Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Twenty Five

Water drips in the darkness, steady drops from the corner of the building where the snow is melting. In the distance a siren starts up, moaning away, so far that she cannot tell where it is coming from. It goes on and on, not drawing any closer, but not ceasing either. Like the thoughts in her head, they just stay there, refusing to leave her alone. All that doubt and fear.

She tries again, walking quickly and ignoring the slush on her boots, hoping that she doesn’t hit an icy patch somewhere. There is a body lying under some playground equipment in the park she darts through. She has an urge to stop and go look at it, to see if the person needs help, but forces herself to keep moving. After the last night there is only one reason for there to be bodies anywhere.

There are apartment towers to her right and she tries to walk in their shadow, hoping it might be safer there from any watching eyes, but knowing it won’t make any difference if anyone actually is watching. She risks crossing the street, looking back and forth to make sure the way is clear before doing so, and stops under the awning of a boarded up shop to gather her breath.

There is a shout of anger from somewhere in the darkness nearby. It is cut off abruptly – strangled – and a deeper, watchful silence follows. She is overwhelmed by fear, looking in the shadows for what might be there, unable to leave where she is huddled but knowing she cannot stay there. Nowhere on the streets is safe now. Any of them – the partisans or the regulars – will just assume she is an enemy and shoot her on sight.

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Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Twenty Four

Ahhh autumn, when the baseball season ends in heartbreak. It is one of the constants of the season for me. Endings and sorrow.

Every year as spring comes and the snow melts away and green returns to the world, the baseball season begins and I find my way to hope once again. This year will be different. All the signs are there. The flaws and failures of last season have been addressed. Exciting new players have arrived. Veterans have rediscovered their form. Through the summer it truly seems as though this time it has to be different. The players themselves even talk about it. There is some comfort that they are as deluded as I am.

It always ends the same. The opponents star players perform miracles, persevering over every obstacle they encounter, while the players on my team seem small, as futile as any human. When it is over they are helpless to explain what has befallen them, as am I. How can a team be great, but not quite great enough year after year? The players change, the managers too, only the failure remains.

When I was young I played baseball and fell in love with the sport. I followed other sports – hockey and football in particular – but baseball was the only one I really loved, the only one I have continued to follow with any kind of the intensity I did as a child.  In those days I was blessed. The hockey team in these parts won a championship, the football team won several, and the baseball teams of the Greater Dominions were dominant, always contending. The team of my youth even won back to back championships.

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Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Twenty Three

Politics is a dreary business at the best of times and we are certainly not in those. The Grand Old Empire is so full of shrieking clamour lately over its upcoming elections that it is hard to hear anything else. The politics of the Greater Dominions have always seemed smaller than those of our neighbour. We do not draw elections out over months and years and we do not hold our leaders in anything like the same esteem. Titles are not kept like birth rites after someone leaves office. It is a job that one holds so long as enough people think you are doing it well.

The matters of politics in the Dominions are smaller as well, in part I think because we hold it in so low an esteem. To listen to those in the Grand Old Empire one would believe the fate of the world rested upon their upcoming choice. Perhaps it does in its way, though the rest of the world will still have its say. We can have no such grand illusions here. But because so much of what our leaders do seems of such small consequence we have come to accept a lack of ambition as a virtue. They do enough to keep things running surely and ensure that things seem to be going well, but the arrival of the grippe reborn puts the lie to much of that.

Here in the Western Dominion we have been ruled by the same party for most of my life. They were shocked when they lost an election five years ago and returned to power last year like a lost prince reclaiming his throne. They believe ruling here is their right and that they may do as they please and promised a return to glory days when our great tar reserves made so many fortunes.

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Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Twenty Two

He trudges through the snow alone, blinking as the flakes drift into his eyes. The trees around him are quiet and still, not a breath of wind in the air. Cawing crows and magpies japing through the air disturb the stillness, causing him to stiffen and halt, sweat forming on his brow despite the cold. One of the birds lands on a nearby branch, staring at him with dark eyes that seem filled with mocking laughter.

He shakes his head and looks around. Just some squawking birds, nothing to worry about. The magpies call to each other from across the trees, a conversation he cannot begin to understand. He imagines they are making wagers as to how long he will last before they can feast upon his eyes and lips. Little do they know.

Turning back he looks at the wandering trail he has left in the snow. His footprints are still visible, but the snow will deal with that soon enough. Not that it will matter, he knows. There is no escaping what is coming.

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Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Twenty One

After what felt like weeks of snow, the clouds have finally cleared and sun is bright in the sky again. It shines upon a changed, wintry world. The chill of the weekend felt like mid-winter not October and the snow is heavy on the ground. There is warmth in the sun though, already water is dripping from tree branches and buildings, so there is some hope that we shall not be facing snow covered world until March. These are the hopes to cling in these trying days.

With the cold and snow my love and I mostly spent our weekend as hermits in our home. I made bagels and pretzels, while she made brownies, all food to bring comfort on a cold day. We watched a movie about a wizard who lost his heart and the woman who restored it. Tale as old as time.

I also followed my annual autumn ritual of suffering through the misery of a losing baseball team. It is the surest sign in my mind that winter has arrived, and a relief in a way. If my team isn’t playing they can no longer break my heart, as they inevitably do. Despite that, every year I find my way back to hope again, only for it to be cruelly dashed. In this year of the grippe reborn hope is under ration and loss of it hits harder than it has other years.

It is only too easy to wallow in self-pity, and this year we do not have the luxury of allowing ourselves that. The dread lord stalks the land, growing in power every day in these parts, as he does in so many places. The outcome of baseball games is of small consequence compared to that, yet I cannot stop my thoughts from returning to that sorrow. It is easier to bear in its way, because there always remains that kernel of deluded hope that next year will somehow be different, while the dread lord is merciless.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Eighteen

They wait while the snow falls, through the short winter days and on into the long darkness of the nights. The apartment is a cramped one bedroom on the fourth floor of a brick building, looking out on a residential street. It is sparsely furnished: a couple of folding chairs and cots and little else. The signs of a temporary occupation.

They go in shifts to stand by the bedroom window, peering out through the slotted blinds, looking down at the street or at the apartment building across the way. It is a newer building, all glass and gleaming surface. The bedroom is empty, the cots and their other meagre furniture all in the main room where they keep the blinds turned to block any view.

The street is subdued, whether from the snow or some other reason. People hurry by, coats turned up and shoulders set against the cold. Those who leave the building across the way always hesitate after stepping out, looking about as though to ensure the way is clear, while those entering rush inside, stamping their feet free of the snow. No one lingers, or glances in the direction of the bedroom window. There are no meetings, not even any chance encounters.

They both leave the apartment at various points during the day, leaving their partner on watch, going to pick up food or check the mail. Once a day one of them calls a number that is never picked up, counting off the rings until they hang up.

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Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Seventeen

The snow comes again, carried on a biting wind, as we walk through the darkness of the morning. The flakes are tiny specks that burn when they strike our faces. Unconsciously we duck our heads against this assault so that we are staring down at our footsteps as we march forward.

It is still snowing as I return home, though the wind has slackened. It takes a long time for the light to come into the day and when it finally does all I can see are grey skies encroaching upon me. The clouds don’t seem to end, the falling snow pulling them lower and lower. The trees on the ridge from my window – that golden tree still stubbornly clings to its leaves – are barely visible today.

The snow descends hour after hour, coating the ground. The flakes swirl and dance in the air while falling, sometimes even seeming to rise up, caught in a draft of air warmed by a building. The city is white now, as it wasn’t before from our earlier snow. No grass shows through the snow and the trees, even those with leaves remaining, are striped with white.

Winter, when it arrives like this, always feels like a forgotten, neglected dam has burst. That autumn was holding back all this snow and cold and we didn’t even realize it, were blissfully unaware of it as we went about our days. But it could only hold for so long and now we are swept over.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Sixteen

On the eastern edge of the Lost Quarter there is range of hills, taller than any others on these great plains. They are a world apart, forested, with different weather, inhabited by animals not found elsewhere on the prairies until one gets near the mountains. The hills were a borderland for Those Who Went Away before they were driven into exile. The northern trapping confederacies would sometimes camp there, while the bison hunting confederacies were always in the area, though they rarely ventured into the hills themselves.

Later, when the bison were being driven from the plains, the first of Those Who Came in these parts set up trading posts in the hills. None of those forts lasted long, even when the Greater Dominion government sent a policing force of redcoats to keep the peace. A group of Dumont and Riel’s people settled there for a time after they were forced from their homes in the Red River valley. Some of their descendants may still be there, but most have long wandered away. The great confederacies were broken – by the loss of the bison and the spread of disease – and were forced from the Lost Quarter to forgotten corners where their lives were immiserated.

Ranchers, coming from the grand old empire to the south, ruled the plains for a time and they filled the newly emptied lands with cattle herds, trailing them up from as far away as Texas. There were herds nearly as large as the bison herds that only a few short years before had traversed the plains. But the preeminence of the ranchers and their cattle herds was short-lived in the Quarter. An early winter, as we seem to be having this year, did them in, unrelenting with storms and cold.

That year the fall round up was never completed. The ranch hands went out to gather the herds and drive them to winter feeding grounds in valleys where hay had been gathered. Storm after storm, and bitter cold, thwarted their efforts, forcing them off the plains and to their winter lodging. The herds were left, scattered on their summer range where there was nothing to eat. There were more dead than the wolves or coyotes could eat and the spring melt brought rotting carcasses everywhere.

Some of the ranches survived, mostly in the arid parts of the Quarter where farming was impossible, but those along the eastern range of the great hills withered and died like the cattle trapped there for that terrible winter. A new kind of settler followed in the wake of this destruction, filling up the land that had been emptied again. These were farmers who broke up the grasslands, ensuring there would be no return of any great herds and the ways of life that went with them.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Fifteen

Yesterday I mused on our gloomy beginning to winter here in the Lost Quarter, which continues today, though it promises to be warmer. Part of my gloominess at its arrival is no doubt the effect of the clouds, grey and heavy, which have settled in these last few days, not offering any respite. That isn’t typical of winter in these parts. Most days are clear, the sun bright despite the chill, which certainly makes it easier to bear the weather.

I grew up with long winters, had to work outside in them, and so the cold doesn’t bother me as it does others. Winter is just another season, with its hardships and benefits, though those are sometimes more difficult to see, especially as it lingers on long past its welcome.

There is an undeniable beauty to a snow covered world. Even snowfall is beautiful. There is a quiet that descends with the flakes, as though everything is hushed by its presence. As beautiful as the river valleys are in spring, fall and summer, they possess a fierce splendour in winter as the ice slowly encroaches upon the current from each bank and the tree branches grow heavy with snow.

Even the darkness has a strange allure to it in winter after the long days of summer filled with light and glorious sunsets. It has a different texture than a summer night. The moon feels brighter, the stars more brilliant. The snow itself seems to glimmer.

I shall never grow tired of seeing my breath cloud the air before me, the way it hangs still on a particularly cold day as though frozen in place. There is a calmness to many winter days, as though the wind itself is hiding from the cold, that is never present at any other time in these windblown parts. That stillness, and the silence that goes with it, in a world where the birds have migrated and so many other creatures are hibernating, is breathtaking.

The challenge of winter is to not let it drive us indoors. That is true now more than ever in this time of the grippe reborn. This weekend my love and I wandered through a nearby neighbourhood, warm coffee in our hands, ducking into shops to browse and gather a little warmth. It was a pleasant afternoon and we shall have to find more such diversions in the months to come.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Fourteen

Darkness and snow outside, white and gleaming under the streetlights. There are still flakes drifting through the air now, as there has been on and off for the last few days. The view from my window is a winter scene, tree branches and roofs white. The ground is white as well, though a few tufts of grass still show in places.

The snow started last week on a day that began crisp and clear, the air sharp in my lungs. The sun was bright and beckoning, despite the chill. Clouds moved in as the day wore on, grey and miserable. I walked to the library to return a book and an ill wind blew from the north. There were a few specks of snow on the air, a warning of what was to come.

Once I returned home it came in earnest, swirling and dancing in the wind. When it gusted the snow would suddenly be going sideways and I could almost imagine it not making its way to the ground. Flake by flake it did, each of them so small it seemed as though they couldn’t amount to anything. The ground was bare but wet for a time, holding strong against the incoming tide, but eventually it was overwhelmed turning a shining white. 

It has been cold too, well below freezing the last few days. As always seems to happen in this country, we have transitioned from warm to frigid without stopping anywhere in-between on our journey. I should be grateful it has taken until the middle of October for the first snow to arrive – most years we aren’t so lucky – but as always the arrival of winter leads to a certain brooding. This is what we will be living with for the next months – how many months is the only the question.

There will be warm days ahead, naturally, and this snow will likely vanish in a week or so. But it will be replaced. The darkness will grow and more cold and snow will come with it.