An impossible bind

We’ve made the working parent the norm in American society, and now we’re making it impossible for them to work.

Best Buds, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvasboard.

Ken DeWaard and I went down to Cape Elizabeth last weekend to paint. It’s the end of peony season here in Maine and the property has spectacular sprawling gardens. This is the last season it will be stewarded by Meghan Wakefield. The new stewards may well be wonderful, but they will create different poetic moments.

I shot a few Facebook videos, which reveal what artists talk about when engaged in painting: nothing of consequence.

I have three daughters and a son; Ken and his wife have three sons and a daughter. His oldest is a year younger than my youngest. I enjoy hearing about what his kids are doing. It reminds me how difficult those years are.

Daddy’s Little Helper, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on linen.

Two of my grandchildren are here this week so their parents can work. They are 4 and 5 and live on a dirt road in the western Berkshires, where they have no near neighbors. Since they have to quarantine while here, they’re starved for normal human contact. There are no casual stops at the Post Office to say hello to Steve and Ann Marie. We can’t run in to Renys or Home Depot. Very little gets done unless I’m willing to park them in front of a screen, which I’m not.

Children—even those not in quarantine—have no sense of personal hygiene or personal distancing. Recommendations are that they not go to stores or public places. That leaves them very much alone.

During the pandemic of 1918, the average American household had about 4.5 people in it. Today, that’s about 2.5 people. My two are lonely and bored, and they have each other.

Baby Monkey, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard. 

My friend Kelly cares for her granddaughter, an only child. The girl misses her friends dreadfully. No amount of computer time can offset the loss of simple play and connection in a 7-year-old social butterfly’s life.

I’ve read various proposals to allow schools to reopen in the fall. These include lots and lots of washing, plastic sheeting to separate the children, and kids attending part time. In one district, the worst-performing distance learners will spend the most time in school. That’s understandable, but it effectively penalizes those kids who’ve worked the hardest.

The New York Post reports that the nation’s largest school district is considering alternate weeks of in-school and online learning, sending kids to school on certain days of the week, or continuing full online instruction. Returning as normal in the fall isn’t even being suggested.

More than 126,000 Americans have died with Covid-19, but only about a dozen were school-age children. Meanwhile, each year about 1,700 children die in the United States from abuse or neglect. Who are the people tasked to watch for signs of child abuse? Most commonly, their teachers. That won’t happen when kids aren’t in school.

They’re painting some wonderful things in Grandma’s studio, but the floor may never be the same.

The 20th century model of the nuclear family—mom stays home, dad works, kids go to school—is obsolete. The US has the world’s highest rate of single-parent households—almost a quarter of all kids, compared to about 7% worldwide. Those parents lucky enough to be married are often both working to be able to afford to run a household. Very few people can afford nannies, and child-care is not designed for school-age kids. Needless to say, this social model can’t possibly stand the strain of these children being home year-round.

The ancient Levant’s deities, rivals to the God of the Hebrews, are known collectively as the Baalim. Their contemporary critics complained that they required the sacrifice of children. (The story of Abraham and Isaac is, on one level, a cautionary tale against the practice.) We have to be very careful lest we fall into the same trap.

Appreciating liberty

“This is bigger than 9/11,” she said sadly, “and did we ever go back after 9/11?”

Stormy Skies, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

Yesterday was a Zoom-intensive day. I started with my class. Then I switched channels to the Maine Arts Commission. That’s a meeting I had to attend, since the commission is working heroically for our economically-battered arts sector.

That meant six hours of online meetings. Later I texted a friend whose job involves doing this all day long. “It left me feeling extremely out-of-sorts,” I told her. “I’m kind of anxious, and I’m not an anxious person.” She said the same thing sometimes happens to her.

A group in which I serve is operating on the principle that we won’t meet in person at all for the foreseeable future. That means we must put all our activities online as much as is possible. But how to do that and in what form remains to be seen.

After the storm, pastel, by Carol L. Douglas

I also belong to a group that’s trying to figure out how to start meeting in person if the limit on gatherings is eased in June. There’s varied opinion in our circle about the importance of the restrictions now in place. However, we’re united in wanting to make live meetings happen. That means doing what’s necessary to make everyone comfortable.

Wise leaders are struggling to meet people where they’re at, rather than dictating what their response should be. I have friends who think this is a conspiracy to deprive them of their rights, and friends who are afraid to go to the grocery store. All must be accommodated as we grope our way forward.

How much will we appreciate our liberty when this is all over? The answer depends, in part, on whether you find the current crisis much of an impingement. Not everyone does.

Parrsboro Dawn, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

As someone whose livelihood and religious practice have both been swept off the table, I recognize that things have changed. The question I ask myself is whether I’m intrepid enough to venture out into this new reality, or whether I should retire to the country and raise chickens.

Last night I asked my friend Cheryl whether she thought we’d ever go back to life as we knew it. “This is bigger than 9/11,” she said sadly, “and did we ever go back after 9/11?”

I’ve always wondered why so many people willingly collaborated with the Nazis during WW2. Today people apparently denounce their neighbors for having company or for not wearing masks. I know people have noticed the New York plates in my driveway because they’ve remarked on them. Luckily, these were people who like me.

Sunrise in Virginia, pastel, by Carol L. Douglas

I begin to understand the social pressure that drove the collaborators. They were driven by fear, anger, and opportunism as much as ideology. These are all social behaviors, just as much as love and friendship are. We humans are ultimately social animals, even when we’re sheltering apart. We’re so strongly designed that way that it can be our undoing. As I discovered in Argentina, the answer to the question, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you, too?” is, apparently, yes.

Still, don’t for a moment think I’m unduly pessimistic about the future. My faith can be derided as simple, but simple isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you,” wrote the prophet Isaiah. I know that good will come of these trying times; it always does.

Painting through the dark places

Art has allowed me to look at pain, grief and dislocation obliquely, instead of confronting them head-on.
Carrying the cross, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Rochester, NY.
You may have noticed that I haven’t done much this week. I finally collapsed from the ailment we dragged back from South America. Despite a slew of tests, no pathogen has yet been identified. However, our nurse-practitioner treated the symptoms. I’m almost back in fighting form, albeit very tired. Hopefully, my fellow travelers will recover as quickly.
Yesterday I attended a virtual meeting. One of my fellows, normally a very cheerful woman, was awash with anxiety. “I can’t paint!” she confessed. “I go in my studio and start, and then I go back and turn on CNN.” Later, I asked her if there was anything I could do to help. She elaborated. Her daughter has had COVID-19; she knows a young person currently on a vent and has lost another friend from it. She—like me—is from New York, the epicenter of this disease. That’s where our kids, friends and family are, and there’s nothing we can do to help them.
My heart goes out to her. It’s an awful thing to feel helpless in the face of disaster.
The Curtain of the Temple was Rent, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Rochester, NY.
When we were waiting out our confinement in Buenos Aires, I was thoroughly disinterested in the non-existent landscape. It was not until the end that I decided to start painting what I felt instead of what I saw. That’s not necessarily easy for a realist to do directly (although we’re all doing it indirectly). That’s why I started with the idea of home, and then moved to Blake’s Jerusalemfor inspiration. I could look at my feelings of griefand dislocation obliquely, instead of confronting them head-on.
Twenty years ago, I was asked to do a set of Stations of the Cross for St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Rochester, NY. The request was made in the summer; by September I’d been diagnosed with a colon cancer that had perfed the bowel wall and spread to nearby lymph nodes. I had four kids, ages 11 to 3. My primary goal was to stay alive long enough to see them raised.
Finishing an art project seemed almost frivolous in the circumstances. I was especially disinterested in one that dealt with the horrific events leading up to the Crucifixion. That year was a late Easter, too, so by the time Holy Week arrived, I had a rough version finished, which I delivered in book form. (In some ways, I prefer it to the final Stations, for its very rawness.)
Veronica, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Rochester, NY. And before you correct me, I’m perfectly aware that Veronica is medieval fan-fic, but I think it points to a very human need to ameliorate suffering.
I drew in my hospital bed, from my couch, during the hours of chemotherapy. I wouldn’t have told you I was engaged or enthused in the least. When I was well enough, I arranged a massive photoshoot and took reference photos. The final drawings were finished the following year. They weren’t my best work, I thought, but at least they were done.
And yet, and yet… they’ve been in use for two decades since. And every Holy Week, I get a note from a parishioner telling me how much they appreciate them. I’ve certainly gotten more meaningful mail about them than about any other work of art I’ve ever done.
This year, St. Thomas’—like the rest of Christendom—is shuttered, its people observing the rites from afar. I’m not sure how I’m going to approach Good Friday in a season already penitential in the extreme, but there’s something to be said for routine, ritual, habit and movement. That goes for painting as much as for faith. 
May God bless you this weekend with a radical new way of seeing things, in Jesus’ name, amen.

The final lap home

Yes, we should be more self-reliant, save more, have deep pantries and buy local, but don’t underestimate the greatness of the economic system we have created in this country.
Photo courtesy of Kellee Mayfield.
I’m writing this from my own home. That’s a wonderful statement, but there’s also a certain irony in admitting that I’m still confined to a bedroom. We had the downstairs floors refinished while we were gone. They’re not yet ready to accept furniture. All our necessities are crammed into one room, much as they’ve been for the past three weeks.
Paying Charles for the floors brought home some of the difficulties in maintaining proper quarantine. This being Maine, I can’t just wire him the money. I scrubbed down and wrote a check, and then asked my husband to scrub down and put it outside. He automatically picked up the check with his unwashed hands. We wiped the check with sanitizer and started again.
They checked us in with laptops and cellphones, not on the airport’s own terminals.
On Friday, we’d waited for five hours to board while Argentina and Eastern Airlines LLC engaged in a final tussle over our departure. The plane looked spiffy from the terminal, but inside it was an unadulterated antique—a genuine, wide-body Boeing 767 with no updates. The last time Americans flew on a plane like this, real meals were being served from the galley.
This time, passengers were served prepackaged sandwiches, also apparently from the 1980s. I mention this because the cost of this one-way ticket was 1.5 times what it costs to fly round trip from Boston to Australia, and three times the cost of our original return flight. I’m curious how this tiny airline got the relief contracts from the US State Department when so many planes are sitting on the ground worldwide.
I wrote my blog on my phone while we waited. Photo courtesy of Douglas Perot.
The sandwich was of no matter to me. I’d sworn off eating to get to Miami with my clothing intact. It didn’t work. I was in the midst of another wracking bout of dysentery. I realized I was a floating olfactory disaster when I lifted my bags into an overhead bin. The couple seated there began to wave their hands in distress, their eyes watering.
We arrived in Miami at 1 AM. There to meet us was Jane Chapin’s husband, Roger Gatewood. He had rented a ten-passenger van and driven it from Tampa to Miami to collect us. We wandered across the southern half of the state, dropping two of our wanderers in Fort Myers to catch an early flight. Katie Cundiff got curbside service to her home in Bradenton. The rest of us slept at Jane’s house for a few hours before rising to catch our last flights home.
Our jet was the only thing moving from Ministro Pistarini International Airport.

Once we were in the United States, our travel was unremarkable. We tend to take American efficiency for granted, but we really shouldn’t. Yes, we should be more self-reliant; yes, Americans should save more and have deep pantries and buy local. Those are all important lessons from this pandemic, but don’t for a moment underestimate the brilliance and greatness of the economic system we have created in this country.

At last I could press the ‘home’ button on my navigation app and head north. As with so many big concepts, ‘home’ is perhaps best understood through those tiny moments, like the relief I felt as my phone plotted a course.
Now we begin quarantine for the third and last time. We have sufficient supplies (laid in by my goddaughter) and enough work to keep us busy. But I also need a cure for this dysentery. No problem; this is Maine, where things are still local and personal. Our nurse-practitioner will drop off a test kit this morning. Very soon, this nasty bug will be just a memory.

And we’re off… We hope.

An angel helps me out.

Jerusalem, by Carol L. Douglas. Yesterday I decided to illustrate Blake’s poem. I got exactly this far.

I’m writing this on my phone in line in the airport, where we and many other Americans have met up to take the last scheduled flight from Argentina.

We left our hotel at 7 AM for an 11:30 flight, expecting to be detained at roadblocks. The inbound traffic lanes proceeded slowly but, outbound, police waved us through. They’re no doubt happy to send us on our way. Nonetheless, our flight is already delayed an hour.

From my fourth-floor aerie I peered into many cars over the past few days. They typically had papers on their dashboard. Before this trip I wouldn’t have understood that these were documents that must be produced on demand. Even though I don’t want to see America as a police state, I understand the impulse to crack down. This is a very large, tightly-packed city, and the pandemic could do terrific damage.

Casa Rosada. That’s as close as we ever got to tourism.

We drove past the Casa Rosada, the Argentine White House, on our way out of town. That’s as close as we have been to seeing the sights. From there to the airport, Buenos Aires is much like any other city in the world: pricey high-rises tapering to smaller, less-lovely structures, to an industrial beltway and then, finally, suburbs and towns. Our national identity may come from places like the Casa Rosada and White House, but the truth is that for most of us, the places we call home are interchangeable.

With the exception of a few cities, Americans don’t have a taste for living in tower blocks. That makes us odd compared to most nations. Even Canadians seem to like living in high-rises, judging from cities like Toronto and Ottawa. But we Americans are suburban in the same way our British and Australian cousins are. For us, “home” is optimally two stories and includes a small patch of green.

Empty airport

Thinking about home, I decided to make my last painting a line from that great British hymn, Jerusalem. It is sort of an unofficial British anthem, and is based on a poem by the visionary artist William Blake. Each line could yield a painting or three.

The cost of this pandemic is borne by all of us. We have incurred some terrific expenses in the form of flights we cannot take and accommodations. The Hilton Buenos Aires was our only option and it did not come cheap. But I was shocked to learn that an individual donor covered the entire bill for all ten of us.

I know who this person is, and that he doesn’t want his name shared. I mention it because it’s common in our culture to vilify people for not giving, or not caring. And yet so many people do wonderful things in very private ways, not so they can be publicly lauded, but simply because they see a need. Remember that next time you want to castigate a political opponent as selfish or uncaring.

[W]hen you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you,” says the Gospel of Matthew. There are a lot of people who live that creed.

No news is good news

What is ‘home’? Why are we so anxious to get there?

I’m getting nowhere with the gouache, but at least I get to think lofty thoughts with a brush in my hand.

In the absence of real information, we like to spin theories. Our current one is that our flight crew needs to arrive in Buenos Aires sometime today to allow for their mandatory rest period. If they do, they’re likely to end up here. We’ll be cheering discreetly from our fourth-floor corridor.
At least our current flight wasn’t canceled or rescheduled overnight. (My restive mind wouldn’t let me stop checking.) Yesterday, a few more Americans drifted in, including a young mother with two small children. Our embassy is moving our fellow citizens into the capital for this last flight, and I expect they will continue until the absolute last minute.
My palette.

That’s only the people who want to go home, of course. We could have chosen to stay in Argentina. This is a lovely country, and far safer than America right now. I asked myself why I felt drawn to get back to Maine. I’m a wanderer by nature. Ultimately, the decision came down to money and the question of when international travel would resume.

If I have a home in this world, it’s where my children and grandchildren are. That’s not a place, because they’re all young and footloose. Right now, they’re encamped in a rural county of New York, keeping themselves out of the urban plague-zones as much as is possible. They’re in two separate groups because one of my sons-in-law has had (presumptive) coronavirus. But they’re close enough to each other to help in an emergency, and they can go outside without violating urban social distancing rules.
Yesterday we walked to the pharmacy (allowed in this lockdown) to get new disinfectant wipes. We saw this wonderful car. 
The peculiar thing about our times is that we can keep in contact with them from another continent. That’s not quite the same as being with them, but it’s close. Even when I get to Maine, I won’t be seeing them any time soon. Non-essential travel is banned in Maine and Massachusetts. But if home is where the heart is, my home right now is with them.
Augustine of Hippo addressed the meaning of home at moment of unprecedented disaster: the sack of Rome in 410. This was the first time in 800 years that the Eternal City had fallen to foreign forces. “The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken,” wrote Jerome.
Traditional Romans saw the failure of their empire as a punishment for abandoning their pagan religion for Christianity. Of course, the empire actually failed because it had become terminally weak and was under pressure during a period of massive human displacement.
The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius, by John William Waterhouse, 1883, courtesy Art Gallery of South Australia. While Rome suffered, the Emperor was in Ravenna, playing with his pet birds.
Christian or pagan, Romans suffered together. Homes and properties were destroyed, people of all castes were raped, tortured and murdered. Families were sold into slavery and separated forever. It truly must have seemed like the end of the world.
Augustine’s response was radical. He wrote that even if Rome failed, the City of God would ultimately prevail. Empires would come and go, but the New Jerusalem would last forever. Regardless of where we wash up, the City of God is our true home. It’s been the consolation of Christians ever since.

Daring to dream

You can only be disappointed if you allow yourself to hope, but hope is a necessary part of life.

Rain, by Carol L. Douglas

We’ve been pretty careful to make arrangements one step at a time. Ours is an escape ladder built from straw, which can blow over with the slightest breath of wind. We’ve booked enough flights that have failed to be very leery of booking more. But at some point, we had to look past that, because Miami is not our final destination. Our car is in a now-closed shuttle lot in Portsmouth, NH. That is about 2.5 hours south of our home and an hour north of Boston’s Logan Airport.

Yesterday, with 36 hours until our flight from Buenos Aires, we solidified a plan. We booked a flight that lands in Boston at 12:30 AM. We reserved a one-way car rental from Hertz, which is open 24 hours. The shuttle operators offered to leave my car in a safe spot with the keys inside. We’d be 36 hours on the road, but we were on target to be home by Friday at noon.
Crane, by Carol L. Douglas
I shared these arrangements with my kids; I told a pastor from our church. It felt awfully nice to write out these plans; it made them feel real. I told a few friends and went to bed with a plan. I’d start packing first thing this morning, right after I finish this blog. No, we don’t have much to pack, but I’d drag it out for the sheer joy of the experience.
I should have known better. At 10 PM, we received an email from Eastern Airlines saying that our flight is now delayed until the 3rd. That’s assuming they don’t delay the flight still another time—and assuming that this flight ever existed at all. Forgive our cynicism, but we now have a long history buying tickets that haven’t materialized.
Meanwhile, the costs continue to mount. As Senator Everett Dirksenfamously said, “A billion here, a billion there; sooner or later it adds up to real money.”
I’ve been careful to keep my expectations low until now. You can only be disappointed if you allow yourself to hope, but hope is an integral part of faith. That’s a conundrum, but there’s hope that leads to dashed expectations and there’s true hope, which perseveres despite circumstances. I know I’m not alone in finding myself in radically-altered circumstances. If you find yourself sliding into hopelessness during this long, bitter confinement, let me suggest a few classic readings:
And, of course, Psalm 23.
I’d say this felt like a kick in the gut, but I was already feeling like I’d gone two rounds with a mule. Last week’s nemesisis back with a vengeance. I’m dosing myself with live-culture yogurt and drinking tea.
The biggest excitement of yesterday was this poor kitchen worker dumping a tray full of china dishes on a tile floor. It rang through the eight-story lobby.
I’m a big believer in staying busy to counter the megrims, but there’s very little work you’re allowed to do in a luxury hotel. We refuse room service and make our own bed. That leaves about 23 hours and fifty minutes to fill each day.
Last night, I found Doug ironing my painting shirts, which were still damp from being hand-washed. 
“You hardly need to do that,” I protested.
“I’m doing it for fun,” he answered. The man’s gone daft.

Life in a gilded cage

Buenos Aires is a ghost town from coronavirus. We’re waiting here until all Americans who can be rescued, are.
Those soldiers at the door are to keep us in, and keep anyone without papers out.
If you haven’t met Jane Chapin, she’s a little thing; I think she stretches the truth when she tells people she’s 5’1”. But she’s tough as the old boots she wears. I’d offered to drive the lead car in our midnight escape, since I’m used to dodging white-tailed deer. No; she would take the risk on her tiny shoulders.
We were barely out of the hosteria gate when we encountered our first jackrabbit. He decided his only hope was to lope ahead of us as fast as he could travel. That might work with pumas, but it slowed us down considerably.
Jane clears our first checkpoint. Photo courtesy Kellee Mayfield.
Even at 4 AM the first checkpoint was open. The soldiers carefully scrutinized our papers, calling each of us by name to verify our identities. I had memorized the phrase, Lo siento, no hablo español. The guards were unfailingly polite but utterly serious.
It turned out that documents they cared most about were the health certificates issued by Dr. Carolina Codó. That’s just another example of the importance of local knowledge, since our embassy had told us we didn’t need them.
After daybreak, we drove a long way through a dense fog. Photo courtesy Douglas Perot.
In our car, David Diaz and I sang silly songs to stay awake. A few hundred kilometers later, another jackrabbit drilled into Jane’s bumper, causing more damage than I thought possible. However, the whole panoply of stars were out, and we missed every guanaco and rhea dancing across the tarmac. The sun rose on a magical, stressful world.
We arrived at the Rio Gallegos airport in ample time. And then our troubles began. Our payments hadn’t transferred from Expedia; we would each have to pay again. (If you’re keeping score, we’ve paid for 14 flights so far, have used four, and have a reasonable expectation of using two more.)
If I can’t draw or sing to alleviate boredom, I make up and solve math problems in my head. This one was elementary: there were ten people in line, each transaction was taking more than ten minutes to complete, and our plane was leaving in an hour and a half. There was no way we were all going to make it on that plane. Doug and I were the last in line.
In Buenos Aires, we stood at the taxi stand trying to figure out where to go. Photo courtesy Douglas Perot.
I recited the 23rd Psalm and prayed. The clock above the desk moved inexorably forward. The agents were as flustered as me, but finally we were finished. We tore off to the security checkpoint. There, waiting, was Jane. She was not going to board until she was sure we were on the flight too.
Any thought that we would mooch around the airport at Buenos Aires looking for a flight were immediately quashed. We were ordered to leave by a soldier. Buenos Aires is a ghost town, but Kellee Mayfield stood at the taxi stand and booked us rooms at the Hilton. At the hotel, another set of soldiers scrutinized our health certificate before allowing us to pass in.
The streets of Buenos Aires are empty. Photo courtesy Jane Chapin.
We’re in a luxury hotel with no services—the laundry, restaurants, cafes and shops, rooftop pool, gym, etc. are all closed. There are as many staff as there are guests. We can leave to walk one block to the supermercadoor pharmacy. Anything other than that, and we’ll be arrested.
Our departure has been moved back to April 2. I imagine there are still American citizens in the provinces that they’re trying to round up and bring to Buenos Aires. A few more days in this hotel is minor if it brings someone else home, and it appears this is really and truly the last flight until May.
Kellee Mayfield waiting her turn at the pharmacy. We can only go in one at a time.
Much more personally devastating was that last night my uncle, Robert Marusza, died of coronavirus at Buffalo General Hospital. He was a great man in both the personal and public sense, and very important to me. In normal times I’d be cancelling everything and heading to my home town. But these are not normal times. Funeral gatherings are banned in New York. Like his own children, I mourn from afar.

Our last day of quarantine

Much of what we do is meaningless time-filler. When that has been torn away, where are you left?
Unfinished last painting.
We have certainly run into a pathogen, although I doubt it’s COVID-19. I’m secretly relieved that it ran through me before we start our engines and make a course for Rio Gallegos in the morning. Woe to them who are in its throes en route.
Yesterday, Cristina informed me that I was confined to my room until I was six hours without a fever. This wasn’t her edict; it was that of the village doctor. I could go outside for fresh air, but not into any common areas. My mind turned inevitably to a comment Jane Chapin made to me earlier this week about the shrinking nature of our confinement. I really should be ashamed of myself. 
The Diary of Anne Frank was required reading in my youth. She and her family lived for two years in their cramped attic, and their release was immeasurably worse. My room is perfectly lovely, and I’d managed to snaffle The Spectatoron my phone before Cristina noticed me.
Bushwhacking with Jane Chapin. The undergrowth is thick in the valleys.
I went outdoors and sat on a bench in the sun. Eventually, Jane found me, and we went bushwhacking. Mercifully, we have only a few hundred acres to roam in, or we might have managed to get lost. We tromped around in the undergrowth until we found a small stream with a view.
We set up to paint. My gut had been acting perfectly foul all morning, and it was there that the floodgates opened. I am missing part of my colon—that critical part that tells the average person that the @#$! Is about to hit the fan. I wandered off into the brush and cleaned up as well as I could, then returned and folded up my paint kit. It was a beautiful day; so what if I was covered in merde? I lay on my back in the warm sunlight, chatting with Jane as she painted.
Lying on my back in the sun, talking to Jane while she painted.
I’ve had less effective colonoscopy preps.
As I write this, Jane is checking us into our flight from Rio Gallegos tomorrow. We will leave here at 4 AM, driving hours in the dark, keeping a close watch for the guanaco, vicuña, or huemules who might like to ornament our cars’ front grilles. Ours is the last flight from Rio Gallegos to Buenos Aires and we do not—as of yet—have a plan to get from Buenos Aires to America. But I trust in my God as my protector. He hasn’t let me down yet.
Iron-ore laden creek.
Meanwhile, the mountains are shrouded in fog today, as if they are sad that we are leaving. Every morning of this trip, Natalia Andreeva has sat by the window and watched the pink light flicker up onto Glaciar Electrico. “Beautiful!” she breathes. Stripped of all the impositions of our world—of socializing, parenting, working—she remained centered on this one joy of all creation. 
Reader Robin M. asked me how we move our wet paintings. The wettest go into these PanelPak carriers.
The Age of Coronavirus has been one of great costs. There is opportunity here, as well. Much of what we do is meaningless time-filler. Some of it is downright corrosive. When all that is torn away, what are you left with? Do you like yourself well enough to be content in your own company? Can you organize your day, your week, your life, without someone else telling you what to do? If not, think of this as a wakeup call. Nobody owns your happiness but you.
Those that are drier are interleaved with waxed paper that I cut to size before leaving home. I then make a bundle of them, reusing the stretch film I brought. You can also use plastic bumpers or slivers of wine cork to separate the paintings.
This is my last post before we hare out of here. We leave tomorrow at 4 AM. I may be writing from Rio Gallegos, or it may be a week before I find a wi-fi signal I can poach. Until then, take care and remember to wash your hands.

Montezuma’s revenge

We had almost cleared quarantine, so why were we suddenly all feeling rotten?
Kellee Mayfield listens to rap music while painting. Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin.
“Kellee,” I said quietly over breakfast, “you need to take my temperature.” Kellee Mayfieldhas this nifty no-touch thermometer that she aims at your forehead. If you’re below 100° F, it gives you a green light. If you’re above that, it squawks and flashes red at you. I know this because it did that to me. My heart sank.
I immediately went to bed, took a combination of Tylenol and aspirin and isolated myself. Periodically, Jane Chapin would come in and wave the magic thermometer at me. My temperature dropped into the safe zone, but I was not feeling well at all.
I was not concerned for myself; I’m overall as healthy as a horse, and I don’t have any underlying medical conditions that would encourage Coronavirus to knock me off. But I would have hated to be the weak link that kept us in Patagonia for several more weeks.
Hoping to paint here today. Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin.
Meanwhile, some of my fellows were suffering a different ailment: traveler’s diarrhea. In the past, this was sometimes known by the rather rude names of Montezuma’s Revenge or Delhi Belly. Sometimes pathogens in water don’t bother natives but upset the stomachs of visitors. But lest we feel superior, our own North American pathogen, Giardiasis, or beaver fever, is particularly nasty, and nobody develops tolerance to it. I speak from experience.
But whether it was different food, too much Malbec, or something in the water, three of my fellow travelers were laid low. Since we can’t flush the toilet tissue, I can’t even imagine their difficulties.
By the end of the day yesterday, we had four members of our little troop in some kind of distress. The problem with illness in the Age of Coronavirus is that we question every little spike in temperature, bad gut, or headache. That’s especially true in a foreign country, under quarantine, on sufferance.
Those who can, painted. Those would couldn’t, slept. Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin.
Even in the face of worry, the show went on. Those who could, went out and painted. Those of us who couldn’t, rested. Kellee Mayberry told me that her painting blew into the river. I was sad to have missed that.
This morning my temperature is down and my fellows have returned to their usual bathroom habits. Once again, we’re all our usual cheerful selves. Tomorrow our quarantine ends, so today is the last day in which we can paint all day. I plan to make the most of it.