Today is a day which doesn’t seem to begin with the letter ”c” in any language. Monday, moaning-day, moon-day: a day improved by mooning about, mooching, and meandering. It’s the second anniversary of first pandemic walking and its consolations; that’s your first c-word, consolation. Weigh it in your hand, a friendly pebble. Walk it through its four syllables. Two paces up to a tree. A penultimate pause when you hug the tree (consentingly, always ask first) and breathe out; the Latin lato that’s the wide embrace as you’re carried and suffered by the tree; a last syllable as you murmur thanks quietly and fast, a little shy in case anyone overhears you communing with a tree, and you turn and go on your way, a little eased.
Commemoration. The week of 9 March 2020, I thought that I had COVID-19. I had had increasingly grotty symptoms; not unusal for that time of year and of the academic term. It’s always been a time of allergies and stress, anxiety and fatigue, overdue marking, behind with everything, decreasingly able to cope, in vicious cycles of worry and sleeplessness and oversleep, under-rested, unrest. On Thursday the 12th, I staggered into class, explained that I was now worse than in our previous class on the Tuesday, and physically couldn’t teach; and, given that symptoms were cough and throat, aches, headache, chills, feverishness, nausea, fatigue … I’d be cancelling our class and going off to be tested for what at that time was a shiny new thing, but aware that this might just as easily be any common or garden cold or flu virus. Being tested meant hospital, several hours’ wait, several stages of triage, the test that we and our collective noses now know and love, then home and isolation until the results, due “probably” on the Monday. I had to call up, always fun with any medical results, double the fun if you hate telephones. The test was negative. I was still ill, if less so, and whatever it was the rest helped. Friday and Saturday I rested, mostly; Sunday I needed out, and that day two years ago, 14 March 2020, was the first of the pandemic tree-hugging forest-bathing dendromorph-bothering longish widish meanders.
(Yes there will be more from ”The Dendromorphoses,” there are hundreds of photos to sort, and many creatures to arrange, some with writing, some just speaking themselves in their own words without words, because sometimes an image is enough in itself.)
Meanwhile, that Friday The Thirteenth, our university did (or whatever the Professional Communication Corporate NewSpeak actionable engagement word is) The Pivot: all work moved from the workplace to home, all teaching and exams moved online, while we were graciously granted the Monday “off”—classes cancelled—to do all that was necessary. It would be the first of many weekends of unpaid overtime; even after I stopped doing weekends six months later, refusing because staying alive and vaguely human is more important, the overwork continued up to 31 December 2021. You can read about what that infamous unspeakable Pivot looked like in this archive of Covidified onlinising for beginners’ French courses. I could have added commiseration to our c-words today, like many a shocking episode it feels like yesterday, but it’s receding and feels less raw, more haunting and like an itchy scab. I’d still dream about the more uncertain perturbed teaching times—The Pivot was alas just one, if the most dramatic—and morning waking would be troubled, a dreamlike state, uncertain if awake at all, except for the gnawing dread of what work I’d not finished the night before and what would come the next day and trying to plan ahead for possible future Pivotesque nightmares, as some way of having some life through some control over life. Which you can’t, because you—we—are now living in a pandemic. We share that, globally, communally. Would that we shared vaccines and other medical treatments and supplies and protective equipment and so on too; whatever political leaders might say for politicking reasons, a pandemic isn’t over until it’s over for everyone everywhere. Perhaps we should include control as another c-word of the day to contemplate. Maybe, after all, commiseration too: in global solidarity.
Today’s third c-word is communing. From two years’ meanderings in our local woods, usually silent and alone (sometimes with friends, but that’s a different creature and c-word, the companionable walk with friends), which solitude might seem an unlikely way to commune. But you need to be alone to have a sense of not being lonesome or lonely, and to appreciate that awareness, that plenitude, that breadth and ease. Trees often look alone, and they’re anything but, that solitude is superficial, they’re part of a mycorrhizal network in a forest that’s a communicative community, of communicants if you will, if you’re feeling religiously inclined. (Of course this business is all “religious,” in its deep etymological sense, a wood/world wide web.)
When I’m walking I like to imagine what it might be like to be a tree. Sometimes, by no means always, this requires standing still. So here are today’s other c-words: consideration, contemplation, and comfort.
If you read this post expecting c-words of a four-letter kind unutterable to the mealy-mouthed and prim and proper, fear not: I thought of you too, good reader. Go forth and read this, the finest of writing on c-words; and meditate on the majesty of the most superb and sublime of c-words, supernatural, world-changing, magical, marvellous, the most formidably feminist and powerfully poetic: cursing.
- Lyuba Yakimchuk, ”Letter from Kyiv: to keep from weeping, we start cursing. Language changes along with lived reality.” The New Statesman, 7 March 2022.
C is also, and hopefully ever will be, for cookies. And for their monsters who consumed the ”m” that you can imagine once followed the ”coo-“, for the simple poetry of their appreciative exclamatory ”mmm” that we can share in conclamation, and for monstrous delight in delectable wonder.