Swimming Is Silenced

 

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I live about a half mile from the Sellwood Outdoor Pool. It’s a public swimming pool located in Portland, Oregon’s Sellwood Park that is loved almost to death by its patrons.

During a normal summer, it would be filled to capacity with screaming kids and their parents, many who are lower income, as public pools remain one of the most affordable ways to entertain kids and keep them healthy in Portland and most U.S. cities.

On a typical summer night, I used to pass by the pool and hear the kids’ yells, screams, shouts, and general pool noises kids make when they were being themselves in water. But not this summer.

The City of Portland, like nearly all major cities in the country, shuttered its public pools in the spring to prevent congregant spreading of COVID-19. This decision makes public health and human health sense. From the perspective of physical, social, and mental health, it represents a cruel outcome of the mismanaged national response that leads all the way to the situation room with President Donald Trump as the one who helped make our country’s pandemic the most lethal and worst managed in the world.

We are heading into Labor Day Weekend now. In normal times, the pool would still be open in the evenings and all weekend, particularly with temperatures predicted to be hotter than 90 Fahrenheit through Labor Day. The kids will have to find something else to do this year, and they will lose the chance to be kids and learn how to swim.

Closed pools and closed schools are taking on an air of dystopian reality, which we have seen created in unnerving films like Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 thriller Children of Men, where a strange disease had rendered humanity sterile, leading to all schools being shuttered because they no longer served any purpose. Oddly that film’s tension, pitting radical leftists fighting a right wing autocracy, seem to have predicted the spectacle in Portland. The people in the film even resemble the protesters here and the police forces that have engaged them in Portland for more than three months.

I am not fully confident we will be out of this pandemic by next summer. Even with the optimistic timelines given by the United States’ more credible infectious disease experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, returning to normal is no guarantee by next summer. Right now I do not believe the pool will open next summer.

For me, the posted sign by Portland Parks and Recreation is another naïve promise that we will get back to normal, when everything going on now is entirely abnormal. The professed optimism almost seems insulting with the silence.

A poem and photo about marriage and Alzheimer’s disease

This week marks the six-month anniversary of my mother’s death from Alzheimer’s disease.

I can hardly believe how quickly time has passed, amid the blur of a global pandemic and President Donald Trump’s ongoing catastrophic administration that seems to poison everything around it.

Still, our own lives go on, and each of us marks the passage of time in our own way.

My stepfather shared a poem he had written this week, marking another marker of time. On the occasion of the 38th anniversary of his marriage to my mom, back in August 1983, in University City, Missouri, he sent out his poem to some family members and others about his life as my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease caregiver.

I felt a huge lump in my throat reading this. Those seven years when my mom progressed from mild to severe conditions were unbelievably hard. He did everything in his power to ensure my mom stayed home and was loved. I have no words to describe my gratitude, even when some days it felt strained. He did all of the hard work. I can never repay him.

He gave me permission to share the poem online. I’m doing that today. I guess my mom is still on my mind. I am still missing her. This will take more time.

She Never Complains    

Years go by, years, not months.
It’s true that she becomes a child,
A little one, unable to care

For herself. If you love her,
Care for her, she will love you
In return, hold to you as her

Only one. You are. She knows
Her friends no longer call
Or visit. She will do anything,

Say anything she thinks will
Keep you from deserting her,
Though she knows a day is coming

When you must, can no longer
Care for her, and there is
Absolutely nothing you can do.

Years pass. Years. You become
Accustomed to her gradual
Decline, forget there is an end,

One day notice she no longer
Watches television, wants her
Daily walks, would rather sleep.

One day you realize she is blind,
Almost deaf, and your life
Together has neared its end.

You know. She knows, never
Complains. Soon you must live
Alone. She understands.

Summer Daisies

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Sometimes timing is everything. As a beautiful July 4 evening was winding down, i wandered around the campus of Reed College (on of my alma maters), and found this beautiful floral scene. Even with my mediocre camera phone, the blooming daisies captured the joy and beauty of nature at its eye-popping best.

Welcome, summer!

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This series comes from one of my many summer adventures in Alaska with some very tough and fun women. It also seems like a fitting way to welcome summer.

We did an adventure in the Chugach Mountains, in Chugach State Park outside of Anchorage. Though we knew where we were on the map, we couldn’t our way once the clouds and rain hit us as we climbed over a pass. It was fun, with some moments to pause because of the steep terrain and cliff drops.

Back in the day, 10 or more years ago and before my mom developed Alzheimer’s disease and later passed away, I used to live more adventurously.

These days I no longer head to the high altitudes. One day I simply stopped going.

I still miss being with people who didn’t complain about: being lost, being wet, being cold, and having expeditions go awry.

Half the point of having an adventure (in the wild, in a job, with someone you love, or working to change things) is to get lost and maintain your calm when things don’t go as planned. However, if you are in the wild, be sure you do that with the right people, like my two friends.

Please, go out, do something that makes you very uncomfortable, and don’t worry if things don’t go as planned.

 

 

Group portraits in black and white

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It has been years since I have been in a black and white darkroom, using chemistry to develop film and prints. I miss the intensity and joy of that process and the work that is needed to take lasting black and white photo portraits.

This week I was digging through my boxes of old prints and found a couple that I gave to a friend, who is featured in one of these two group shots. One is of his extended family who I have known for decades now. The second is of my friend in Vietnam, with his public health colleagues in Hanoi.

The warmth I find in a black and white group portrait, taken on film, can’t be replaced by digital. Digital may provide a level of sharpness and clarity, and simplicity. It still lacks the feeling I always experienced seeing my prints slowly emerge in the developer bath under the safe light of a darkroom, reeking of chemicals.. More than 15 years after I took these shots, I still feel that emotion.

The joy of fellowship

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Today, I learned of the death of an old friend, Carter, who I had the great pleasure of getting to work with for a year in Seattle for an employer in the early 2000s. He was one of the people who made that short chapter of my life there meaningful.

He died from Alzheimer’s disease, which is a horrible illness. I did not have a chance to say goodbye.

However, his passing also served as an important reminder to me that the essence of life is indeed death. Death gives life meaning. It is the universal characteristic of all living things. It provides purpose and shape. It should not be feared. We all are touched by it and we all lose ones who we love (something we are thinking of now with COVID-19).

I will remember Carter with fondness. I will recall the times we spent in conversations about his son, his wife, and his many experiences, such as serving in the Peace Corps in the Caribbean after he was trained as an architect.

I took these shots on the porch of my home in Seattle in 2003, where I was joined by a wonderful group of people. One was born in Sweden, another in Iraq. We ate salmon, laughed, drank wine and beer, enjoyed a summer night, and savored what it means to be alive in fellowship.

Mid-April snapshot of COVID-19 shopper behavior in Portland, Oregon

We are now nearly two months into my photodocumentary project on the impacts of COVID-19 on ordinary people. I am doing this by taking snapshots on a weekly basis at one location, my Fred Meyer outlet located on SW Barbur Boulevard in southwest Portland.

Each week I visit aisles where high-value commodities that have taken on almost supernatural powers or larger-than-life powers are kept. The prevalence of those supplies give me what I’m calling my COVID-19 Portland shopper sentiment index.

The goods I have focussed on include: dry beans and rice, canned goods (specifically beans), pasta, cleaning goods (such as sanitary wipes and bleach), and toilet paper and paper towels.

I took these shots at the Fred Meyer, where I also saw that customer adoption of voluntary cloth mask wearing still held at about 35 percent of shoppers, the same as the week earlier.

Here’ is my breakdown for April 17, 2020:

  • Toilet Paper: high anxiety (worsen)
  • Dry Beans/Rice: medium anxiety (same, bulk containers were mostly empty, shelves 1/3rd full)
  • Cleaning Goods: high anxiety for sanitizers, medium for other supplies (same)
  • Canned Beans: low anxiety (same)

Portland’s COVID-19 uncertainty appears to have calmed, sightly

I did my normal check of public sentiment this week by checking out what products were available at stores in my area in Portland, Oregon. I also wanted to check if the stores had implemented systems changes to encourage social distancing of six feet to protect essential workers (the employees who help ensure we are fed with food on the shelves) and the public.

To my surprise, I found that three businesses had indeed put measures into place: Grand Central Bakery (in Multnomah Village in Portland), New Seasons grocery store (in Sellwood in Portland), and Fred Meyer (in Southwest Portland). I visited Grand Central and Fred Meyer a day after the CDC issued new guidelines on April 3, after much delay, recommending people wear a cloth mask in public settings like stores, to prevent aerosol dispersion of the novel coronavirus and reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly from asymptomatic persons. (See this study how infectious patient bioaeresols are dispersed and their risks.)

Cloth mask use was not widespread at stores I saw today (April 4). At Fred Meyer, I found toilet paper, rice, and beans on the shelves. Hand sanitizer is still no where to be found. Hoarding behavior appears to have subsided a bit, given the trends I’ve been documenting with my cell phone while shopping the last five weeks.

My weekly pulse of public mood focuses on shopping behavior of goods like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, rice, and dry beans. I was able to buy split peas and rice at Fred Meyer and lentils and split peas at New Seasons midweek.

Telling the COVID-19 story through visits to my local Fred Meyer

Like millions of Americans who have confronted the nation’s crisis in the face of the global pandemic and threat of COVID-19, I have responded to the new normal by trying to prepare for uncertainty.

Collectively, the behaviors of all of us reveal a lot about how we perceive the threat of the novel coronavirus to our health, our communities, and the economy. One fact I have gleaned is that many people believe the crisis is real and that it will be with us for a long time. I know this because the humble bean and legume have become one of the scarcest items in Portland, Oregon, my home. That tells me that average people want a hedge that will have value for many weeks to come. This is the perfect insurance policy to address this perceived fear.

In Portland, I have been documenting this hive mentality by taking pictures every week (since February 29) at my local Fred Meyer grocery story, on SW Barbur Boulevard, in southwest Portland. I observed several changes described this way through Facebook posts I shared.

March 14 Message:
Week three photo update on Portland shopper behavior in response to COVID-19. Panic level has bumped up again. Staples were cleaned out today: rice, beans, canned foods, pasta, flour, cleaning supplies, sanitizers, TP, paper towels. To me that says my community expects prolonged uncertainty. Seriously dry beans are never cleared out, ever!

March 20 Message:
The new underground economy is already evolving. [Beans] will be one of the new forms of barter, IF, and that’s a big IF, you can find them anywhere in Portland. I give you the humble pinto bean (an old friend who I can no longer find).

March 21 Message:
Like many fellow Portlanders, I have embraced the new reality. For me, the humble legume, the beautiful bean and lentil, is the new power symbol of our uncertain times. I find that reassuring that this often-maligned peasant food eaten by hundreds of millions the world over, because they can’t afford other food, is now the holy grail of worried Americans. I’ve always eaten beans–sometimes 7 days in a row. They are soul food. Today, I still couldn’t find any dry beans. So I bought some canned beans. Comfort food indeed. They do provide this small assurance that somehow we need little and we will get through hard times.

Take a good look and describe what you see

Faces are amazing tapestries on which we paint our reality for the world to see.

Yes, many wear masks. Some are so clever, they can deceive others and eventually themselves, and their faces become a testament to their character of falsehoods and lies.

Fortunately for most of us, we show a lot about our life, our struggles, our joys, and our character in the tableaux we show to others.

I have been taking portraits for decades, always looking at the face as my window to the soul of others.

On occasion I take selfies to look at myself and my world at the moment I click the shutter.

I took these shots over a three-week period. During that time, I visited my mom, who was ending her seven-year journey battling Alzheimer’s.

I came to be with her and say goodbye to her in late January 2020. That visit was impossibly hard, and my look captured my sentiments being with her at her extended care facility, when I knew the end was not far away. That is shot No. 1.

The second picture is a selfie I took at the St. Louis Art Museum, a place we came for decades, even as she was slowly succumbing to this horrible disease. We still could find joy and beauty in this great palace of art. Picture No. 2 is from a place we stood many times together the same day of my mom’s funeral in mid-February 2020.

The last picture, three days after the funeral shows me after my trip to St. Louis was ending. I was sitting in a daze on the Portland MAX train, completing a ritual I had done for seven years, going to visit my sick mom and then coming back, not knowing how many more trips I would have to take. This time felt totally different. I felt the weight of my mom’s passing and a sense of both relief and sadness realizing this long chapter had come to an end with the only way that it could.