Curative for April’s COVID-19 blues

 

 

UNDER BRIGHT BLUE morning skies Abbey and Gus and I wandered to the west side of the hayfield where I watched a pair of soaring eagles while both dogs dug for gophers. By the time we returned to the Clubhouse the sky had changed. Billows of dark clouds rolled in from the north darkening the day, 20 mile-per-hour winds were bending the cedar trees, and the forecast predicted a spray of freezing rain or maybe even a snow shower.

Dramatic weather changes are commonplace in April in the North Country. Two days ago, the high temperature was 67. Last night’s low was 25. These soaring highs and plummeting lows match my mood swings, a series of peaks and valleys because we are in our sixth week of “social distancing” and “self-isolation” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I grumbled and turned up the heat in the Clubhouse. The dogs climbed onto the couch and went to sleep. They don’t read the news.

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Hunter-gatherer

homo sapiens

Photos from Natural History Museum – http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/

Ancient hunter-gatherers mastered a very wide variety of skills in order to survive, which is why it would be immensely difficult to design a robotic hunter-gatherer. Such a robot would have to know how to prepare spear points from flint stones, find edible mushrooms in a forest, track down a mammoth and coordinate a charge with a dozen other hunters, and afterwards use medicinal herbs to bandage any wounds. However, over the last few thousand years we humans have been specialising. A taxi driver or a cardiologist specialises in a much narrower niche than a hunter-gatherer, which makes it easier to replace them with AI.
            From the book Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harrari

We were much happier before the curse of civilization. When we lived as clans of prehistoric hunter-gathers we were better off.

Before you scoff and launch into a long list of the material comforts we would be denied without the progress of civilization, I will remind you that civilized existence has been our plight for at least 10,000 years, and until most recently very few of those material comforts have been available to us. Only about 300 years, as a matter of fact, since the invention of the steam engine and the substitution of fossil fuel power for human or animal power. That is about three percent of civilization’s run time, and it appears we will not surpass the four percent mark because of the carbon dioxide we have pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere through the burning of those fossil fuels.

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Life in the time of pandemic

 

The Executioner's Face

Available in paperback and Kindle editions through Amazon at:
www.amazon.com/Executioners-Face-Jerry-Johnson/dp/1724870777/

Don’t want to say “I told you so!” but life in the time of pandemic was predicted in my novel The Executioner’s Face.
The ravages of a highly infectious disease, the horrific mortality rates, the implosion of the world’s economic system, the collapse of democratic governments, the outsourcing of the justice system, the work camps for minor lawbreakers, the vast division between the haves and the have-nots… the complete disaster.

 

 

“America has outsourced its criminal justice system, and the professional executioner of the Bureau of Justice and Corrections Services is the paladin of corporate law enforcement. Termination Operative Sean Callahan is a 12-year veteran with the BJCS in a dystopian Chicago in 2045. The Bureau’s best TO, and its most troublesome, he is unwillingly paired with a young but street-hardened rookie, Abril Desanya, to teach her the skills of the executioner’s trade, and their antagonistic relationship develops into a guarded love affair. Callahan violates BJCS protocol to investigate a troubling termination and discovers evidence of pervasive corruption – putting his life, and Desanya’s, in peril.”

To be fair, the current COVID-19 coronavirus is neither as virulent nor as deadly as the pandemic that I, as a fiction writer, prophesied in Executioner, and the year that the apocalypse killed billions was predicted to be 2026. Also, the health and economic and social disruptions caused by the current pandemic, bad as they are, will not come close to the devastation of the fictional catastrophe.

Still, there is the foreboding of things to come. And the clock is ticking toward 2026.

Immodestly, I suggest The Executioner’s Face as a good read during these weeks of self-isolation, social distancing, and quarantine. You may find it disturbingly familiar.

Order it through your local independent book store:

https://www.indiebound.org/indie-bookstore-finder

The book is also available in both paperback and Kindle editions through Amazon at:

https://www.amazon.com/Executioners-Face-Jerry-Johnson/dp/1724870777/

 

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Biomass

easternmeadowlark

Eastern meadowlark (photo from ebird.org)

The number astounded me.

“Ninety-six percent of the world’s mammals, by weight, are now humans and their livestock; just four percent are wild.” (From the book The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, citing the statistic from “The Biomass Distribution on Earth” by Yinon M. Bar-On, et al., published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (June 2018).

I could not accept those counterintuitive figures, observing the number of wildlife species that populate our small farm, so I did some calculations. Even in the decidedly rural state of Iowa where we live, wildlife numbers are dwindling while livestock numbers are growing exponentially. The number of pigs (primarily raised in CAFOs – concentrated animal feeding operations) is 24 million and cattle 3.7 million. There are about 200,000 horses, 160,000 sheep, and 37,000 goats.

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North Dakota bound

Photo from btphotovideo.com

North Dakota bound

Blame it on the Senator, this idea about the Little Missouri National Grasslands.

Although the annual High Plains Prairie Bird Hunt is many months away, at its January get-together the Over the Hill Gang launched a spirited discussion about its destination. The consensus, it appears, will be a far-ranging trip to the Grasslands, a country we have never hunted but promises to be more bountiful than our Nebraska or Kansas hunts last year, which resulted in few birds.

As the Senator says, “What’s the downside? We couldn’t do any worse.” Indeed.

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Minor gods of annoyance

Wool sock booby trapped by Enochli̱tikos – the demigods of annoyances and irritations.

A thorn imbedded in a wool sock has rubbed a raw spot on the bunion on my right foot. The fiery scrape and stab of a thistle’s needle-tip spine is another of the small miseries I blame upon the Enochli̱tikos, minor gods of annoyance whose raison d’être is to inflict irritation and vexation.

Tonight one of them has deftly woven a tiny needle into a fuzzy pill of wool inside the sock, protruding just far enough to prick and rip my tender skin. The intent of the little demons, apparently, is to worsening the agonies imposed by the grander goddess Nemesis: leg muscle cramps to punish my hubris of snowshoeing two miles before I have properly conditioned my body for winter hiking.

Enochli̱tikos, these smalltime pranksters of the supernatural realm, are nasty creatures. Vile and mean-spirited.

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She run off with a Norski

Shieldmaiden

Actress Katheryn Winnick playing the shield maiden Lagertha in the ‘Vikings’ (Credit: History Channel)

She run off with a Norski

Come home from fishin’ and my woman was gone.
She took my fjord horse and every goat on the farm,
But the worst thing is she run off with a Norski.
A six-four Viking with his own long boat,
Broadsword, battle ax, and a bear skin coat.
Lord, I just can’t believe she’s run off with a Norski.

The whole village knows how I treated her good,
Bought her a loom to weave wool, a maul to split wood,
And she give up all that to run off with a Norski.
I told her we was gonna have nine children or more
To help her work the farm, clean fish, scrub the floor,
But she throwed her life away to run off with a Norski.

Lookin’ back I recall she said wanted to be
A warrior maiden sailin’ ’cross the North Sea
Stealin’ gold and slaves and fightin’ like a Norski.
I told her, woman get them thoughts outta your head,
You’re a farm wife born to milk goats and bake bread,
And you ain’t got it in you to run off with some Norski.

But now I come home and the hearth fire is out.
There’s a note on the door so there ain’t no doubt
She’s left me for good and run off with a Norski.
My Pa don’t seem to care and neither does Gramp,
They say, “We told you not to marry that Norwegian tramp!”
“You should have known someday she’d run off with a Norski.”

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More essays and stories about life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays, available through Amazon.com at  Jerry Johnson Author Page

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January morning walk

Clear blue sky, but the thermometer read 5 degrees and a raw 10 mile-per-hour wind was blowing. We went for a January morning walk anyway. The bite of an Arctic wind on face and hands is our admission fee to witness the beauty of the North Country in winter.


 

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Siren Song of the Southwest

AN ARCTIC WIND carried the first snowstorm of January across the North Country this week, the temperature dropped to six below zero, and our long, steep driveway is a bobsled run of packed snow and ice. Last night, listening to the shriek of the bitter wind in the eaves, I could hear three Sirens sing to me – a lilting, melodious, enticing song: “Come to us, be with us, stay with us…”

They promised me an escape from harsh winter to gentle lands of warmth, excitement, splendor, comfort, and pleasure. They whispered to me their names: Arizona, Utah, Nevada.

Photo image from the website emaze, https://app.emaze.com

In Greek mythology, the Sirens are beautiful but dangerous sea creatures that play enchanting music and sing sensuous songs to lure sailors to shipwreck and death on the rocky coasts of their islands. Artworks from the classical age of the Greco-Roman world depict Sirens as seductive creatures, half woman and half bird, whose exquisite faces and bodies add to their alluring voices and beguiling music to make them irresistible.

Once a Siren song reaches your ear, you are doomed.

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There’s a point (of impact) to all this

Certain that the old Lefever 16 gauge must be shooting low (I missed two shot at pheasants one cold December morning) I spent this overcast January afternoon doing a point-of-impact test to prove the inaccurate shooting was the fault of the gun, not I. The patterning sheets did not vindicate me, however.

My most trusted and most used double gun, a Browning BSS Sporter in 20 gauge, has been reliable this fall, taking most of the roosters Abbey has found and pointed. So it was the “baseline” gun for yesterday’s pattern test. If I could determine where it was placing its charge of shot on a pattern sheet, I could compare that result with the point-of-impact pattern of the Lefever and then adjust the Lefever’s stock dimensions to correct its errant ways.

I hung two pattern sheets on the side of the old corn crib foundation, one for the test of the BSS and one for the test of the Lefever. I backed off about 20 yards, slightly downhill, and using the same step-mount-fire sequence I would use to shoot at a flushing pheasant I fired three rounds from the right barrel of each gun at the center dot of its designated pattern sheet.

The truth was immediately apparent, but I took the pattern sheets into the workshop where I could use a felt tip marker to outline the respective patterns to confirm what I already knew – and eat humble pie. The 20-gauge BSS and the 16-gauge Lefever throw virtually identical patterns to virtually the same point of impact.

Yes, at 20 yards the 16-gauge gun’s pattern measures about 26 inches compared to the 20-gauge gun’s 24-inch pattern. And the center of the Lefever’s pattern is about two inches lower than the center of the BSS’s pattern. But both of those differences are insignificant when shooting at birds in the field.

This was discomfiting because:

1) I now know that any bird I miss when shooting the Lefever will be my own fault;

2) since the Lefever does not require any corrective work I do not have a “project gun” to tinker with this winter.

Maybe I’ll travel south in February and spend some time on sporting clays ranges. That’s probably the “corrective work” my bird shooting needs.

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More essays and stories about bird dogs, bird hunting, bird guns, and life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays, available through Amazon.com at  Jerry Johnson Author Page

 

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