Thursday, September 17, 2020

Fresh Air


After 28 straight days of bad, unhealthy air we finally got a breather! The air quality had been so bad here on the West Coast, a by-product of all the wildfires that are burning in California, Oregon and Washington. At the beginning our air became poor when we had two big wildfires here in our county, started by dry lightning. But then those wildfires became more and bigger, and not all of them were the result of natural causes but unfortunately were started by the carelessness of some people. Who needs gender reveal parties and why? 

When we said goodbye to Kaefer on Tuesday of last week and went back home, the Golden Gate Bridge looked like this:

We are used to see this bridge in fog often, but this is soemthing we had never seen before. If you think this looks unhealthy you are very right.

But the following day was much much worse.

I took this photo at 8:25 in the morning. The greyish-orange hue never disappeared throughout the entire day and it never got light. It was a foggy day with a thick blanket of smoke on top of it that prevented the sun to break through. It felt rather apocalyptic. We stayed inside with doors and windows firmly shut. I had never experienced something like this in all my life. It looked like the end of the world was near.

We took to our N95 masks again - it seems to be an annual recurrence. The news about the fires were horrific. Entire towns in Oregon burned down. My good friend Jo who moved to Portland, OR a few years ago said that the air was terrible (I think their air quality index was over 500). 

But then after 28 days of staying inside and only going outside when we really needed to the wind changed, the sky showed a faint hue of blue and the air improved by the minute. On Tuesday afternoon there was no way I would stay in the house. I grabbed my knitting and sat outside under the privet tree, sipping my iced coffee. The birds in the tree were singing like there was no tomorrow - I guess they were just happy about the fresh air as well.

Yesterday I moved my office outside (i.e. my laptop) and prepared my German lessons in my garden under the watchful eyes of Otis, one of the neighborhood cats who like to hang out in my garden. I was surprised how much I got actually done - I had thought that I would be too distracted, but I wasn't. I got my entire lesson plan done and created some worksheets that my students will get as their homework.

And today - I went to the lake. For the first time since the beginning of the shelter-in-place in March.

It felt so good! I was a bit hesitant because I thought that too many people would be there since it is a very popular spot. Yes, it was crowded, but I usually don't walk along the popular paths anyway and prefer the smaller nature trails that weren't crowded at all. I watched a Green Heron for some time who didn't feel threatened by my presence at all. I visited one of my favorite places, looking for cairns and when I didn't see any I built one. For a while I sat on a bench writing in my journal. And I simply enjoyed breathing fresh air and enjoying nature around me.

This is supposed to be only a short breather. Over the weekend the air is going to be poor again. But for the time being I am thankful for the on-shore winds that brought us the great gift of fresh air.

Never will I take clean air for granted.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Away She Goes


Last Tuesday Kaefer started the next chapter in her life. She boarded a Lufthansa flight to Munich where she will pursue her Masters in epidemiology. 

After she had graduated from UC Davis in June she stayed the summer with us, which was a big gift since we had so much time to spend with her before she left for her next adventure. During those months she tried to sell a lot of her things, was looking for a flat in Munich online (and found one), applied for a student job at her faculty (and got it) and also did a lot of fun stuff like playing cards and Rummikub. She and I went to the beach and hiked in our regional parks and tried to make the most of these restricted Corona-times. I'm so glad that we have all these beautiful memories.

On Tuesday afternoon, after a last round of Rummikub, we put her luggage in the car and drove her down to San Francisco Airport. It was the first of the eerie days (but by far not the worst) when the fog and smoke were hanging low and the day presented itself in a mustard-yellow hue - not particularly appealing. Kaefer was very quiet during the drive, looking around and admitting that it felt a bit odd to see all these familiar sights for the last time.

The international terminal in San Francisco was eerily empty and when I asked I was told that there were 193 seats left open in the plane that Kaefer would soon board. I was quite relieved to know that the flight wasn't full, and indeed no one sat next to Kaefer and she had the row to herself.

One restaurant in the food court was open, so we had some dinner and took the last family photos afterwards.

Then it was time to say goodbye. It was hard and my heart was heavy. At the same time I am so excited for her - that she got into this program (they only accept 30-40 students worldwide), that she got the job and that she has the opportunity to live, work and study in another country - her native country.

She arrived safely in Munich, got tested within 10 minutes after departing the plane, took public transportation to Marienplatz where she met the cousin of a friend of ours who had the key to her flat (and had bought some groceries for her to survive the first few days of quarantine until she receives the result of the test) and then made her way to her flat which she said is cute (and tiny). Today we will Zoom with each other - I do look forward to that.


Thursday, September 3, 2020

Hot August


August was the hottest month we have had so far this year - and also the smokiest. There have been so many wildfires burning all over California, most of them caused by dry lightning, that the air quality became extremely poor in most of the state - and many parts of the country since the fires in California haven't been the only ones. Half of the month we stayed inside with the windows and doors shut because it was too unhealthy to venture outside. Two of the fires are burning in our county and we had many evacuations orders which were all reduced to warnings (which means be ready to evacuate any time). The fires are close to the Russian River which is an important water source for us, and in order to keep enough pressure for the firefighters to battle that fire we were all asked to conserve water as much as we can. I stopped watering my garden (except for the veggies) and once again felt relieved that I had the foresight to plant a drought tolerant garden. So far I haven't lost a single plant, and two nights ago we even had a little rain. The past few days have been foggy with much better air yesterday. However, the weekend ahead is supposed to bring another heat wave with temperatures up to 106F - I hope the garden can take it.

I missed spending time in the garden. I was lucky to get in some hikes in our beautiful Regional Parks, some of them with Kaefer. We went early in the morning to avoid the midday heat and enjoyed nature, saw wildlife and had some good conversations while hiking the trails. She is leaving in less than a week, my heart is heavy, but I also know that I will be okay after a few days when I know that she has arrived safely, has moved into her flat and hopefully doesn't have to quarantine too long. She will be tested at the airport and the result will be back within 48 hours, so hopefully she can go outside after two days.

Work at the high school started the first week of August. It has been rather quiet in the beginning and I could finish some of the things that haven't been done since March when the schools closed down. The school year started on August 17th and of course it's all distance learning. It is very strange to be back on campus without any students being there. This week we're distributing textbooks which is a huge undertaking (we will be done tomorrow evening) for almost 1600 students. Even though I felt bone tired every evening, it was so nice to see the students again. Sure, we were all wearing masks, my colleague and I were working behind Plexiglas, but nevertheless, there suddenly was life on the campus. I hadn't expected that I would enjoy these five days so much.

In order to stay sane I knitted a lot - several hats and socks and I also finally finished the sweater for Kaefer that took forever to knit up (mainly because I had to unravel parts of it again). I was quite busy with my Etsy shop selling socks and photo cards which, of course, was very welcome, too. The positive and the negative pretty much balanced out this month.