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.

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 Eleven

We follow the dancer’s steps as the music plays. Step by weary step, on we go. 

A ghost of a smile lingers on her lips while she looks away. Her eyes are faded, unfocused, but her movements are precise, untiring. Step after step, on through the night.

Light upon his feet, he moves sinuously across the room with a cold fury. His eyes burn with hate and anger for the dancer, his back unbowed and his fists clenched. Still, step by step he goes, following the cues.

The musicians have no eyes. They stand stiffly and play, on and on, no expression crossing their faces. When one song ceases they begin with the next without pause, fingers moving nimbly across their instruments. They can hear the footsteps upon the floor and they can hear the dancer calling out the steps and the songs.

On and on he goes and we all follow, step by step. On his face is a white mask with a painted, vicious smile. His laughter cuts through the music, a false and terrible note. He never ceases, clapping his hands, announcing the next song and calling the steps. There is no need, for we will follow.

He moves among us, watching our steps, and nodding approval. Exhausted though we are, we summon the strength to go on. Step by step, just another and then another. Will it never end? He pauses before us, one by one, staring at us from behind his mask. His eyes are empty. There is nothing there but fire and blood. And so, step by weary step, on we go.

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 Ten

I awaken to snow and cold. The sky is grey, hunched over the city, pressing down. Snowflakes drift down, damp and cold. The roads and sidewalks are wet, the grass covered in a thin layer of snow. The bare trees have a lines of white running along their branches like veins made visible by an isotope.

There are few people out walking today, the weather chasing them to their cars. Everyone I pass by walks with a hunch to their shoulders, as though bracing themselves against an expected blow. The sidewalks are slippery in a few spots where the snow has managed to collect creating a layer of slush. The few trees with green leaves remaining seem to have turned yellow overnight.

Last night I had a cup of hot chocolate. It is now the season for hot chocolate, scotch and dark beer. Today I will make soup or stew, something that once it is in your stomach radiates heat, warming the whole body as it nourishes.

We will have to seek out the comforts of home in the coming months, to fortify ourselves to brave the cold, as we struggle through the winter to keep the dread lord from our doors.

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 and Nine

The weather has changed in the last days after a glorious month of autumn. Yesterday and today were overcast and grim, with a sharp chill to the air. Rain came on and off, mixed in with a few snow flakes, a promise of what awaits us. This morning it was below freezing when we arose and went out, the first time that has been true since spring, which is rare in these parts. The days to come promise more of the same. Cloudy, with only hints of sunshine, and miserable, with rain and snow and cold.

The first few times when the cold returns and you can see your breath before you as you walk in the morning it is invigorating. The chill in the air seems to fortify, filling every corner of your lungs. It is only as the cold marches on, day after interminable day, the darkness growing grimmer and grimmer, that it becomes too much to bear. And, of course, the cold now is nothing like what is to come. It is pleasant enough to walk with just a light jacket. Later there will be parkas, toques and gloves, all the accoutrements of winter to ward off the bitter chill.

There is something about the autumn and the spring that appeals to me. The sudden shifts in weather. Beautiful one hour and fierce the next. You can experience all the seasons in the space of a day or two, or even a few hours, and you never know what will greet you when you wake in the morning. There is no certainty to it, just as there is no certainty to so much of our lives.

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 and Eight

I awake early, unable to return to sleep, even as my love slumbers beside me. It has been happening more and more of late. In years past I could sleep until nine or ten in the morning if I let myself, longer if I was really tired. The last few years I’ve been unable to sleep much past nine, while in the last months eight has been the latest I can manage. Worse, in the last few weeks I’ve found myself waking at six or seven, even on weekends, and being unable to return to sleep.

Is it another consequence of the grippe reborn stalking our waking hours and our sleeping nights, a presence in our thoughts whether we acknowledge him or not? Or is it just a sign that I am getting old? Why not both.

When it became clear there was going to be no return to sleep I let my thoughts drift over the day ahead of me. There was a bit of stiffness in my neck from how I had slept and it seemed to gradually work its way into my head until there was a dull throb there. I paid it little mind. Headaches are rare for me and they pass easily.

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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 and Seven

It is Thanksgiving in the Lost Quarter, for the harvest festival is celebrated earlier here in these northern climes than it is in other regions. The harvest is long finished in these parts and we have journeyed south to have dinner with my parents and sister. A small gathering, this year as all years, for we are not the sort to bring cousins and uncles, all the flotsam and jetsam of families together.

This seems an apt time to cast my eyes back on the last two hundred odd days since the grippe reborn came to these parts. So often now we are driven to look ahead, squinting against the sun on the horizon, looking for signs of coming storms and seeing only the vast, seemingly unchanging, plains of our future under the quarantine protocols. It is easy to focus on the negative in such circumstances, but today I shall consider the positives, such as they are, to this strange moment we are trapped in.

First, to this point, I and those I love have remained untouched by the dread lord. The future offers no guarantees, but I will take what has been given and count myself among the fortunate. My love and I have also avoided the economic devastation that has followed in his wake. Both of us have jobs that are as secure as one can hope for at this time.

Continue reading

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 and Three

Two hundred days under the quarantine protocols. Two hundred days of the grippe reborn on our streets, in our homes, in our lives.

There is no end in sight. We knew that of course, but that knowledge is sitting differently now as the reality of these endless plague ridden days becomes apparent. Two hundred days and how many more to come?

In the Eastern Dominions cases have been rising precipitously causing panic and consternation, accusations of failure on the part of their leaders. Here in the west the dread lord has reasserted himself as well, though not to the same degree. Yet we still feel trepidation that all our efforts thus far may still be for naught if we cannot somehow hold the line. And all the while those of us in the Greater Dominions look at the grand old empire to the south with the fear that that may be what awaits us.

There is a sort of hysteria to the way people speak of the dread lord now, brought on by an exhaustion, of having to worry about this for months now. Of wondering if what you are doing is keeping you and everyone safe. Scolding others for not doing the right thing.

For a time the protocols and measures were easy to follow, especially when the results were clear. We were holding the dread lord at bay, perhaps even driving him from the Quarter. Now it is plain that he isn’t going anywhere, that we shall have to maintain our vigilance, no matter how sick and tired we are of hearing of all of this. No matter how much we long to venture outside our homes without giving a thought to protocols and measures, masks and distancing and hand washing, and the dread lord.

The night is long and the road is winding and we have far to go.