Dark Four In Cascadia

Daily notes from a plague winter

December 12th

Sunny today! At the market I'm buying greens, I'm buying potatoes, I'm buying lamb.

"How's it going," I say to Lamb Guy, "you hanging in there?"

"We're hanging in there."

"Restaurant business coming back at all, with the dining outside happening?"

"No," he says, "not really. It's tragic. We had such a good dining scene here in Portland."

"It'll come back," I say, putting my shanks and my neck slices and my ground lamb in my back, "it's be back. Eventually."

"Eventually" he agrees.

December 11th

Held back a riot today. I'd ordered takeout from this modern Thai place. When I got there, the line was a dozen deep. A line for a table out on the patio? No, it was a line to pickup. And even though all the orders were ready, you still had to lineup, and if (when) the person at the head of the line's meal wasn't ready? The whole thing was a giant bottleneck...

And anger. The guys - and it was all guys, half of them picking up like me, half of them driving Door Dash - they were pissed. I felt like I was holding back the city. They were ready to riot. We were ready to riot.

Somehow it chilled out. A few wise words. Ice, on the fire.

We've reached the anger portion of the pandemic.

December 10th

Back to peaches and cream today. Hacking away, poking away, nudging at things, looking askew at other things. A good lunch, a walk to Coava for a shot of decaf. After my shot, a long walk through the city, listening to a podcast. Cold, grey, but not that bad, after all.

December 9th

I was heading out to pickup Hat Yai fried chicken. Stopped to talk to my neighbor. He's pretty paranoid... acts like if we're inside of 20 feet apart, we're going to give each other Covid. So nervous.

Then I'm driving down Hawthorne. Stopped at the light next to the food courts. I look over. Packed! And at community tables even, people who don't know each other. With no masks on!

Walking from my car to get the food. When I moved to Portland this was a great place at night to run into Scary Dudes. A decade later, for a while it had gotten so placid down here, I never worried, even stumbling around far after midnight. Now? 5:30PM and there's some scary dudes walking around. They don't have masks on, either.

2020. The year we're all wrong, and we're all right, too.

December 8th

Cloud-mottled skies this morning, low liers and streaks and spots layered between Portland and blue skies. 9AM and still Golden Hourish. Literal gold all over the southwestern sky, from Mount Hood the ice mountain - which is now visible through naked trees - all the way to the sun which is, in its way, way down there. 37 degrees, and I shiver my way around the whole block.

December 7th

I have a week between jobs, and today is the only this week it's not supposed to rain. So I went for a hike.

There's a trail where they've setup a 1-way loop. Fantastic... in theory, you ought to be able to hike without seeing another human being - unless you happen to be moving very quickly or very slowly.

I was out on this trail for nearly an hour when I turned and nearly ran smack into a guy coming the other way.

I stepped off the trail to give him some room to pass.

"You're supposed to be wearing a mask!" he complained.

"It's supposed to be a one way trail," I said.

"Oh, I don't go by that."

The United States, and maybe the world, in 2020. Both of us are right, both of us are wrong, and most importantly we go on disappointing each other with unmatched expectations.

December 6th

Seeing a friend. A chance encounter. We stand awkwardly apart and yak. We're in a wine shop so the yap is about wine. I know my wines. Eventually I get tired of the charade and reach over to clap him on the shoulder. It feels ridiculously good to touch someone. We pick wines, bump fists, go out separate ways. A rare win. 2020.

December 5th

Oysters. Tiny Olympias from Pickering Pass. There's oysters and then there's winter oysters when they're at their best, tiny and clean and firm and concentrated, melony, briney, beyond words like delicious. They make it like the universe is on its side and I'm the only one standing, on the deck, in the winter sun. And then to wash that down with a tight, nervy, energetic Chardonnay... oh man.

December 4th

Sun today, so, I went up to the Arboretum and hiked. Beautiful out on the trails, with the fresh smells from the cedars and firs. Every few minutes I'd pass another hiking group. A quick flip of the mask, step aside on the trail and let the group pass. Smiles happen with eyes, and hellos still feel like an alien encounter after nine months of 2020ing.

December 3rd

Quitting my job. Last full day today. Fully involved in the life of the laptop. Seeing people for the last time, saying goodbye. Not in the meatspace. Through the laptop. Some of us teared up. I burned to hug. We said goodbye, through the laptop.

December 2nd

4:06 in the afternoon and the sun just went down behind the church across the street. Dark Four in the Pacific Northwest.

December 1st

“I have known days like that, of warm winds drowsing in the heat

of noon and all of summer spinning slowly on its reel,

days briefly lived, that leave long music in the mind

more sweet than truth: I play them and rewind.”

Russell Hoban, Summer Recorded

November 30th

Rain is back this morning. Grey day full of low clouds and a chill wind. This weekend we started talking about snow birding. A February trip. Phoenix, Tucson, or maybe Las Cruces. Something away from the grey, somewhere with a pool where I can swim, somewhere the sun can start doing its magic a few weeks earlier than usual.

Weighing this against the dangers. The only thing worse than getting sick would be getting sick while 19 hours from home by car. The only thing worse than being cozy and miserable at home could be being miserable and not ourselves somewhere else.

Sun came out for 20 minutes this afternoon. Then there was a hail storm.

November 29th

Out on the deck with the laptop. Sun filtering through the skeleton of the Black Walnut. An east wind blowing the Gum leaves in. Beautiful early winter-ish sun, and I'd like to stay out here as long as I can typing and lounging in it. Sun so low. Look at it down there, hugging that horizon. 1:15 and it's already headed down. 1:30 and it's definitely lower. I'd like to go in for a nap, and, if I do that, it might just be dark when I wake up.

November 28th

"Are you in line?" I finally ask, because the line moved and she didn't, and it's past the reasonable amount of time you give someone, and then the line moved again, and I can feel the other farmer's market shoppers behind me starting to get anxious.

"Yes! I'm distancing. In fact I'm giving a lot of distance, because it's what we all should be doing, it's so wrong that people think six feet is enough, when what I've read there's a lot of transmission that can happen if you're not at a much further distance, in fact there's just no way we can..."

She goes on, and I'm not really listening anymore, I'm feeling. Feeling like we need a global virtual hug network. Knowing the hardest thing is to be compassionate, and also not to enable, and also not to let anyone else's rants into my head, because they have a right to express them but not to impose on me.

A gentle nod and an awkward laugh sometimes is the best I can muster in these times. That, and to record it. This is the way it was. Two days after Thanksgiving, 2020.

November 27th

The rare sunny day. I eat lunch on the deck. Short sleeves. A walk to the roses after lunch. Ten thousand steps are easy on a day like this. We talk about plans for later in the Four. February in the Southwest sounds amazing. Tucson, or maybe Las Cruces.

November 26th


Yesterday I went for coffee. Every two weeks I buy beans and get a shot of decaf. The baristas all know me from 'normal times', and now they know my new order and start pulling a shot of decaf when I walk in the door. I recognize the new barista who used to work at my other coffee shop. Back in normal times. She's 6'1 with red hair, as unmistakable as me on my first trip to China. We laugh with our eyes and shout unintelligibly through our masks at each other. I take my shot outside, sit on the bench, look at the dwarf ginkgo tree. Two leaves are still hanging on.

After the coffee, I walk down to the produce market, and forget what a pomegranate looks like. The clerk laughs at me with her eyes and agrees. You don't spend any time thinking, what does the outside of a pomegranate look like?

Thanksgiving. Grey skies, 40 degrees, a frigid wind, a persistent drizzle. 

November 25th

When the rains do clear, and you go out on the deck on a grey, greasy-skied afternoon, you hear the chewing. Squirrels up in the walnuts, gnawing on their nuts.

November 24th

Late November and turning up 12th from Hawthorne all the green is gone from the maples. Stripped out skeletons with yellow leaves blowing around, dancing on the sidewalks and between cars and around the coffee shop. Just skeletons and yellow in the grey, windblown afternoon

November 23rd

Monday morning. Dark in the office, so I have my light on. Dark in the living room, so I have all the lights on. Yesterday we tore out the last of the tomatoes and put the remains of the basil plants in the compost. Today it's back to work. In the dark. Another cup of coffee, another light turned on.

November 22nd

Every year I make wine. Buy the grapes, crush the grapes, ferment the grapes, press the grapes. Carry the wine through its phases, its maloactic fermentation, it time on oak. Today it was the first good racking off the gross lees. Into a carboy and continuing its journey. From vine to bottle to table.

November 21st

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” - Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

November 20th

  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • Mask
  • Kleenex
  • Phone

Not just a list of things to bring with when leaving the house. This has become the regular pat-down. Do I have all the things. The daemon. Wallet, keys, mask, kleenex, phone.

November 19th

That raccoon is back. Every winter he takes over the squirrel nest and lays up there on sunny days. This morning it was clear, cold, calm, and there her was. That raccoon. His tail sticking up, wiggling around up there in the squirrel nest.

November 18th

A steady, heavy rain this evening. Showers continuing overnight. Low 41F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall may reach one inch or more.

November 17th

Sun today! For an hour I sat on the deck and soaked it in. Jacket and scarf against the wind. The thin sun filtering through the skeletal branches of the Black Walnut. For an hour I sat on the deck, and soaked it in.

Then the rain came back.

November 16th

Jim Harrison said "The world was a dangerous place. I bore down on my art as if I was digging fence posts."

It's Monday, grey day, and I get into my work that way. The world is dangerous, with Covid case counts gone parabolic. Making software is my art. I bear down into it. Like digging fence posts.

November 15th

Case counts have reached another high. In Oregon, in the US, in the World. It's the third wave, here just in time for the Northern Hemisphere winter. We discuss making changes. Check our emergency stash. Talk through scenarios. If one of us gets it, the other will get it for sure. What it'll be like to both be sick at the same time. Preparedness, not panic. A close friend had it two months ago. He's over it for the most part but still feeling weak. I tell the story again of the time I had mono. Took me most of a year to fully recover, to feel a hundred percent like me again.

Sunny this morning. Clear skies, after three days rain.

This is going to be a hard winter.

November 14th

A Dark Four Saturday:

  • Up by Eight. Coffee and yogurt by candlelight, grey dawn outside, drizzling rather than raining which is an improvement.
  • Farmers Market haul: Brussels sprouts, chicories, squash, potatoes, apples, pears, chanterelle mushrooms, a duck breast. Raining again, the farmers huddled under their canopies, we're in rain gear with waterproof bags.
  • Trout eggs and gulf shrimp from the fishmonger, a pork picnic from the butcher
  • Lunch! Shrimp and mushroom sopes. Cheese. Coffee (decaf).
  • Nap.
  • Wake up to the day already starting to fade. Chores to do: Clear the walnut leaves (juglone, an herbicide) from the herb pots. Carry the basil and lettuce pots downstairs and dump them. Scrape mold from the grill. Dripping, dropping, drizzly afternoon. Slipping on leaves going down the stairs.
  • 7-minute workout in the living room. Jumping jacks, pushups and planks.
  • Time to cook. Dinner: Sous-vide duck breast, Brussels sprouts, mac and cheese. Cheese. Apple crisp. We eat slow, sharing a bottle of Pinot Noir, watching and listening to the next storm coming in. The rain caught by the glow of the streetlights.
  • After-dinner movie. James Bond. The Connery years. Heaters click on as the house takes on its nighttime chill. Wind rattling the picture window.
  • In bed by 10:30.

November 13th

Every year I look forward to the Japanese Maple turning red. And every year, around November 19th, the leaves are all red and the view from my office window is crimson.

The storm woke us up last night. Cold rain and hard wind. One of our winter season storms, spun down from Alaska. Rain poured down the siding and the wind banged things around down in the yard.

In the morning the Japanese Maple was all over the front porch. Yellow and orange leaves that never got to turn. The upper boughs of the tree were are stripped out and skeletal in their winter mode already. I'll have to wait a whole 'nother year to see the tree in red.

One more thing 2020 took away.

November 12th

I walk the loop every morning, after coffee and before standup. The loop is to the hundred year old Cedar and back. Four blocks down, cut through the Episcopal church parking lot, stand under that big Cedar and look up, stare, wonder, awe. Then four blocks home.

In mid-summer I would see a dozen people out at 8AM, even during this plague year. Walking dogs, mowing lawns, having coffee, talking in the parking lot under the Cedar.

This morning I didn't see another human being. Just me, quiet houses, the Episcopal church, a minor congress of ravens, a low fog draping the upper boughs of the Cedar.

November 11th

Walnut leaves blanket the deck, yellow with their black spots. A thin sun filters through the clouds as I finish my afternoon decaf.

"Didn't you just sweep?" she asks.

"I just swept" I answer, getting up to get the broom.

November 10th

Fog dawn turns into a grey afternoon. Sipping green tea on the deck after lunch. Leaves falling like snow from this massive Black Walnut we live under. Falling, falling, hitting me in the head, almost landing in my teacup. I stop to write this and here come four more, landing on my feet.

November 9th

Feeling better today.

Turns out it was only a cold.

Back to work, it's Monday.

November 8th

Another day with this cold. It's a little better, or maybe it's worse. Depends on if you're measuring sniffles or headache. If it's worse in the morning I'll go in for a test. I don't like doctors' offices because that's where all the sick people are. At least that's what dear old Dad used to say. Dear old Dad didn't live to be that old though. Maybe it's because he was afraid of hospitals. Anyway if I feel worse tomorrow then I'll go in for a test. I feel well enough to make braised oxtails for dinner. And at least we have a President.

November 7th

Had the sniffles all week. Today's the first day I feel bad enough to stay in bed. Low grade headache and high grade blahs. Maybe I've felt this bad all week and I just didn't want to admit it. Either way, it's Saturday, and I'm not getting a thing done but college football watching. And moaning.

November 6th

I needed my ring light this afternoon. A three o'clock meeting and there I am on the screen looking like a phantom hidden in the gloaming. Am I here? Am I not? So I flipped on the light. Now I'm glowing.

November 5th

A stroll around the neighborhood. Yellows, oranges and reds. Late dawns, grey noons, early evenings. Saving grace: In six weeks it turns around and we start moving towards the light side of the year again. In six more it's all over: The Dark Four.

November 4th

Back in Portland. The walnut tree, stripping out. Yellow leaves spraying all over the neighborhood makes us laugh.

November 3rd

Standing before dawn on the deck of my uncle's Gig Harbor condo. Breathing in the clean sea air. The first rays of the sun over the Cascades are like flipping on an electric lightbulb. The lights were off and now they're on, on this November 3rd, the third day of the Dark Four in Cascadia.

November 2nd

Storming north at 80 MPH. North towards Seattle. North towards Canada eventually, where we're no longer allowed to go, even if we promise not to stop all the way to Alaska. Every dozen miles or so I notice how the trees have gotten a little yellower, a little redder, a little browner. A little less green.

November 1st

Last beer of the year on the patio at Apex. Sunshine and beer drunk in gulps, and how the two go together. We smile a lot, and hold hands the whole way home.