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 Six Hundred Seventy Four

The snow drifted across the highway, restless tendrils stretching from one ditch to the other. An endless white world surrounded the narrow strip of pavement that wound its way across the prairies. A truck pulling a cattle trailer had the road to itself. The trailer had three bulls for delivery, separated into their own compartments to stop any trouble occurring. There were two men in the truck, one old and one young. A thermos of coffee rested on the seat between them.

Every now and again the old man would ask the younger to refill his cup. “You’ll regret this later,” the young man always said as he poured the dark liquid into the thermos lid. The old man would just smile and take the steaming cup.

They did have to stop eventually and the old man got out and pissed in the ditch, looking out into an empty field. Though it was bitterly cold he stood for a moment when he was done, casting his eyes across the horizon. The sun tried and failed to glare through the hazy clouds that blanketed the whole sky. The snow gleamed under the light that slipped through so that the day was a strange mixture of grey and bright.

The rancher at the first delivery seemed surprised to see them, though they had called the day before to let him know. He was dishevelled with a worn jacket that he didn’t bother zipping up despite the cold. They spent only enough time to unload the bull and be on their way. Their next stop were old friends who bought bulls from their family nearly every year. They arrived around noon and were fed lunch and then had to spend the first part of the afternoon being shown the cattle and told which calves were progeny of bulls they had bought from them in years past.

The sun was already low in the west by the time they left and it was dusk by the time they arrived at their last stop. The family offered supper, which the men declined, saying they needed to be back home that night. But the family wouldn’t let them leave without something, so they stayed for a drink and chat – rum for young man and whisky for the old. They talked of the cold and the snow, what it promised for spring, and the troubles of the last summer.

It was snowing by the time they left, huge flakes drifting to the ground, the wind barely stirring and the world silent. They drove home in the darkness, the roads clear at first, but gradually getting covered over. There were tracks from another vehicle to guide them and they met a car or two going the other way. Neither of them said much as they drove, the radio and the squeak of the wipers on the window the only sounds. They watched the snow fall, the flakes caught by the headlights looking much larger than they were. The signs they passed were covered by snow, but they knew the way home.

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 Six Hundred Sixty Seven

A chinook has arrived in these parts after more than two weeks of the bitterest cold. For a time it seemed it would never come. Weather forecasts promised it for days, but the cold would not release its grip. Typically when a chinook arrives, the winds roar over the mountains and the temperature can swing by twenty degrees or more in a matter of hours. This time the cold was so lodged in that the wind had to fight to get here. At one point an inversion took place, the warm air coming from the west rising above the city, the cold holding fast below, smog developing as a result because the air could not dissipate. An ugly day at the end of an ugly few weeks.

There is something especially disheartening about a December or January cold snap. The days are at their shortest so you have both maximum cold and darkness. A frigid week in February is somehow more tolerable just because there is a bit more sunlight.

My love, who grew up in a land without winters, despises the cold in these parts. She does not like going out into it or the boots and jackets and accoutrements that are required to survive it. These last two winters have been especially hard as the Grippe Reborn has denied us the opportunity to be out and about indoors in malls, movie theatres, restaurants and the like. When it is as cold as it has been and there is nowhere to go it feels as though there is no relief.

I have always taken a certain pleasure in the winter. When it arrives it is a change, a comforting one in its familiarity. The cold is bracing and the snow beautiful. There is nothing quite like the darkness and the stars in the winter. Even I struggle through stretches of cold like we just went through – a snap seems the wrong word for something that lasts more than a week.

The winter always wears out its welcome though. By March I am done and ready for spring, even as it lingers on into April. Right now that is how I feel about the Dread Lord Grippe Reborn. He has worn out his welcome and can wander off into the pages of history. Nearly two years and right now it feels like we are always having the same conversations, dealing with the same anxieties and living the same constrained lives. It is fitting the Dread Lord arrived in March, for we are now forever in the March of his presence, forced to endure it and always casting about for any sign of spring.

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 Six Hundred Sixty

A new year and yet again I wonder why we celebrate new beginnings in the darkest depths of winter. Blame the Romans, blame the moon. This year, as with the last, there is no feeling of newness. It is as though we are stuck in the same place we were in that long ago March when the Grippe Reborn revealed himself in these parts. As with last January the news seems only grim with the numbers of afflicted rising exponentially and the hospitals beginning to fill up as well.

Will this never end? We are reassured constantly that at some point it will, that the Dread Lord will have afflicted everyone he is able to and that then we will all have some measure of defence against him. The inoculations were supposed to help with that, and no doubt they have, but now that the Dread Lord can somewhat evade their protections we are left with a situation where he will forever be able to return and find those most vulnerable to his depredations.

Governments everywhere have seemingly decided there is little hope of containing his power in this new guise. The only hope is that enough of us are dosed and the doses provide enough protection that we are not overwhelmed. I cannot say they are even wrong. The only alternative is to shut everything down as we did during the first months of the Dread Lord’s arrival and it seems no one has the appetite for that.

My love has now received her third dose. The city has an inoculation bus set up – more of a van really – that visits various parts of the city and we went to it one bitterly cold day. It was in a parking lot by the downtown library, surrounded by idling cars of people waiting their turn. We chose to wait in the library itself once she had added herself to the queue. It was quiet during those strange days between Christmas and New Years, the cold and the Dread Lord conspiring to keep people home and most places closed.

I felt none of the excitement and relief that I had when my love and I received our initial doses. There was a sense of camaraderie then, of everyone coming together to take a stand against the Dread Lord and begin the resumption of our lives. At last we could something that wasn’t hiding ourselves away. This time it felt like yet another task to be seen to in a busy time. There was none of the hope that we were doing our part to see an end to this, though of course we were. But as hard experience has now shown us, the Dread Lord will visit more suffering and hardship upon us before this ends.

We are battle weary. Tired of the Dread Lord, tired of even hearing his name. I understand now why no one spoke of the Grippe Reborn in his earlier forms in the aftermath of the great battles fought with him in the last century. By the time he was vanquished there was nothing else to say and people wanted to turn to new things.

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 Six Hundred Forty Five

The world is afire with talk of the Dead Lord Grippe Reborn as he yet again spreads his tentacles across the globe. It seemed we had only just begun to feel relief in these parts after our dreadful September and October and now he has returned again, in a new and even more frightening guise, able to move at will amongst us all. Even those of us with our inoculations are not immune from his touch, though we should still be largely protected from the most foul of his powers.

Already there are growing numbers of afflicted in these parts and in the wider Dominions. This is in stark contrast to earlier transformations by the Dread Lord where we had the opportunity to watch the encroaching wave as it crashed upon our shores. Those weeks and months of foreknowledge seemingly did little to prepare us for what was to come, so perhaps the fact we are learning what is new about the Grippe Reborn at the same time as everyone else may not turn out to be such a hindrance to our ability to act.

Not all is gloom. There are tantalizing glimpses that while the Dread Lord is able to better disguise himself and move among us, we may sill be well-protected. This wave may crash and recede without doing the same kind of damage as previous ones. Or it may land upon so many of us, finding all those susceptible to the Dread Lord’s power that our hospitals are again overwhelmed. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the winter solstice has just passed, so we are passing into brighter days. It makes my heart lighter just thinking of that. The past week I spent frantically going from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to procure tests to be able to tell if we are afflicted before visiting family for the holidays. Then it was on to securing booster doses for my love and I to better thwart the Dread Lord. Today I am achy and tired, feeling the aftereffects of my own dose, while my love will have to wait until next week.

 It really does feel as though this must end soon. Eventually everyone will have been afflicted or dosed or both in these parts and others. At that point even if the Dread Lord adopts new guises, which he certainly will, it should not be as devastating. We should not have to be on such guard all the time. We may even be able to resume our lives again. That is my hope as we approach the new year, though as we all know from bitter experience, the Dread Lord will have his own say in these matters.

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 Six Hundred Thirty One

Winter has arrived at last in these parts bringing snow and cold with it. As I sit here I can see the snow steadily drifting down from my window. The sky is heavy with clouds hanging just above the city. This weekend I went out to buy a gift for friends going through some troubled times and for the first time this season had to put on a winter jacket and all the associated winter regalia. The air was bracing in my lungs, crisp and cutting.

It is something of a relief to see that familiar white. Not only is it more fitting for the season – the gleam of snow under the moonlight and streetlights goes well with these long nights – it is much needed. After a dry and hot summer, the fall was warm and just as dry. The rivers in this city are as low as I can remember them being. As much as I have enjoyed our temperate autumn, we will pay a price for it next spring if winter doesn’t bring substantial snow. These last six months, beginning with the unbelievable heat of June, the smoke, fires and drought of the summer, and the unseasonably warm fall and the flooding and storms to the west all seem like a grave pronouncement that climate change will be impacting us for the rest of our lives. We can no longer pretend that is a problem whose effects will be felt later.

What times we live in. For the first half of my life it seemed that the world was steadily getting better, the great struggles of the century reaching a peaceful conclusion. The Berlin wall fell, the cold war ended, apartheid as well. There were trouble spots and problems one could see looming, but they all felt manageable. Then the towers in New York fell and madness followed with it. One cannot help but look at the last twenty years and see a steady decline of our institutions and the fabric of our societies.

And now we are faced with existential crises – of climate and the Grippe Reborn. We have tried to meet these challenges and have succeeded in some cases and failed in others. What I am left with is the sense that none of this will be easy. It will be hard work and it will require much of all of us and our institutions. There is no guarantee we will be equal to the task.

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 Six Hundred Twenty Five

Yet again the Dread Lord Grippe Reborn has altered his guise to try to slip through our defences. In Africa they were the first to notice his latest reinvention. An alteration of form that scientists declared worrisome because it is unknown how effective our inoculations will be against it. Potentially it will give him even greater powers to spread and reach out to everyone across the globe, though it is early days yet. We cannot know for a few weeks how much trouble we are in. The fact that concerns are being raised so early cannot help but feel ominous.

Predictably, several nations, including these Dominions, banned travel from the nations where the new guise was discovered. Just as predictably cases were found in other places across the globe, including in these parts. The horse has already left the barn and South Africa and Botswana were just the first to realize it.

There has been seemingly endless talk about the Reinvented Dread Lord and the potential vast new powers he possesses. Yet we know nothing. It may be worse than the guise he adopted that has so devastated these parts these last months, or it may pass without incident. All we know for certain is that he will keep finding new forms for so long as we allow him. And he can do so as long as there remain so many across the globe who remain without inoculations.

That work, even here where we have more doses, is ongoing. We will have to redouble our efforts to ensure that doses are available to everyone and that everyone understands the importance of getting them. We are nearly two years into this struggle and it feels as though it has only begun. As exhausted as we are there is still so much farther to 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 Six Hundred Ten

Our long, glorious autumn seems to finally be drawing to a close. This week has brought the first real taste of cold for the year. A winter chill that matches the ever shortening days. There has been snow to the north, east and west, though only a few flurries here. Soon enough, no doubt. We are returning to the realm of the long, cold night.

A few weeks ago my love and I ventured out in the darkness to see if we could spot any northern lights. There was a solar storm that was making them particularly active in these parts. I cannot remember seeing any this far south before, but people were catching glimpses of them in the centre of the city itself, which I had not thought possible. My love has never seen the lights, not having grown up in this sub-arctic region, and so we found a country road and settled down to wait. After two hours we caught a hint of something behind the clouds that massed across much of the sky and declared victory, returning home. Of course, if we had only known we could have stayed home and gotten up at two in the morning and seen a fantastic display from our doorstep.

The storm that brought the winter chill here and snow all around us also wreaked havoc over the mountains to the west. Days of rain, which I remember well from my time living on the coast, led to rivers overflowing their banks and mudslides. East of the coast where the fires raged all summer there was snow and rain, which again led to flooding, landslides and washouts. As my love pointed out, with so many trees now dead from the fires, the earth on the hillsides and mountains was weakened without those roots to hold it strong and absorb the water.

At the moment all roads and rail to the western coast are closed, the damage so extensive it will take weeks to repair. Even before this the price of goods was rising because of shortages and now those shortages will grow more acute. Ships will have to be routed to more northern ports that do not have the same capacity, or the goods will have to go overland across the United States to make it to the rest of Dominions. It will take a good long while to set all that to right, to say nothing of the homes and livelihoods of those impacted. Just as the tide of the grippe reborn has crested and begun to fall back here, and we allow ourselves to imagine resuming our normal lives, another has rushed in to take its place.

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 Five Hundred Ninety Seven

More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours

She came to these parts not so long ago, on a journey far from her home. As with so many others, yearning and happenstance set her on her way from her island home, first to the great Arabian desert and from there to the Dominions. Ultimately she found her way to the Quarter and, as with so many others, she settled for a time, with no real intent of staying long.

The stories of Those Who Came, following the bitter conquest and exile of Those Who Went Away, are her story. Arriving in this place that is, in so many ways unwelcoming. The people are polite to a fault, but distant, closed off. Everyone keeps to themselves as a matter of course, which for a newcomer means it is hard to find ones way in this world that seems indifferent to your presence. The climate offers no comfort. It is a dry place, dry as the desert she lived in for a time, but cold and dark in the long winters as well. She cannot quite get used to it, no matter how long she remains. Her skin always feels parched and flaking, like it is drawn too tight over her flesh.

The early days in the Quarter were hard for her, harder than she had ever imagined. She felt lost and questioned why she had come, leaving so many friends behind in the desert and the islands, finding herself alone with only acquaintances to rely on. But she persisted and persevered, finding work and a place of her own, and by and by began to feel a part of this strange, indifferent land. She met someone, a man who likes pancakes and ice cream, and tentatively they began to build a life together. Like so many others who come for a time, it seemed she was here to stay.

Unlike many others who find themselves in these parts she has no nostalgia for her home, but the yearning to go elsewhere still comes now and again. A longing for friends as close as the ones she had in her youth. But it is hard to make friends as one gets older, a reticence that arrives for us all it seems as we grow set in our habits of being. She feels now that she has lost something of herself, left in the desert or the islands, a shadow of what she was. When her husband tells her she is the same person she always was, that all of the things that brought her to this place are still with her, as much a part of her as her doubts and fears, she isn’t sure whether she believes that.

There is a lightness in her that sets others at ease; quick with a smile and laughter. Joy is hard to find, especially in these long grim months under the siege of the Grippe Reborn where it seems nothing is as it was. She has a gift of discovering it in the simple things in life. A walk in the western mountains. A warm cup of hot chocolate on an autumn day. A shared meal in a restaurant. Wandering among shops just to see what is there. Bringing home yet another plant to put upon the shelves.

She has brought herself far in this world and has farther to go yet, wherever happenstance and desire leads. Like the wind in these parts, nothing is fixed, nothing stands still. Yet, no matter what changes are wrought, it remains the Quarter. She is a part of it, as much as anyone can be.  

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 Five Hundred Ninety

It is dark now when I rise in the morning. Still dark when I leave the house for my morning jog, though the light is stealing in, the shadows not as deep. By the time I return, half an hour later, dawn has come, that hazy sort of light that feels like you are blinking back sleep when you awake in the morning. Next week will be November and the darkness will only encroach further and further into the morning and the evening. The long night is here.

There is snow in the forecast for today. The sky is an undifferentiated grey, no glimpse of blue anywhere. When I was out earlier it was spitting rain, foreshadowing what is to come. We could not have asked for a more beautiful autumn and, despite today’s snow, it is supposed to linger. Warmer days next week. I have a friend who says that if you could guarantee a pleasant fall until November and that spring would arrive in March without fail, the climate in these parts would be perfection. This year, at least, we have the first, and we will have to see what the winter brings.

I do not feel the same dread as I did last year at winter’s approach. Then I knew matters with the Grippe Reborn could only get worse and that it would be a lonely and dark time with many hardships. This year, though things have been as bad as they have ever been these last weeks, and are still bad even now with so many still in hospital suffering, I feel a hope I did not. The Dread Lord’s forces are in decline and our inoculation numbers are steadily rising. With the inoculation protocols in force we can safely go out and do all those things we would normally do to dispel the winter cold. Gather with friends. See a movie. Hang out in a coffee shop.

My love and I did that last weekend, sitting in a cafe, reading books and watching the world pass by. It is something I haven’t really done since the Dread Lord arrived on these shores and it felt luxurious to do so now. I hope it never feels ordinary again, though someday I’m sure it will. But not for a long while.  

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 Five Hundred Eighty Three

The creek beds are dry now, spring runoff a distant memory. The grass long ago turned brown in the summer heat. He can see his breath in the air as he sets out in the morning. It is still dark out, only a hint of light on the eastern horizon. How did that happen, he wonders, it seems like only last week the sun was visible in the sky by the time he set out in the morning.

Habits. The things that make up a day. Up in the morning at dawn, or thereabouts, coffee and porridge for breakfast, and then about his day. The cattle are gone now, sold early in August with the drought eating up the pastures, so he has his days to himself. He walks in the morning up into the hills west of home, cutting across the dry creeks, climbing to the highest point where he can see the prairies spread out before him. His strides are long and purposeful always, forever hurrying on to his next task, though now there is no particular need to hurry.

After his walk is done he busies himself with this and that. Projects are a pleasure now, where before they were always something that had to be fit in between more urgent work. He builds fences and tends to the trees he’s planted to create a wind break around the yard. These parts there is always wind. It is never still. If there is nothing to do or the weather is poor he will sit inside and read a book. Before there were always things to be done, an urgency to every task, but now a lazy day can be allowed. Time is a luxury he can indulge.

Evenings he will sit with his wife, both of them reading or maybe playing a hand or two of cards. Crib usually. A long winter awaits. There will be no calving of cows, no going out at the dead of night in the brutal cold to check. He will walk in the hills until the snow is too deep to allow it. The days will be his own.