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 One Thousand Ninety Five

Three years since the Dread Lord Grippe Reborn arrived upon these shores. When I think back on that time I can recall walking past a shuttered bar advertising a St. Patrick’s Day party that never arrived. It is a BBQ place now, the bar never reopening through all the turmoil of openings and closings, limited seating, and outdoor only. Certainly not all of us made it through the last three years. None of us made it through whole. We are not who we once were, but that is always the case.

I have noticed lately people referring to pre-pandemic times and post-Grippe (for that is what everyone has come to feel the last six to eight months has been), but never to the plague months themselves. That was a time outside of time, when we stood apart from ourselves. I went back and read the first few weeks of entries to these notes, when I was writing each day, and the disorientation I was feeling is obvious. I hardly knew what to say, how to put into words what was happening. Even now the feeling of both how tenuous and unsettled those days felt – when truly we did not know what might come next – and how numbingly same each day was is hard to explain. I lived it and yet it doesn’t feel a part of my life. It is separate, off on its own, not sewn into the fabric of my existence.

There were people who lost the thread of themselves during these longest of three years. For some those terrifying and numbing days became an identity. They found solace in remaining ever vigilant for the next shoe to drop, for the Dread Lord to take upon his next guise. It is the only way they could feel safe from that fear we all felt. Others spent years proclaiming the Grippe Reborn a hoax, a plot, nothing but a cold. They rejected the inoculations, denied even having been touched by the Dread Lord and proclaimed malaria drugs and worm paste and other things miracle cures. Though they loudly declared that everyone else was living in fear, they were the most frightened people I have ever encountered and they are living in fear still.

Life, after all, is capricious and our fates are not our own to command. That is the hard truth we were all forced to see during the Grippe Reborn’s terrible reign. Some of us did not want to.

I never lost hope during those discomfiting months, though my patience was sorely tested. My expectation was always that the days of the Grippe Reborn would be finite, an interregnum. As life began its slow return to normal I felt a kind of bitterness at the time lost when we were unable to do so many of the things that brought us pleasure. That was combined with an urge to not waste any of the days remaining, for I understand now, as I only thought I did before, that there are no guarantees.

For a long time in my youth I was very focused on the future that I was working toward, when my life would be whatever I imagined it would be. That changed as I grew older and I realized that the future is always waiting but our lives exist in the now. So many of our dreams will never be realized, so better to find pleasure in what we already possess. Yet in the abysmal now of the Grippe Reborn, when the present seemed a morass from which we might never escape, I found myself again lost in the future of what I would do when all this ended. It was like a promise to myself that it would. Some of my most distinct memories of those early months are of walking with my love and talking of our futures. Did we want to live here or move? Did we want to change careers? What did we want to do? We were driven by restlessness, but also by our fundamental need to believe there are still good things to come. That our lives would not just be marked by the Dread Lord Grippe Reborn.

Field Notes

Being a record of certain phenomena found in the environs of the Lost Quarter.  

Regarding Monuments

There are few monuments to be found in the Quarter. It has never been that sort of place. The wooden grain elevators that used to tower above each town would seem to qualify, yet they are unremarkable in the sense that every town in the surrounding regions had one as well. Most are gone now, fallen into disrepair or torn down, replaced by concrete elevators that loom far taller on the landscape. That is the fate of every construction in the Quarter it seems. So many of the railroads that once crisscrossed these parts have been pulled up, replaced by highways that pass by abandoned homesteads, with houses that are slowly falling into disrepair, being reclaimed by the landscape. The first inhabitants of this place left only stone rings where their tipi’s stood, before they were driven into exile.  

It seems that will be the fate of much of what has been built by Those Who Came as well. The home I grew up in will certainly not stand for centuries, marking the passing years as homes do in other places. It will be torn down or left to disintegrate, depending on the inclination of whoever comes to possess it. Even the towns and villages cannot hold here. They are abandoned slowly, street by street, building by building. People move to other towns, but most leave the Quarter altogether. Few return, for the ways back are difficult and slowly being forgotten by all who once passed along those roads. 

Field Notes

Being a record of certain phenomena found in the environs of the Lost Quarter.  

An Unbordered Place

Once the Quarter, and all that surrounds it, was part of a vast inland sea. That time is long past, the waters vanished, but one can still find the remains of the creatures who inhabited this place then. Ancient sharks and the first birds who had not yet learned how to fly. Their fossils can be found in the badlands and other desiccated places. It serves as a reminder that, though the Quarter seems unchanging and unyielding, it was not always as it is now and it will not be in some distant future. 

This place still retains some of the essential character of the ancient sea. If you stand in an empty spot, atop a hill where you can see the full horizon all around, you will see the undulating hills, cresting like so many waves, with no shore now to crash upon. It is the shapelessness of water that defines the Quarter now, always shifting, one moment reaching out to fill every crevice and the next retreating. An unbordered place. You cannot put boundaries upon it, for they drift and the place itself does not hold steady.  

In those moments, when you stand upon the hills alone (you must be alone), the time of the Quarter plays one of its strange tricks. Time is always strange, the past never being the past entirely, especially here. Close your eyes and listen the wind as it moves along the hills, stirring the grass and it is the endless cascade of waves upon a vanished sea.    

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 One Thousand Sixty

One rarely hears of the Grippe Reborn anymore. It is not a topic of conversation on any level. When I visited with friends who I had not seen in some time, in part because of the precautions we were taking due to the Dread Lord, no one mentioned it. In the news it may be referred to and on social media people still sound notes of alarm, but that is all so much background noise. Those who wish to be concerned will be concerned, everyone else has determined to move on. Even those who have recently fallen under his dread powers, some falling quite ill, have not spoken of it in the same way people did even last year. It is just another illness now.

Lately it seems all one can read are stories of doom. The nation is broken and our response to the Dread Lord demonstrates that we cannot hope to fix the problems we face. We have entered a period of decline, from which we will not recover. Some of it is partisan sniping, some genuine fear at the magnitude of the problems we face and our seeming inability to deal with them. Certainly it seems we have entered a period of global instability, triggered in part by social convulsions that the Dread Lord Grippe Reborn inspired. There is war in Ukraine and posturing between China and the western nations over Taiwan’s independence. Our health systems are strained, inflation is high and our governments seem ineffectual.

Despite all this I feel a sense of optimism. We came through a terrible and trying time, battered and bruised, but still intact. Certainly there are grave challenges to be faced and tumultuous times undoubtedly lie ahead. But that has forever been the case. The lesson I take from the last three years is that we can come together to meet those challenges. Not without a cost, but we can do it.

History is often written through the prism of tumultuous events, in part because they are easily noticed. To look at things in the long view, the deep history, is much harder. Gradual, steady change, the accumulation of small things, is barely noticed but is transformative. My parents can recall when electricity and running water came to farms in the Lost Quarter. That was their childhood. I recall our first computer and when we first got access to the internet. I remember reading stories about cyberspace and trying to imagine what that would be like. Now we exist in it constantly and don’t even acknowledge it.

The world of thirty, fifty, seventy years ago is both familiar and unrecognizable. The future of ten, twenty or more years will be too.

Field Notes

Being a record of certain phenomena found in the environs of the Lost Quarter.  

Mourning Boxes

It is often easy, especially for those who are from there, to dismiss the Lost Quarter as an unremarkable place, no different than any other in the western domains with whom we have a shared history of settlement. Certainly the indigenous peoples of these regions made no distinctions between this place and any other that fell under their purview in those ancient times that are somehow not that long ago. We, who came after they had been pushed out and exiled to reservations, established borders and townships and provinces and all the rest, though borders have always been tricky here, never quite able to take hold. The Quarter was always set apart, without anyone quite realizing it, the ways in and out unclear except to those who know them. 

All this I say by way of introduction to the most unique custom of the current inhabitants of the Quarter. I speak of course of the mourning boxes. They are nearly ubiquitous in the households of the Quarter, yet found seemingly nowhere else. Each family possesses one, visibly displayed, if not in a place of honour or pride exactly, at least where guests will not miss it. The individual boxes vary, ranging from the size of a jewelry box to a mantel clock at their largest. The majority are perfect cubes, though the larger are shaped like a chest. There can be no mistaking them for a storage vessel though, for they are enclosed with no obvious means of opening them. Most are made of wood, stained but not painted, sometimes with engravings. These vary considerably and can be quite elaborate.  

I have said they have no obvious means of being opened, which perhaps gives the false impression that they can be. They cannot without being deconstructed and there is no purpose in doing so for they contain nothing. Their sole purpose as an object is display. Yet, they are not art exactly, though some are quite beautifully constructed. Nor are they, despite their name, vessels for memorializing the dead. Quite what they are for and why so many residents of the Quarter possess and display them is something of a mystery.  

Notes on the Grippe

Day One Thousand Twenty One

One year ends and another begins, the calendar’s remorseless march. How we obsess with measuring the moments of our lives: years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds. So many of them pass without us realizing it as we keep moving relentlessly forward, head down against the wind. Until suddenly we are standing in a new town with no firm grasp of how we have come to be here. Everything looks familiar, but the closer we inspect the less recognizable it all seems. Everyone we meet is a stranger with a faint, polite smile and a gaze that won’t quite meet ours. They, like us, are already casting their eyes ahead to the horizon.

As miserable a beginning to winter as I can remember there being in years. Bitter cold and snow from November on. My love and I escaped it by fleeing these parts for a few weeks, but it was still waiting for us when we returned. Day after day of -20 or colder as the nights grew longer and longer. Followed by warm spells where the temperature rose above freezing so quickly I ended up with headaches as Chinook winds blew in from the west. A day or two later the cold would regain its grip upon these parts, unrelenting.

Looking back at the past year, what will I remember in the years to come? I do not know when the history books will say the Dread Lord Grippe Reborn was defeated, but this was the year where we resumed the parts of our lives we had set aside for those two miserable years. Though he managed to touch both my love and I, I suspect I will not remember any details of that illness. It will blend in to all the other colds and flus that have been inflicted upon me, comfortingly unremarkable.

I will remember how as the weather warmed and spring turned to summer the crowded streets in our neighbourhood as people returned to their old habits. How light my heart was seeing them. We made three trips beyond the Quarter, venturing to Europe and the Eastern Dominions, something I had missed more than I realized. There are moments in both that I will treasure. Not just seeing the great sights, but those chance moments that can only happen in that particular place. Sitting in parks in the sun in a strange place watching people going about their days. Walking with my love alongside three great rivers. The taste of espresso, a fresh pint of beer, a baguette with ham and cheese, cucumber sandwiches at tea.

A good year, all in all. The world felt as though its missing pieces returned and we learned how to live in it again.  

Notes on the Grippe

Day One Thousand

One thousand days of the Dread Lord Grippe Reborn. His reign of terror can perhaps be said to be over – we all certainly act as though it is – and yet he persists. An insidious presence at the heart of everything. Every week dozens perish in these parts by his hand. There are solemn announcements, ignored by most as we go about our days. Our hospitals are overflowing again, this time with children, who were spared the worst of the Dread Lord’s initial ravages, but now seem to be suffering from other disputants to his crown. There are even suggestions they may be working in concert in some way, exposure to the Grippe Reborn’s touch ensuring that we are all weaker when we face one of his challengers. Or perhaps it is just that our quarantine measures spared us from this suffering for two years and now that they have been lifted we have not had our regular exposure and so have fewer defences than we might otherwise.

That seems to be the way of things now. We are living through the unforeseen consequences of our desperate actions. The overflowing hospitals, the doctors and nurses leaving their professions because they are overwhelmed by the relentless tide still rising, threatening to drown us all. We have all been broken in some way it seems by these last, long one thousand days. We have lost the order of things and are fighting now to regain solid ground. Everyone is disoriented, haunted somewhat, wishing that life could just be for a little while.

We all react differently to this unsettling new world. There were the protesters of course, trying to overthrow the Dominion and restore some mythical lost world. They still remain, though dwindling in number, convinced of a grand conspiracy and the need for action. There are those whose sense of personal safety has been so completely shattered that they demand a return to the quarantine strictures and the cocoon of safety it provided. Others complain about how terrible everything has become, our governments inept and flailing, our institutions revealed as ineffectual, and madmen everywhere. To them we have entered an inevitable decline as a civilization from which we shall not recover.

I remain hopeful for a future despite all the turmoil of this current moment. Like the first thousands days of the Grippe Reborn, this moment too will pass. What our battle with the Dread Lord has revealed is what we can achieve when we work together. For so long we have heard how little we as individuals can do to thwart the great crises of our day like climate change. It is a way by which those who wish to do nothing can excuse themselves from feeling guilty. But we have now seen what is possible if we work together at something. We can turn aside the Dread Lord. We are capable of so much more than we allow ourselves to believe.

Notes on the Grippe

Day Nine Hundred Ninety Five

Our bodies betray us. Day after day, time marches on, and we are not what we believe we are. The face in the mirror looks different than the one in our minds. There is sagging here and pudginess there, a slouching kind of inevitability. Fight against it as much as we can, it remains. Worse, we are forced to realize that we are made of flesh and blood, shit and piss, phlegm and other dripping things. Hacking and coughing, sniffling and sweating, exuding noxious and unpleasant fluids.

The Dread Lord Grippe Reborn is diminished, a shadow of his former terror, yet still present, still insidious. Joining him in the general clamour of the gloomy first days of winter are the disputants for his crown. How much longer will he hold it while they marshal their powers and battle for supremacy. None of them will claim it for some time, we can hope, but we will all still suffer and wheeze as they move among us.

My love and I were both felled by one of the disputants a few weeks ago. An annual occurrence that had been pleasantly absent these last few years of quarantine restrictions, one of their few benefits. Their absence may have made the return all the worse though, for both of us were quite miserable for a week or so. It seems everyone is suffering these last weeks, the shelves bare of medicine, the doctor’s offices filled with coughing petitioners. Another of the great benefits of our quarantined years, we can now stay home from the office while sick without guilt or recrimination.

There have been some benefits, it is easy to forget, but the price paid was so dear. I wonder, when we have time to look back on all of this, to see all that came to pass, to measure the results of it all, what we will say was worth doing and what our mistakes were.

Notes on the Grippe

Day Nine Hundred Eighty Seven

From high above the Quarter appears a gleaming wintry tundra, unbroken but for the river valleys and creek coulees, dark fingers that extend across the land, digging deep. Only from this vantage point does the true emptiness of the Quarter become apparent. A few clustered houses here and there marking towns and in between them vast spaces of white. Even the cities seemed dwarfed by all that land. In other places I have ventured to, cities bump up against other cities, towns litter every byway. One cannot go more than a minute without seeing some evidence of human habitation.

The Quarter, on the other hand, can feel like you have entered a post-apocalyptic world. All the signifiers of our existence are there: the road you are driving upon, the fences strung with wire marking the borders of territories, and the electric lines that must lead to some house, and yet none is visible. Even the cattle that should fill the pastures are not apparent, hidden far from the road by some watering hole. The occasional car appearing in the distance shakes you from your reverie, reminding you that you are not alone in this place. An uncomfortable feeling, as though you have been exposed just by being here, implicated by having come to this lost place.

Notes on the Grippe

Day Nine Hundred Forty

The days go on, the Dread Lord Grippe Reborn still present but forgotten by most of us as we go about our lives. Everyone is planning on travelling or has just come back. School has returned as it was before, work as well, families are gathering for holidays. When I go into the office, head to a shop or take a bus there are fewer and fewer people wearing masks. Yet every now and again the Dread Lord still manages to intrude  upon our eventful lives. Two weeks ago my love and I got the latest dose against the Grippe Reborn’s newest disguise and every week news comes of someone else who has been touched by the Dread Lord. Some suffer more than others, but all have been able to return to their lives without much concern.

That is why it was so bizarre to watch the leadership contest for the governing party of these parts, who had forced out their old leader, in part, over his failures during the pandemic. Those who opposed the quarantine restrictions are still exercised about them, still furious at being told to get their inoculations and being denied the ability to travel. They want blood and they shall get it, for their choice of leader is now in charge. She has declared that she will remove all those who were in charge of the health system, calling them failures, though they were only implementing the policies put in place by the government she now leads. At a time when the system is still strained by lack of people and resources, throwing it into more turmoil seems foolish, but that will not stop her.

It is disheartening to be governed by a populist who spouts conspiracy theories that it appears she actually believes. She talks of throwing off the shackles of the Greater Dominion, of sovereignty, though not independence. That will come once the empty threats she makes to the federal government bring us nothing in return. How much damage can she do before the next election in seven months time? And is it possible she could be victorious? A depressing thought indeed.

At least we are lucky enough to experience another glorious autumn. For a second year in a row the days have been warm and pleasant, the leaves slowly changing their colours from green to gold. Every time I venture outside I marvel at how beautiful everything looks. It is hard not to feel at peace looking upon such beauty, the steady changing of the seasons. These are the things that make up our lives as much as the turmoil and clamour we bring to them.