, Susie Moran La Tray, was Assiniboine. She was adopted and raised Catholic by a white family after she was found on the plains as an infant in the wake of the US Cavalry chasing a band of Indians who had escaped the reservation. Of her biological parents—were they killed? did they simply abandon her in their flight?—I know nothing. But I also question this narrative. There is so much going on along the southern borders of the United States right now with echoes of how our government has always treated the vulnerable, whether it is murder, forced sterilization of women, or the trafficking of children, that I don't know what to believe. All that matters is she survived. Which is all it feels like we can try and do these days ourselves. More history, echoing.

Fort Belknap is also on lockdown. I chase a media contact via phone for a couple hours but then I move on. I don't hear from her until the day after I file my story. She fears I will list her as "unavailable for comment." I assure her that isn't my view. "We are all pretty overwhelmed right now, aren't we?" I say, and she says yes.

Two quotes in my journal from this trip:

 "I contain love as if it were a warhead." — May Sarton

 "The world appears beautiful so that the living may love being alive in it." — Carl Safina


Rocky Boy Chippewa-Cree

Rocky Boy has been locked-down since early in the pandemic and today is no different. There is a checkpoint set up just off the highway at the town of Box Elder. A small group of excited, chatty young women are checking cars moving on and off the reservation, taking names, destination, etc. This is my last stop and I am still hours from home, but I am uplifted by my conversation with them. It is good to encounter wry humor and curiosity at the end of what has been a bleak journey.

My tribal ID lists me as Chippewa-Cree, though I identify as Métis. There is close relationship between the people of Rocky Boy and my Little Shell Tribe. As the most simple of definitions, one could say that the Little Shell are people who didn't fit on this land allocated as a reservation for all of the displaced mixed-race Indians of the high plains. In some ways, Rocky Boy is as close to a reservation as I will ever have.

I could live here, but I never will. That doesn't mean I won't fight for it. We are all in this together, no matter where we live.


I am a fat,
barely employable, middle-aged Native guy
with a chip on his shoulder
and no health insurance,
living below the poverty line
with huge love for much and many,
and you can believe I have a stake
in all of this

 

🕮

Chris La Tray
Chris La Tray is a Métis writer and storyteller. His first book, One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays from the World at Large (2018, Riverfeet Press) won the 2018 Montana Book Award and a 2019 High Plains Book Award. His next book, Becoming Little Shell, will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2022. Chris is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives near Missoula, Montana. 

Learn more about La Tray by listening to this interview at Mountain and Prairie: https://mountainandprairie.com/chris-la-tray/ You may also read him semi-regularly via his newsletter, An Irritable Métis, at https://chrislatray.substack.com/.













Thursday, October 15, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Cutting back the dead by Bailey Bridgewater

This morning, the New York Times sent me an email with headlines about new waves in Europe, outnumbering the U.S. (that's how awful it is). 

The pandemic continues, as does this series. 

Please welcome writer Bailey Bridgewater. She shares a piece that is meditation, plague diary, and gardening journal--all in one. Learn more about her and her work at the end of this piece.

~ E.P.

😷

Cutting Back the Dead

by Bailey Bridgewater


I’ve been struggling with writing ever since Covid started.  It comes in fits and starts. For weeks I can’t write a word, then I’ll suddenly produce a flash piece that’s darker than anything that’s come before it.  For the past 3 weeks I haven’t been able to write, and yet I had committed to writing about the pandemic. So what I’ve done here is excerpt pieces of my pandemic journal and intermingle them with notes from my gardening journal.  The effect, for me, sums up what life has been like since March of 2020. 

The Plague Journal – March 19, 2020

Ok, so it’s not really a plague. Covid 19 is caused by a virus and not a bacteria, which is apparently the difference. Not that it’s comforting to know the medical definition for what we have here: a pandemic. It started traveling the world around January, and now it’s here, infecting about 15k people a day.  The end result for some of those people is having tubes shoved down their throats and then dying anyway. 

Thinking I’ll do something with the front garden. Last year when I had mono, the landscapers threw some basic plants in there that I wouldn’t have to maintain, but they’re spaced really far apart, and I’m pretty sure some of them are dead. Maybe dormant? Can they be brought back to life? For now, I’m going to assume they’re casualties.

We were sent home from work today, finally. Other people were sent home weeks ago. I ended up calling HR and the Mayor’s office. The mayor himself sent an email promising to address the issue and, tada! the same day we get an email telling us to go home. And then I got called insubordinate. I wonder if I’ll have a job to come back to. I’m a single person with a mortgage and student loans. I can’t afford to get fired. Other people are losing their jobs. Fuck. Did I just throw mine away like an idiot?

April 6, 2020

Indiana is under a stay-at-home order, but no one seems to be following it. We have 337,343 documented cases and 9,648 deaths.  

April 7, 2020 

It’s 1:25 PM and the US is at 18,834 new cases and 1,356 deaths just so far today. I know I shouldn’t look, but it’s impossible not to, and once I do, and it’s bad, I lose all my motivation.

I don’t know anything about gardening, honestly. No one in my family gardens – we always just rented houses that didn’t have flowers or anything. I guess I’m a first-generation gardener. Or I will be once I actually start planting things. My neighbors are all out cutting back and clearing. Hard to say if it’s because those things are necessary, or because they want to be out of their houses.

April 8, 2020

The world is at 1,478,439 cases and 86,748 deaths. The US has over 14,000 by itself. It’s unfortunate timing for Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race, just as we’re staring right in the face of our crippling healthcare system and the fact that people are risking their lives to work at Walmart for $9 an hour when you can’t even rent an apartment on that. 

Casey’s got me into watching Monty Don, the British gardener. He’s got a show that tells you what to do in your garden every week. I’ve been catching up and learned that apparently you’re supposed to cut back long grasses in early Spring so they can start growing and not be hindered by their own dead members. So I cut it back. It’s nice to not be staring at those jagged brown corpses, but now the space just looks empty.

April 10, 2020 

We had a really severe storm with a lot of wind damage the other night. The neighbors are all in their gardens today, picking limbs out of plants that are turning green. My yard didn’t suffer too much, thankfully. 

Is it selfish to worry about not being able to get the biopsy my doctor told me I needed right before Covid started? The same day he called to tell me my pap was irregular was the day the hospital stopped doing all non-essential procedures. So now I have to wait, maybe for months, to know if there’s something wrong. 

I started researching what plants might be good in the front bed. There are already some startling yellow irises and aggressively flamboyant pink peonies that I inherited when I bought the house. They’re not really my style, but they seem happy here. Best leave them I guess. There are some drift roses that the landscapers put in. They look spindly and sick. Maybe they’re dead. I’ll have to watch them. Maybe some catmint would be good to grow around their stems if they’re still alive. I think I’ll try a hibiscus too. They look like vacation, and I won’t be hitting a tropical beach anytime soon…

Bailey's hibiscus

April 10, 2020

Watching the governor’s daily press conference, and a caller is trying to pressure Holcomb to bar all abortions during the pandemic.

Sometimes I feel guilty because honestly, I like staying home and not having to go out or see anyone.  I’ve been living in an extrovert’s world, doing an extrovert’s job for 38 years.  I want to enjoy everyone living in an introvert’s world for a little while. But without people dying.

Apparently plants with double blooms aren’t as good for pollinators. Maybe I’ll try some bee balm. And I’ll need some sort of ground cover to hide all those blank spaces that are driving me crazy….

April 13, 2020

It’s becoming more and more clear that the US is doing something terribly wrong in handling this. We now have more deaths than Italy. People are starting to go stir crazy and do stupid shit. Some of the women I know are bribing their manicurists to come to their houses and do their nails. 

It’s hard to concentrate on work, especially when all of our meetings are on Skype or Zoom or Teams or Yuja. It’s too easy to just stare out the window or obsessively refresh the Worldometers website and watch the numbers jump up.  

A friend mentioned that a mockingbird outside her window has started imitating Skype noises.

April 15, 2020

Today I made the mistake of watching a White House Press conference. Trump’s talking about starting to ‘re-open’ the economy even though we’re adding 25,000 or so cases a day. It seems very possible that our own elected officials will get 10s of 1000s of Americans killed on top of the 30,000 already dead just by sheer negligence. 

There are little buds forming in the Southeast corner of my garden.  

Bridgewater Butterfly

April 19, 2020

As if things couldn’t get weirder, Trump is now inciting protests by tweeting things like “Liberate Minnesota”-- encouraging people to defy stay-at-home orders.  

The irises are starting to bloom.

April 21, 2020

Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia’s governors decided to re-open the beaches today, prompting many a brilliant Jaws meme. Seems what’s really happening is that politicians are realizing our own “best economy in the word” is so fragile that it can’t take 1 month of people not indulging in non-essential services, and people are realizing they can’t live even a month without a paycheck.  The government strategy is clear – get people back to work so they’re distracted and placated again. 

The peonies are clearly going to be next to open, and it seems the roses aren’t dead after all! They’re starting to grow, though their new growth looks red and the leaves look scraggly. I didn’t know if that was normal, so I googled it and it sounds like maybe Rosette’s disease? It makes the growth bright red, like mine, and it causes a wild abundance of thorns, so that the stem is virtually covered in them.  The leaves become malformed into something known as "witch’s brooms" and the disease eventually kills the plant. You have to dig it out of the ground and destroy it before it infects everything around it.

The governor of Texas just justified re-opening by saying “There are more important things than living.”  
Bailey's roses

April 27, 2020

This weekend saw the US’s worst day yet, with 38,958 cases. Today, Indiana is having its worst day.  And yet the president, the governor, and my university’s president are all talking about opening back up. It’s clear what their priorities are.

Grub. Grubs! GRUBS!  Here a grub, there a grub, everywhere a fucking grub.  I cleared and tilled the raised beds today since I want to plant vegetables this year, and they’re everywhere, lying there curled up in the fetal position, looking all pale and sickly and innocent and just waiting to explode onto the scene as beetles decimate anything that has any chance of living. I’m not having it. I will not be deterred! I’m researching nematodes.  


May 7, 2020

The advice of the day for Indiana is “don’t hug your mom on mother’s day.” Thankfully mine is 11 hours away and I had no intention of doing so anyway. Still, this advice is issued as we’re opening back up. Why? Because the economy. Our cases are up. We’re #14 in the ranking of states with the most Covid. But money. Clearly we should all just think about the money.  

Governor Holcomb was asked in his press conference why we’re re-opening when we have the highest number of deaths per capita.  He said that’s just because Hoosiers have a lot of pre-existing conditions. Got it. So if you’re already a little sick, nobody cares if you die. 

Roses don’t have Rosette’s disease. I need to stop being paranoid and trying to micromanage them.  The red seems to just be new growth, which then turns green with a normal number of thorns.  But I think they do have white powdery mildew. 


May 15, 2020

I feel like all I do is stare at a computer screen, stress out over Covid data, and sleep.  When I’m asleep I dream about Covid data.  When I stare at a computer screen, I feel like I’m pretty much asleep. Why am I so exhausted? The most strenuous thing I do right now is a leisurely walk with the dog. But I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck filled with ACME anvils. Like Wile E. Coyote, I need to pop back up with a sign that says “Help!”  But everyone’s holding one, so no one’s going to notice.

Planted today: 
  • Japanese iris (near downspout) 
  • Persian Leaf Shield (SE corner full sun.) 
  • Endless Summer Hydrangea (NE corner)  
  • Russian sage x4, front amongst rose bushes 
  • Bronze Bugle Carpet x2. Ground cover. Front. 
  • Periwinkle x2. Ground cover. NE. 
  • Ivy Geranium x2. Front between roses.  
  • Dwarf Plumbago x2. SE groundcover.  
  • Biokovo Crankesbill. Front groundcover. SE front. 
  • Liriope x2. Tall structural.   
Still some empty spaces. There’s a gap between the peonies and the lilies.  Don’t know how many of the plants I just put in will survive. I don’t know what I’m doing with planting. They all have such specific instructions. I should have bought just one kind of ground cover. What if one kind just overtakes all the others? I don’t know what diseases and fungi they’re prone to. I should have done more research, but my eyes kept crossing while I was reading about plants at two in the morning. I shouldn’t have planted anything. I’m wasting money because I don’t know what else to do.

May 17, 2020

There’s rumors that the students will be back in August. I don’t know how. Nothing is getting better. Some days the numbers dip, like on Sundays, but then they rise even higher. All the scientific information about Covid conflicts. It seems like nobody really knows how it spreads or how to stop it. I feel like they’re just making things up.

Planted today: 
  • Hollyhock, NE corner. 
  • Balloon flowers x2, NE bed. 
  • Artemesia ground cover x2, NE corner
  • Luna White Hibiscus, South front. 
  • Monarda Blue Stocking. SE bed.  
I always underestimate how many plants I need. I keep feeling this overwhelming, compulsive urge to cover every single exposed piece of bare soil. I want the flowers piling on top of each other, but I can’t seem to get it right.

June 1, 2020

I’ve been trying to stop constantly looking at the numbers. I just feel tired. Doesn’t help that I talked to my dad the other day, and turns out he’s one of these fucking conspiracy nuts who’s convinced that Covid will ‘just go away’ after the election. And what? The people who died will just rise out of their graves? He honestly believes that it’s a “liberal hoax to make Trump look bad.”  How egocentric does anyone have to be to believe the whole entire world is so invested in America’s president that they would intentionally spread a deadly disease (or make up a deadly disease. I’m not sure which it’s supposed to be) just to try and defeat him in an election? Especially disconcerting is the fact that my dad’s a truck driver, and if he’s not taking precautions, he could literally spread it up and down the east coast.

The hollyhock doesn’t seem to be growing. I can’t tell if the Japanese irises are or not. The drift roses are in full bloom at least, and the periwinkle and some of the other ground covers seem to be establishing ok. I’m nervous about the hibiscus. Maybe I put it in too narrow a spot. I only bought one. I should have bought more so they repeat. The hydrangea is flowering blue, so that’s good at least. The hosta is growing rapidly. Did I plant other things too close to it? Will it choke everything out trying to find the sun from its shady corner?

Bailey's balloon flower


June 6, 2020

It’s back to work day. May the odds be ever in our favor. 

The vegetable garden is coming in, and I planted pumpkins, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash in five mounds. They should be ready around late September or early October. I’m worried that they’ll try to grow over the neighbor’s fence. Maybe I should add vertical supports.

June 23, 2020

The numbers are rising a lot, especially in states with beaches. People here are refusing to wear masks. What is wrong with this country? How can we be so stupid and selfish? When I’ve traveled in the past, folks in other countries have always talked about the image of Americans as free-spirited independents. Now I guess they see that really we’re just selfish asses. 

Oh, and there are protests going on because police won’t quit killing Black people for no reason. Also, Covid disproportionately kills racial minorities, so not only are police killing Black people--now people have to go out in the streets to protest that shit, and a lot of the people out there are at higher risk of dying from the disease on top of the heightened risk of dying from violence. 

Planted today: 
  • 2 astilbe
  • violet phlox
  • cool water phlox
  • professor van der weilen  (mainly just because the name is great) 
I can’t stop buying plants. I ordered 3 blueberry bushes and 2 plum trees. I ordered a bunch of bare root columbines. I can’t even tell which side is supposed to go down. If you can’t control anything else, you might as well throw your money away. At least you’re in control of what you get with it. And it’s helping the economy maybe. 

Something like that. 

July 10, 2020

60k cases a day just in the US.  Hospitals in Florida are running out of ICU beds. Everything is pretty much opening back up like normal. This is fine. It’s fine. Everything’s just fine.

I can’t stop researching plants. As soon as I finish work that’s what I do. I research plants I want to buy next year, but I’m impatient and end up just buying them right then and there. I feel like if I don’t plant them now maybe I never will. 

July 17, 2020

Looks like it will be a day of over 70k cases. I can’t focus on work. My novel isn’t coming along well. I’m sleeping too much.

It’s so hot I don’t even want to go out in the garden. The pumpkins are getting big. I only go out after 8pm, and there are a lot of bugs and bees. I have to drag myself outside. Harley and I aren’t taking our long walks – she overheats.  I feel exhausted after 5 minutes.

Bailey's pumpkin

August 1, 2020

Got a Covid test because I feel so tired and terrible. It wasn’t bad. Results in a few days.  

Some of the plants look wilted and withered because of the heat. I’m trying to stay on top of watering. My tomatoes look good but the vegetable garden is overrun with weeds. The pumpkin vines are getting long. I keep having to move them. They’re spiky, which I didn’t anticipate. There are what looks like stink bugs on some of them. The bee balm has some fungus all around the bottom that looks like a frat boy threw up all over them. 

August 4, 2020

Test was negative. So why am I so tired? Maybe it’s mono again. I don’t want to go to the doctor’s, but what if it is? It was horrible last time and took 6 months to recover. I’m having more migraines.

A gardening blog says the stuff on the bee balm is “dog vomit slime.” Accurate naming, at least. I dug the fungus up and threw it away (not on the compost). We’ll see if the plant survives.

August 27, 2020

The students are back. The university has been hiding how many cases there are, but from what people who work in res life say, there are dozens of cases, especially among the athletes. One of my colleagues has it. I don’t see how we can stay open. 

The pumpkins are under attack by squash beetles. It’s disgusting. When I turn over one of the tiny squash so they don’t get misshapen, dozens of beetles scamper away. I’m trying neem oil.  

September 9, 2020

Another colleague has it. She got it singing with her choir. I talked to her on Zoom and she sounds awful. She said her elderly mother and her sister have it too. There are over a hundred students isolating or quarantining. All of my student workers are quarantined. They’re all roommates. Everything is a shit show.

I’m leaving the squash to ripen as long as I can, but the beetles are decimating the vines. I’ve already lost my spaghetti squash. It’s been so hot that the front garden looks sad, except for the Russian Sage, which is a champion.

Bailey's Russian Sage


September 19, 2020

My colleague’s mother died today.  I talked to a student who is severely immunocompromised because of having had cancer. He’s living in the residence halls, taking classes in person. I can’t tell him not to. In his eyes, the school wouldn’t have re-opened if it wasn’t safe, right?  How am I supposed to tell him that actually…..

I harvested the handful of butternut squash and 6 pumpkins. The squash beetles got the rest. I’ll cut the vines tomorrow and burn them. They’re not even fit for the compost.

September 27, 2020

We’ve passed 200,000 deaths.  A couple people posted about it, but not a lot. It doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore.

I’ve been trying to water the garden once a week. It hasn’t rained in about a month. The lawn is brown and brittle. Harley likes to roll on it to scratch her back. The roses need to be deadheaded. I doubt they’ll re-bloom. The hibiscus and passion flowers are wilting before they bloom. One daylily has made it attempt, but it’s sad. The bronze bugle carpet is doing well, but it’s about the only thing. All the master gardeners I know have admitted defeat. I’ll stop watering mine, too. No point in wasting water.  

But I’ve already got plans to tarp the whole backyard. In the Spring I’ll throw down some compost and plant Prairie meadow seeds in wide swaths of color that will cover the whole half acre with a grass path through it. I’m already researching what kinds of flowers and tall grasses I want. 

On Gardener’s World, Monty Don just said that planting a garden is to have faith in the future. 

Bailey's Astilbe


🕮

Bailey Bridgewater, photo by Azizi and Aaron
at atozcreations.org 

Bailey Bridgewater comes from a coastal state where blue crabs reign. She now resides in tenderloin-focused Terre Haute, Indiana. She is the author of numerous short stories and flash pieces that appear in publications like Crack the Spine, Molotov Cocktail, As You Were, Eunoia Review, Fiction on the Web, and Esthetic Apostle

Her first short story collection, A Map of Safe Places, is forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks this winter, and her new piece "In Silence, the Decision" will be published by Hoosier Noir in summer.

Find a selection of her writing at www.baileybridgewater.com. She is active on facebook and instagram. 









 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: 6 Months, a Meditation by Walter Moore

Dear Reader:

It has been only a week since our last shared meditation, and of course, the pandemic continues. Now, the current president (& co.) has received his own dose of the virus, and thousands more in this country have died. 

Last night, I had a nightmare that my six-year-old was diagnosed with COVID--we rushed him to the nearest hospital, he was put on a coffin of a stretcher and wheeled away. We later met him upstairs, and he was wheeled into our view, alive, and the doctor said he was fine, and we grasped each other and him with relief, then seconds later, he died. 

I knew, in the dream, what I had read about more impoverished hospitals, and the barriers those doctors/staff/patients faced with COVID in comparison to more affluent hospitals that had, of course, better outcomes (more people leaving alive than not). And in the dream, I was so angry that we had wound up at that kind of hospital, just by luck of geography. The staff didn't wear masks (because there were none), and while they said my fever was 112 my test returned negative. 

But 112, I said. 

Yes, they said. 

And then I had to call my mother to tell her that her grandson was dead. It was 3 AM her time, and after I told her, she said, I don't believe you--you're lying--it's all a hoax!

The nightmare continued. The grief was utterly immense, intense, and exactly as it would be were it not a dream.

I guess there's one thing the pandemic can't take from me--and that's my nightly nightmares.

So, here we are, readers, friends, onlookers. We are now into our second week of October and moving deeper into the list of artists joining Pandemic Meditations, a weekly series of reflections by artists who speak to the pandemic--in whatever way, form, or style that may take.

Today, poet Walter Moore shares his.

~E.P.

😷

6 Months, a Meditation

by Walter Moore

The Peacock, photo from The Corvallis Advocate

On March 20, 2020, I wrote this:

 

“Corona Diaries: Part X” a.k.a. “The Viral Twenties: Part 27” 

The season of spring was dark, and the sun was lonely as I walked this Oregon town dreaming of dadaists.

Squirrel’s was closed.

The Peacock: Closed.

Only me and a few skater rats and a handful of streetsleepers with face masks donned the sides of buildings; we walked in the middle of streets & red lights were laughable—but something serene about empty alleyways & no one shooting meth in the bathroom of the China Delight Bar. These were viral times . . . and I walked over the traintracks past a few tiny fraternity parties, a collection of cops at the Circle K, past empty parks and barren lots. It was almost midnight on Thursday during Finals Week in this college town—Thursday, what I call Little Friday—and hardly anyone was around. Not on campus nor downtown. A smattering of small groups of young people on a rooftop or in a neon living room, but that was all. Bars & restaurants closed, and all of the TVs were on in all of the houses.

So I walked, dreaming of those French Experimentalists and feeling the congested pain in my lungs. Twenty years of smoking things and my lungs were shot. Needed to quit, but damn if you can quit cigarettes during a crisis or national catastrophe. I couldn’t get healthy quick enough, but those cigarettes would be the last to go. Actually, joints of cannabis would be the last. After Prozac and coffee and ice cream and television.

I’ve never owned a Smart Phone, and I still drink beer.

The town was down. And I missed the bars, and I missed the people; I wanted to play pool or listen to bad renditions or hear a factually inaccurate story from a stranger, or maybe just not talk at all while observing the rest. No—there was no motion . . . there was no town, only scared & distracted individuals and small gatherings of young escape artists I could never be a part of. It would be too risky to co-mingle fluids, even if it’s exotic Oregon craft beer, with younger people during this thing. I was middle-aged with shitty lungs and a compromised immune system, The Virus having relegated me to some strange shadow status . . . so I walked at night when even fewer people were moving in this sad sparse bizarro world.

Some things did happen though . . . a man was snoring on the sidewalk with a blue sleeping bag and a mask . . . those three skater rats walked over a bridge in black t-shirt glory . . . a woman yelled out to me from a balcony . . . over a half dozen cars lined up diligently outside McDonald’s . . . those cops arrested some guy by that Circle K . . .

But of course the churches were closed, the schools were empty—the liquor stores and laundry mats and diners and hair salons all closed. My record store: Closed. My coffee shop: Closed indefinitely . . . with no community in sight. I was hoping on the side of The Best but preparing for That Worst . . . you know the hideous visions of rioting & looting and a depression worse than that Great One and the loss of millions of jobs with thousands starving and dying, or worse . . . you know the descension of the American Empire by the likes of which we had never seen before.

My heart had closed too to the betrayal of spring.

( . . . & sad dreams of the United States were drifting . . . )

At least I had cigarettes (and a dog & wife who loved me). Very lucky, believe me, I know, to be semi-healthy with a job and some cash after midnight on Little Friday.

Stay safe, everyone. Drink slowly, and try to sleep in if you can. Don’t forget to check in with your neighbors.

HI, HOW ARE YOU.

I love you THIS much.

*

 It’s now six months later, and my sweet friend Erin has asked me for a meditation on Covid.

 Well, nothing has changed. Or everything has changed. I only hope I have imagined all of it. That 2020 is my fault, my bad dream. I’ll take the blame. Put it on my back if it makes you feel better. I’ll never go to sleep again. I’ll never walk at night again.

God forgive me.

God, forgive all of us. We know what we have done. We knew.

We know what we have done.

That is the darker truth. The lighter truth or slightly less dark truth is that I went remote in late March, became a recluse, and was a nervous wreck through April. In May I got my shit together, started regularly exercising outside.

In June and July, back to reclusiveness, I was high on marijuana and drunk off beer every waking second of the day. In August, I dried out, lost my brain chemicals, drove out to the desert, and slit my wrist & lay in a bathtub—not to actually die but to feel physical pain and see my own blood mesh with water.

In September, more of my brain chemicals replenished, I still no longer smoke marijuana or cigarettes; I don’t drink alcohol. And I can barely watch the news. Yet I am healthier. I meditate and exercise daily and tell my wife I love her. My dog licks me constantly.

What do I miss about the pre-Covid days? Seeing all of you in person. Most things, really.

I love you THAT much.

And, yes, How are you? 

But make no mistake. This Trump cult feels terrifyingly real. A lot of it crippling. I fear some kind of violent revolt in November, maybe a civil war by Christmas, a sad “reconstruction” in 2021.

After that, maybe tubes in outer space . . .

God forgive us.

God . . . 

GOODBYE, don’t ask?


Dr. Walter Moore teaches in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film at Oregon State University. His book of poems, my lungs are a dive bar was released by EMP Books in 2019, and his novel The Phalanx of Houston will be released later in 2020. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon, with wife Erica and dog Lloyd. Learn more about Walter and his work at https://www.waltermoorepoems.com/


Walter Moore, photo by Erica Fischer 
(used with permission)


❤ Read more Pandemic Meditations here: http://www.erinpringle.com/p/pandemic-meditations-series.html

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

New Review of Hezada! I Miss You: "It's a gorgeous portrait of small town living"

One of the people who won a copy of Hezada! I Miss You from LibraryThing has already read it AND posted a review. So, if you are on Instagram, you can view/like it here: https://tinyurl.com/y6k2r845

Or, you can read it via this screenshot:


 [Text: So much more than a book about a circus, this story weaves together love and tradition and the heartbreaking tragedy of suicide. The story follows Abe and Heza, twin children in love with the circus that arrives in their small town every summer, their mother, a thrift store owner with her own circus history, Frank, a soon to be retired circus worker, and a circus that's down to one elephant and a few acrobats.

Be warned, there are no quotation marks used in this book. I found it a little difficult at first, but as you keep reading it becomes easier and adds to the tone of the conversations. I was not expecting to have my heart shattered by this story but here we are. The topic of suicide is a delicate one to write about, and the writer does this beautiful job of giving the perspectives of everyone involved with inner dialogues and what-if conversations that are so heartbreakingly real I had to read through tears. It's a gorgeous portrait of small town living, with real, nuanced characters, and a circus that dives deep into every reader's memories of their childhood circus experiences.

I received this free copy to review from LibraryThing.]

💗

As always, if you have read the book and want to share your good thoughts about it with readers, please do! It helps everyone involved, from the press--to the cover artist--to the writer--to the location from where you bought it--to other readers searching for books with the content/tone/perspectives that you've discovered.

Purchase Hezada! I Miss You from any of these locations (click on name for link):

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: In the Garden of the Pandemic by Ira Gardner

The leaves are turning, and the nights have begun arriving earlier. As we've officially entered autumn and, now, October, this week's COVID news remains much the same in its predictably unpredictable surges, fatalities, surprises, and no-surprises. 

Amidst such a backdrop, Pandemic Meditations moves into its second month. This week, photographer Ira Gardner is here to share his reflections on life and art during such a time. 

Please welcome Ira to the series.


~E.P.

😷

In the Garden of the Pandemic

by Ira Gardner

Act of Kindness (2020) © Ira Gardner

2020 has been a perfect storm of disruptions to my artistic life. I had just completed one of the most productive artistic periods of my career during the Fall of 2019. I had taken a sabbatical from my teaching position and was working on art projects full time at my studio downtown and had a new show open January 1st. Two weeks later, 2020 began to unravel.

The landlord for the building where my studio was located decided to double the lease payments, and our arts organization had to scramble to find a new building. The new building we found was fantastic but needed significant building-out of the space before it could become operational. Then Covid-19 hit and we could no longer occupy our studio because the space was wide open and without clear boundaries (e.g., walls). One by one, the artists resigned from the collective due to their own financial strains caused by the pandemic.

I know I am much more fortunate than most. As soon as the landlord notified me of the rent increase, my wife and I decided to remodel our barn into a home studio for me. Home felt more permanent and something that gave us a sense of stability. I still wanted to be a part of a downtown arts community so I continued to pay my dues, but I hit the pause button on going there until the build-out was complete.

Back home, the contractor we hired did an amazing job of taking a dilapidated old barn and giving a strong structure. It was close enough to completion for me to begin using it before the order to quarantine-in-place took effect, although because it wasn’t heated yet, I didn’t spend much time there. 

My initial response to the pandemic was to throw myself into work. I taught extra classes, formed new partnerships, and started two different podcasts that were intended to help others through the pandemic.  One was a business podcast that I started with a photographer based out of Sacramento who used to be a V.P. of internet marketing at Wells Fargo, and the other was a faith and philosophy podcast that I started with a pastor at my church who is my age and someone I have known since we coached our kids tee ball team.

During the early spring I felt a strong sense of purpose that kept me going. I felt blessed to have a life partner equally driven to help others and that we could come together in the evening to share our gratitude and to cook healthy foods and drink good wine. We felt blessed that most of the products the stores were running out of were not the ingredients we needed to make our food.

As good as all this was, my artmaking had stopped.

The cold wet Spring combined with the daily onslaught of news filled with misinformation, propaganda, and hate speech wore me down. I moved towards distraction and spent days researching parts for my motorcycle and planning trips.  

Eventually, the weather warmed and my wife and I started making plans for our garden. That had been part of our reason for building the home studio. Much of my art practice has been evolving towards compositions based upon the fractal patterns found in plants that stimulate restorative alpha waves in the brain. I can remember the first day that we put in four small raised flower beds. I climbed up onto the back deck to look at the progress and immediately felt a jolt of positive energy from the colors in the garden. I knew my artmaking was coming back.

Our first flower garden was inspired by the concept of a paradise garden found in Iran. These gardens are designed to be an oasis and feature symmetry and a water feature. We had an old claw-foot tub that once lived in the master bathroom just sitting out in the yard so we decided to make a water feature and to grow water lilies, hyacinths and irises.

The Amateur Botanist (2020) © Ira Gardner

The selecting and arranging of the plants in the garden became an important part of my art practice. Watering each plant by hand became a daily ritual. By keeping the plants alive, I was keeping my spirit alive and finding artistic inspiration. In the meantime, we were experiencing random acts of kindness such as the day Sarah came home with a bouquet of daffodils from a checker at Trader Joes as a thank you for remaining calm and patient during a stressful time.

Those daffodils became the first subject in my new studio after they had wilted. Their tissue-thin petals reminded me of the skin of my elderly parents and how beautiful they both are. As I worked through the visual problem of how to compose these photographs I could feel the sap starting to flow in my artistic soul.  

Four weeks into working in the garden, the water lilies began to bloom, and I started photographing them. Their blooms are so delicate and last for only three to four days. I had two water lilies in the tub.  One bloomed on a regular cycle and the other did not. I would watch the bloom rise to the surface of the water and then slowly submerge after it was done. One day as I was out looking at the garden, saw two blooms had emerged simultaneously. I spent two days photographing them. You wouldn’t think it would take so much effort but it does.

Over the summer, my response to Covid-19 has been one of gratitude. In the midst of all the drama and debate of our times, I have tried to help others and create work that inspires wisdom and compassion and creates some psychological distance that will allow people to see the beauty that exists in all life.

I and Thou (2020) © Ira Gardner

🙏


Ira Gardner 
Ira Gardner has been a professional photographer since 1989 and is an avid essayist as well. He teaches photography and Digital Media Production at Spokane Falls Community College was an active member of the Richmond Artist Collective (now defunct due to pandemic). He lives in Spokane, WA. View a selection of his photography at www.iragardner.com Ira also shares his work through a blog on his website called EIDOS Journal. Visit the work at www.PhotographyByIra.com










❤ Read more Pandemic Meditations at http://www.erinpringle.com/p/pandemic-meditations-series.html