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 Three Hundred Forty Two

A sunny, warm day yesterday, as nice a day as you could ask for in February in these parts. It ended oddly, the evening filled with snow squalls, thunder and hail. A rarity to be sure the commingling of thunder and snow. I can remember only one other occasion when I was awoken on a March morning to thunder, sleet and calamity.

It was eventful at least, in a time without events. The days drag in February generally, the length of the winter becoming something of a burden in the mind. There is the fear that we are only half way through, with the hope, usually in vain, that maybe only a few weeks remain until spring. This year is more of a slog than any other. The days don’t change from one to the other, we have only the weather and the growing hours of daylight to mark the passage of time.

Everything feels tedious at this moment. The grippe reborn still stalks us while we await our inoculations. His pursuit is steady, yet mostly unseen, a spectre to haunt our dreams. The inoculations are trickling in, though a flood is promised soon. Nothing has changed, in other words, in over a month. It feels as though we have been trapped in the same day for weeks now.

I remember in the first days following the dread lord’s arrival in these parts when I couldn’t stop reading about his march, his terrible powers and what needed to be done. There was endless debates about our quarantine measures – they were too strict, not strict enough, this protocol was ineffective and this one should be adopted, etc., etc. – and I wanted to know every detail of every arcane debate. I couldn’t read enough. Now, though, it feels like we have been talking about the same damn things for a year and I never want to hear any of this ever again. And yet, nearly a year on, the articles and debates and talking on it still continues unabated.

All of it continues unabated and, as much as I am optimistic about what the inoculations will achieve in thwarting the dread lord, I am exhausted with this current unending moment. It feels so petty given everything else going on, and the suffering of so many, but I cannot stop myself. This is lingering like the last weeks of winter when all you can think about is spring and green things growing. Or like the last hour of your drive home on a long trip.

For years, when my parents still lived in the central parts of the Quarter, my journey home to them was long, many hours along lonely roads that few others passed by, for the ways to that part of the world are slowly being forgotten. This time now feels like the end of those trips. When I’d almost reached my destination an unaccountable restlessness would always take hold of me. The roads then were so familiar – I had driven them countless times in my youth – and that familiarity, the same landmarks, the same curves and hills, just made me so impatient to be done with the trip and home, even though the time that was left was so much shorter than all I had come through. That is where we are now, restless and impatient, counting the days until we can be somewhere new.

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 Three Hundred Thirty Seven

From the beginning, the Lost Quarter has been host to many who are just passing through. Those Who Went Away, before their bitter and final banishment, travelled through these parts often. Remnants of their passing can be found everywhere. Arrowheads, knives and other tools. Tipi rings and other detritus of a camp site. Their territories stretched far beyond the borders of the Quarter and they knew the ways in and out and its various peculiarities as well as anyone ever has.

Many of Those Who Came after the exile of Those Who Went Away were just passing through as well, trying their hand at settling the land before moving on to other places. They left little that can be seen now. A few homes and farmyards that others have since occupied. The ruins of a foundation where someone once had a home. But for the most part all traces of their being here have vanished, and will be totally gone once those who can still remember them are gone as well. Even now people come and go, though fewer and fewer, as the ways into the Quarter are lost. I am one of them.

During the second of the great wars that consumed the first half of the last century a new group of Those Who Came arrived in the Quarter. They did not come willingly, arriving from other parts of the Greater Dominions, mostly the western shores, having originally come to the Dominions from Japan. The Dominions were at war with Imperial Japan and they viewed these newcomers with suspicion, though some had been there for generations. As a result they were interned in camps and made to dig coal for the war effort. After the war the camps were disbanded, the people free to go where they wished, and none chose to remain in the Quarter.

There are records of the camps, but little else. They were a ghostly presence even when they were in existence, near the communities but not a part of them. Those who lived there would see the interned in town on occasion, the authorities knowing there was no chance of them being able to flee the Quarter, but no words were exchanged. No acknowledgement given of what was occurring.

It was an age of internment, of prison camps and gulags and worse. Every nation engaged in the war, on whatever side, seemed to have some version of them in existence. They were seen as necessary, though now we see them as abominations. We say we do anyway. Right now in China there are camps – re-education if one is to use the government’s nomenclature – that rank among the worst of those terrible places ever constructed, as the stories of those who have escaped make amply clear. They have one purpose, the elimination of a people, the Uighurs, and the methods they use are barbaric. Forced work, rape and torture, sterilization and indoctrination, the erasure of a culture and a language.

It seems clear what is being done and yet people and governments across the world refuse to name it. Genocide. They find ways and reasons to look away, to not see what is there. For if they did so, then they would be obligated to do something about it. Just as those who lived in the Quarter in those dark years found reasons not to see the internment camps for what they were. Now is the time to speak, for later our words will be empty, all that will be left are apologies that can never undo what has been done.

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 Three Hundred Thirty Five

The cold snap has finally ended after two weeks of bone chilling weather. I was out for a walk this morning, and though it was still a brisk -16 the wind had none of its earlier bite. By this weekend it will supposedly be above freezing again, a welcome reprieve from the frigid weather that has kept us trapped at home more than we would like with the grippe reborn still haunting us.

On Valentine’s Day my love and I did venture out, despite the cold, for what was not a particularly romantic day, but at least a break from the usual. We went to a Korean fast food place for lunch, which we ate huddled in our car. After that we went to a Filipino ice cream parlour and ate cones, again sitting in the car, which I would turn on for a few minutes when it got too cold. Restaurants are open to customers again in these parts, but the dread lord has amply demonstrated that small places filled with unmasked people are his favourite stalking grounds, so we will stay away, even if it means we are trapped in our vehicles.

The days are growing longer, which does much to make the cold bearable. A sure sign that we shall not have to endure it forever. When I start my walks in the morning it is dark, but by the time I return the sun has risen and the light stays in the day until six at least now. Each week the change is noticeable, the glare hitting my eyes at a different time in the afternoon. We all hope for the spring warmth, for inoculations, for some end to this glaciation of our lives. The end feels almost in sight some days, even if it is far away.

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 Three Hundred Thirty

In the early days of Those Who Came’s settlement of the Quarter, after the banishment of Those Who Went Away from these parts, everyone kept dozens of horses to pull the various implements they used to plow the fields, seed and harvest. These were workhorses – Percherons, Clydesdales, and Belgians – massive things that once knights had rode into battle and now they were tied to yokes and made to pull with all their strength. As the threshing machines and the like grew larger and larger, it became necessary to have more and more horses to pull them. Tractors were available, but they were prohibitively expensive, especially compared to the horses. Just getting them to these parts would have cost a fortune.

When winter came there was no feeding that many horses. Any grain they had was sold, milled for flour or kept for seed. The little hay people cut was reserved for the milk cow and the couple of horses needed to pull the sledge into town or over to the neighbours, the one thread that connected the settlers to each other. The rest would be let loose for the winter to make their way through it as best they could.

The horses would gather into herds wandering the countryside. Much of the land was still unbroken in those days so there was grass beneath the snow that they could dig down to. There were trees and bushes in sloughs and other low lying areas where water gathered that they could huddle in for shelter. It was hard living, especially if the winter was cold and the snow deep. Not all of them saw the spring come, when they would be rounded up to plant the fields.

This was before electricity came, before telephone wires and transformers, when the roads were for wagons and buggies and not vehicles. In those days you could step out on winter’s day and hear the cold moving in the air. The frost cracking, they would call it. You can’t hear it now, no matter how hard you try, there is too much ambient noise, except in the most remote places far from any habitation. Then you would scurry to the outhouse, not wanting to linger, and you could hear the frost crack and the stamping of horses hooves as they galloped far away through the snow.

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 Three Hundred Twenty Eight

It has been cold for nearly a week now, each day more frigid than the last. There is no end in sight, not with it being February. A cold snap can turn into a cold month without warning. Our ongoing battles against the grippe reborn has everyone’s patience frayed, and that will only grow more so as the weather forces us indoors and the only indoors allowed us is our homes or our workplaces. For so many of us that is the same place.

In other years there is something pleasurable about miserable weather – cold and snow and rain – forcing us to stay indoors. It is a respite from the usual obligations of seeing people and doing things. Now we have spent a year excusing ourselves from seeing people and frankly could do with some obligations to break the monotony. Though I suppose it would only take one party filled with tedious conversation to put an end to that desire.

There are those who talk about how we shouldn’t let the cold stop us from getting outdoors and enjoying ourselves. They talk of layering with the fervency of an evangelist looking to convert the heathen. If you dress appropriately you will be warm. And having spent long hours out working on the coldest of days in the Lost Quarter I can confirm this is true. If you dress in full winter gear you will be warm, at least for a few hours.

That doesn’t make the experience pleasant, however. The air still burns in your lungs and the snot freezes in your nose. Any moisture from your breath stings your cheeks. You have to remain moving constantly or the cold will begin to seep in, and because you are so bundled up movement is more challenging. The simplest of tasks become difficult. You dare not take your gloves off, yet how do you clasp a hammer or a wrench without doing so?

No, I do not miss those days. It would take an hour after you came inside for your hands and feet to feel normal again. Your cheeks would burn as the heat came into them. There was some satisfaction at a job well done, and a hope that you wouldn’t have to do it all again the next morning.

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 Three Hundred Twenty Six

It is over a month now since the attempted coup south of the border and a couple of weeks since the new president was sworn in, relieving the planet of the delusions of grandeur of the man who believed he was king. There have been countless news stories about the speed with which the new administration is moving to undo all the harm the previous one did, as well as to enact an agenda to actually confront the grippe reborn as Trump never did.

Uttering his name before was enough to make a person wince. It was to immediately conjure into the mind his sneer and grimace, his oddly coloured tan, and that droning voice that never ceased sputtering. What is so surprising about the last weeks is how quickly all that has disappeared. He is no longer upon the news, his consigliere’s are no longer invited to speak for him, and his banning from social media means neither his followers nor his detractors need whip themselves into a frenzy at his latest missives.

His absence is palpable, a relief. Even with his impeachment trial approaching, the story is more about how the various factions of his party will respond than about him. He is a void, a punctured balloon with the air let out. His only power was the office he found himself in, but he didn’t truly understand the nature of that power or how to use it effectively. Had he, he might still be there, lawfully or unlawfully.

How long through his four year reign did I wait for this moment when whatever spell he cast would fail and people would see him for what he was. So many of his followers still look in his direction, but the vulnerability he has demonstrated in the aftermath of his failed coup and the investiture of a new president means that they will gradually drift away to other causes, though a few will still be casting about for someone who will take up his fallen mantle. Will they find someone?

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 Three Hundred Twenty Three

A cold day again, which can hardly be a surprise given the month, February being generally the coldest in these parts. March tends to be the snowiest as winter coughs and sputters into spring. This week has been cold and snowy both, light dustings of flakes falling throughout the days, which have gotten progressively colder.

This morning my love and I ventured out into the darkness to buy some breakfast. It was calm and quiet, hardly anyone about on the streets. The wind, when it came, was biting, cutting through our many layers. There was frost in my beard by the time we returned home, the whiskers stiff. Returning inside to the warmth of our home was invigorating as always. That is the joy of winter, those first moments of warmth coming back through your body.

There is a lot of winter still to come – apparently we are entering a polar vortex next week, which sounds ominous – just as we still have a long way to go in our battle with the grippe reborn. The numbers here have come down from their terrible highs in December and the hospitals are no longer filled with those suffering from the dread lord’s powers. Next week we shall have a loosening of the quarantine protocols, which I admit does make me somewhat uneasy even as it is welcome. The fear is that we shall end up right back where we were in December and have to enact more strictures just as the weather, hopefully, begins to warm.

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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 Three Hundred Twenty One

He came to the central places of the Lost Quarter from overseas, a northern country, so he was thought to be well-suited to living in the new world being created there after the banishment of Those Who Went Away. By the time he arrived there was already a rail line and a growing town. There were roads, of a sort, mostly wagon trails, but they served their purpose.

He was one of hundreds who arrived in that era, coming to try their luck on the land. It was assumed that he had been a farmer in his home country, but he never said one way or the other. He spoke little of his past, of what he had left behind to come make himself anew. Not entirely, for his accent immediately identified him, as everyone’s accents did in those days. There were plenty of others from other nations overseas and as many more from the Eastern Dominions.

The first years were hard, of course, and he was alone. He broke the tall grasses the bison herds and Those Who Went Away had once traversed, breaking for all time that link with the past on that piece of soil. A quarter section, north of town, with the promise of another if he could last five years. He lived in a sod shack those first years, as so many of them did, a rather grim habitation, but it kept the cold and wind out.

After a good crop in his third year he had enough money to buy lumber for a small house, which he built with the help of his neighbours. They all enjoyed his company. Those whose quarters were farther north would stop by at his place on their way into town. His closest neighbours would come by on those long summer evenings and they would play cards and talk while the sun set.

The crops were all good in those first years and he quickly made decent money, using some of it to buy a few cattle. The calves he would sell in the fall, keeping one to feed himself over the winter. After five years the government signed over the second quarter and he made plans to buy some larger equipment to make the work easier.

One fall he was in town after selling his calves, having stopped off at the hotel for a drink with a few locals before heading home. His friends asked about how the sale had gone and he told them he had made a tidy profit, well-pleased with himself. He was home before sundown, though the air had already begun to turn cold.

The next day one of the neighbours spotted smoke in the air coming from near his place. He raced over with his son, fearing that a field or some grass had caught fire and it would be spreading fast, for it had been a dry couple of weeks. When they arrived they saw the small house had been burnt to the ground, though miraculously the flames hadn’t spread, and they worked furiously to stamp out any dying embers. There was no sign of the man who had lived there within the burnt ruins. The horse he used to ride into town was still tied up in the shed out back. The police were called in and they conducted a perfunctory investigation when they finally arrived several days later. He was declared officially dead after a time, and as he had no will or known heirs, the land was given back to the government. Some years later someone else came to the Quarter to try their luck on it again.

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 Three Hundred Nineteen

One of the strange things about our struggles with the grippe reborn in these parts is that the dread lord is mostly an unseen foe. Though the numbers of those he touched was rising precipitously in December, it was still a small part of the total population of the Quarter. Many, including myself and my love, know no one here directly who has suffered from his dread powers. Those who do suffer do so hidden away, isolated in their homes or secure wings of hospitals where no one can see them.

That has, naturally, made it harder for many to see the need to maintain their vigilance in the face of the dread lord’s depredations. If you know no one who has been affected, then it is a simple thing to pretend that there is nothing to fear. For me it increases the sense of dread, for the dread lord is out there, operating unseen. If there was tangible evidence of his works it would be a strange kind of comfort. Then I could see what he has wrought and put a face and a name to it. Though it would change nothing about the nature of his power, it would make it explicable in a way.

My love has friends and family the world over, some in the Eastern Dominions, some in the United States, some far overseas and a number have them have suffered from the dread lord’s touch. A daughter of a friend had a fever, but otherwise was fine and the rest of the family did not fall ill. A friend, early on in the ordeal, was so ill she had to be hospitalized. Another friend lost a sibling and a sister in law to the dread lord. She too was touched and though her case was deemed mild she still, two months later, suffers from pain in her chest and shortness of breath.

It is easy to grow inured to the mounting numbers that come out each day. A thousand more touched by the dread lord, hundreds in the hospital and hundreds more fallen. They are just numbers with no context. How do we make ourselves realize that each of them represents a life. That their suffering was uniquely theirs, different from any others, regardless of the outcome, each of them a story worth telling. It is a hard thing to do. Much easier to keep our distance and let them stay empty numbers.