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One week in lockdown makes a tired man humble

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Last Modified: 2-4-2020 12:30

Today, Wednesday, April the first, 2020, is the first time I have been outside the confines of the 1,100 square metres I call home in over a week.

I know local exercise is permitted, which is why I've taken the opportunity to get out today, but one of the ironic consequences of the lock down is that I've been incredibly busy with work. I work as a programmer, and suddenly clients need staff to be able to work from home, and performance issues with software that never showed up before when everyone was working in the office start to show up, and performance improvements that previously weren't worth investing time and money to implement are now critical to maintain productivity.

I've been feeling weary as a result of work, and after about five days since I'd had any contact with anyone outside my household, I come down with a sore neck, itchy eyes, and a sinus headache. Of course any respiratory ailment immediately makes you wonder if you have THE coronavirus, but then I consider the consequences of going somewhere where people with the real deal are getting tested if I'm only infected with some regular garden variety cousin of the coronavirus or the incredibly common rhinovirus family. I also think about a potential half hour wait on the phone to health line, when I'm not feeling particularly unwell or having contact with anyone outside my home. I wish there were some kind of online reporting tool for non-urgent cases where you can report symptoms and have someone get back to you. I decide I'm not feeling particularly unwell, so staying put would be the best option regardless of what I have. My symptoms certainly don't match those reported as typical for Covid-19. I wonder how much transmission of common colds is being avoided as a result of the lock down.

Within a day, I'm already feeling much better, and today, with the grey weather of the last few days gone, I've been desperate to get outside in the sunshine and stretch my legs. I pack a small backpack with a couple of camera lenses, including my largest, a 150 – 500mm monster that would probably get me shot in the USA because fully extended it looks like a bazooka. It's certainly not my sharpest lens, but ideal to maintain social distancing, as it can't focus closer than about two metres. I head for the Wither Hills, which are my usual preference for when I'm wanting a bit of personal space. I've been missing them since drought closed the walking tracks, but there have been a few days with reasonable rain, and I won't be going too far today anyway.

The streets of Blenheim are eerily silent for 5pm on a weekday as I walk up Redwood Street to Wither Road to take the Sutherland Stream track up to the Wither Hills. The loudest noise is the sound of crickets serenading each other, and the shrill cry of a lonely plover. There is a smell of autumn in the air. Winter is coming.

As I walk up the path, passing a couple of other walkers coming in the other direction at a healthy distance, I spot something flittering around amongst the dry vegetation on the ground. I spot a small moth, slowed by the cooler autumn temperature, so that it sits still long enough for me to capture a photo. I don't have time to put my 'proper' close up lens on, but don't waste time and grab the shot anyway, as for me, this is the first return to relative normalcy in months, with first the drought, and then the nationwide lock down to prevent the spread of coronavirus meaning that I haven't been out of the house on the trails I love so much for a long time.

I reach the Wither Hills car park, and cross over Redwood Street to walk down the western side of the road on the dry grass. Often, there are people exercising their dogs here, but today there is no one while I'm walking. I head over the cattle stop and into the Wither Hills Farm Park, making for a pond below the concrete reservoir, where I've spent many a relaxing time watching ducks from a grove of oak trees around the pond. I pass a sign warning people to keep their distance while they exercise. I pass the occasional walker, including a family out together, and see a couple of piwakawaka flitting amongst the golden autumn foliage of a line of tall poplars. In the light breeze, leaves fall from the poplars and drift to the ground like giant, golden snowflakes. I crunch through the leaves, and can smell decay, as invisible fungi feast on the bounty from above. I reach the pond, and stand there quietly watching the ducks for a while as several mountain bikers pass by a few minutes apart. There are acorns on the oak trees around the pond. I'm not sure why, but I get an incredible sense of joy seeing acorns on a tree. Maybe it's all the fault of 'The Gruffalo' and that mouse that went for a walk in the wood, where it found a nut, and the nut looked good.

When I get home, I find something else that looks good. My eight year old daughter is super proud of herself because she has made a rhubarb and apple pie herself, as her contribution to dinner. We have several trees laden with apples, and the peaches have only just finished, consumed by the contagion of brown rot, which I complain about saying that the peaches should have learnt to practice social distancing. I harvest the last of our cucumbers, which are a bit small, but turn out to be so sweet that they almost taste more like watermelon than cucumber. My wife has just finished making several jars of mixed berry jam from a bountiful late harvest of raspberries and blackberries from the garden.

I'd set a goal for myself of trying to limit our family to no more than one tank full of petrol per month, as our personal effort to be responsible about minimising our contribution to climate change, but it looks like we're going to go considerably longer than this target.

We've survived over a week now without a trip to the supermarket, and that's not a result of panic buying, but gradually stocking up on essentials over a period of about a month as the potential impact of the coronavirus began to become apparent. By next week, we'll need to start replacing groceries as various items run low, but if supermarket shelves are looking a bit bare because of panic buying by others, we'll still get through a while longer. I feel so fortunate that we're coping so well, but wonder how others are coping.

As my family sits at the table giving God thanks for food, and the abundance of our garden, I wryly think that perhaps if I find time to read it, I should buy an e-book copy of “The Year of the Flood”, by Margaret Atwood, of The Handmaid's Tale fame. It's a dystopian novel of speculative fiction about a rampantly capitalist world that suddenly collapses after a global pandemic, with a religious sect 'God's Gardeners' that manages to survive through horticultural endeavours.

As I write up my day's small adventure, I think how fortunate I am to be able to have continuing work as a result of the internet, and to use it to stay in touch with friends and family and update the world on how I'm coping through this period of enforced social isolation, but I wonder whether we need to all take a lesson from the reason the internet was created originally. It began life as a US Defence Department project to create a resilient network that could survive even a limited nuclear war. We've done pretty well to create a resilient, global, decentralised communications network, but I wonder whether we've done as well in providing a similarly resilient network of supply for the basic necessities of human life.

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