The Ripple Effect (Day 7)

Well, that went fast! Here we are, already at Week Seven, so that must mean it’s almost over. We’ve learned many things in our confinement and . . .

Um. Ok, slight miscalculation. Apparently it’s DAY Seven. That seems impossible, because my carefully calculated stash of baked goods that was supposed to last for a month is almost gone. It is possible raccoons have gotten into the house again. Oh, good . . . company!

Everyone is trying to find new ways to be positive and to keep their spirits up during this very stressful time, so today the emphasis will be on Silver Linings. Let’s think about the good things that have come out of this quarantine, as opposed to the fact that many of us are out of work or home with too many snacks (and if you’re home with small children, may I suggest something that worked for me as a hands-on-mom: Benadryl!*)

Positive things:

Make your bed in the morning when you get up! Shake out those sheets and make four nice tight, military corners so all the wrinkles are smoothed out. Then do a quick once over with some duct tape to remove most of the visible pet hair on the duvet, and voila!, your bed is ready for your nap! (never take a nap on an unmade bed—always sleep on top of the spread with a cozy afghan or pashmina you have laying around for just such an occasion. Napping under the covers signals to your body that it is okay to stay under there for eight to ten hours, and a nap should never be longer than four.)

Take a walk! One of the best things about this quarantine is that we can actually go outside and commune with nature and other beings who try not to cringe when we get a little too close. But we can still smile and wave and compliment each other’s dog outerwear. Here in Chicago, it’s still pretty cold, so the pets are really getting good usage out of their winter outfits. Most look adorable, but I have to wonder: do dogs really want to wear hoods? Discuss.

While on the subject of walking, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. When I come upon others out for a flaneur under the age of thirty, they are either on their phones or will not make eye contact. This seems odd to me, as most people who are in quarantine are on their devices nonstop while inside their homes. I would think maybe looking up every once in awhile and getting some sun on your face or establishing human contact might be a good thing, but what do I know? I still use voice mail.

Yesterday on my walk, I took some extra books with me to distribute to the Little Libraries scattered around my neighborhood. These are the free-standing boxes where people can take or leave a book for anyone who might want something new to read. I was mostly interested in getting rid of my copy of Stephen King’s The Stand, because that is definitely not something I want in my house right now. Today I read that people are going a step beyond that and filling the boxes with non-perishables and canned goods for anyone who might need them, and now I feel bad that I crammed them full of books so there won’t be any room for macaroni and cheese. Sometimes it’s hard to be a mensch.

Creativity! I’m sure by now everyone has heard that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was in quarantine during the plague, and boy, talk about putting pressure on all the writers and artists out there! Interestingly, one of the books I found in the Little Library was a copy of this classic, no doubt cast aside by some blocked blogger who can barely put a sentence together right now. Calm down. It’s okay to endlessly watch West Side Story and Ten Things I Hate About You right now. Those are based on Shakespeare, and that certainly counts.

By the way, to anyone who does manage to write anything significant during this confinement, the new genre will be called Apoca-Lit. You heard it here first, so let’s make this new word go viral!

Oh, God, I didn’t mean viral! I meant spread it around in the vernacular – no, DON’T SPREAD IT AROUND! Don’t even think about sharing it! Ack! Stay inside! Don’t go to a beach! Run!

I hope these positive thoughts have helped.


*I am adding a disclaimer that seems unnecessary but you never know: of course you shouldn’t give your children Benadryl to help them take a nap! Who would do that?! Not me!

The Ripple Effect

Day One: The calls are coming from inside the house.
So is everything else.

We are heading into unknown territory, with a future that could leap in any direction like a cat who suddenly spots a cucumber behind him. With so much uncertainty in every part of life right now, here is a gentle reminder that we are all in this together.
The way you react will affect other people – please don’t be a dick about this.

One of the more interesting terms to come out of this crisis is shedding the virus.  The definition is “the expulsion and release of virus progeny following successful reproduction during a host-cell infection,” which sounds an awful lot like the plot of Alien to me. So if you want to avoid having this thing bust out of your chest cavity like poor John Hurt, stay in your house. (Note to readers: Do not watch this scene on YouTube. It’s worse than you remember.)*

I prefer to think of the whole concept of viral shedding more like the way a snake sheds its skin. It does not grow as the reptile does; it has limited capacity to expand. Therefore, when the snake has outgrown it, it simply sloughs it off and starts over again. We need to be more like our friends the snakes —there are so many ways we can grow if we take this time to slow down, read, study, create, and maybe rewatch The West Wing so we can remember what a real president acts like. Then we can shed our old ways and rebuild a society that benefits everyone —or we could descend into chaos. Your choice.

Of course, the snake also has a jaw that can unhinge enough to swallow prey that it is the size of a large honeybaked ham, so be careful about all that emergency junk food you stocked up on or you may grow right out of your pants.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone, from all the snakes that left Ireland and went on to better things!


The Blind Woodchuck has socially distanced herself from all the other woodland animals and plans to sleep until this thing is over.

The Ripple Effect will post random thoughts throughout this isolation period, because what else am I gonna do?

*You watched it, didn’t you? I told you not to watch it!

Wake the chuck up!

The woodchuck slept deeply, the only sound in her snug burrow a faint minor chord that occasionally whistled through her nose. It got stuffy in there without a humidifier.

The phone alarm started clanging, and she moaned and reached blindly in the darkness to locate it. It lit up and she winced as her pupils dilated, hitting the snooze button that would allow her just one more day of rest. She hated having to get up for work in the middle of winter. Who had decided that February 2 was going to be Groundhog’s Day? They celebrated Lincoln’s birthday on a Monday because it was more convenient for federal workers— why couldn’t she do the shadow thing in May when everyone was pleased to be outside?

Now she had to pee. Resigned that there was no going back to sleep, she rolled over in the dirt and slowly pushed her bulk into a sitting position. Boy, she needed to work on her core this spring. Something pink floated down the burrow hole from the surface, and she grabbed at it before it hit the ground. Maybe it was a party invitation!

She squinted at the words that seemed very dim, and then realized she still had her sunglasses on. Although her vision had returned to normal after the unfortunate eclipse incident, she still liked to wear them because she felt smarter with her dark specs perched on her nose. One of her cousins had said she looked like “a rodent Annie Sullivan,” and she knew that one day she would live up to that reputation if she could just find a young woodchuck to teach how to fold its napkin.

She squinted at the invitation, hoping that she would have time before the party for the core work to kick in. She didn’t see a date or a suggested dress code, but the word Termination was scrawled across the front. This was confusing; perhaps it had something to do with those damn insects that chewed up all the good wood in the forest before she had a chance to chuck it?

Her cousin Shirley poked her upside-down head into the burrow. “Oh, Phil, I’m so sorry about your job – I just heard!”

“What did you heard?” the woodchuck said in confusion.

“You’ve been fired! The winters have gotten so mild that the town of Punxsutawney decided that they don’t need to do the countdown to spring anymore, so you have been made redundant.”

“Well, I wish they had told me that before I got up from hibernation,” complained the woodchuck.

“That’s your reaction? Aren’t you upset because climate change has removed your one source of income and possibly changed your whole way of life?

“Oh, really Shirley, aren’t you over reacting? None of this is my problem. This isn’t going to affect me – I’ll just get to sleep in!”

“Phil, have you not been paying attention to anything? The weasels have been rolling back environmental protections – pretty soon the groundwater will be contaminated, and your burrow is going to fill up with toxic sludge. I heard they are going to start caging chickens, and the weasels will have the keys to the henhouse! This entire month has been full of tribunals trying to get the Fox out of the big tree, and the turtle and other weasels just let him do whatever he wants. Our woods are headed in a very bad direction if we let them keep making decisions that only profit themselves. I can’t believe you don’t think this is your problem – it’s the problem of every animal in the forest!”

“Shirley, I just want to close my eyes for another month or so. Then I’ll make some phone calls or something.”

“That’s not enough, Phil. We need to be outraged! We should be marching through the trees, demanding change, trying to save this forest for the next generation of woodland creatures. I’m so disappointed in you. And your mother would be, too.”

The woodchuck watched silently as her outraged cousin scrambled up and out of the burrow and left her alone in the dark. Slowly she put her sunglasses back on, which were a lot like blinders. She was so tired. She would just take a little nap. Surely there were different animals who could worry about this, including Shirley. Others would stop the Fox and the weasels. This really wasn’t her problem.

She went back to sleep.

Darlene & Lucinda Try to Leave France

Darlene glanced nervously around as she heard the elevator slowly grinding its way down from the third floor. She knew exactly what her job was — she was supposed to retrieve the one gigantic suitcase that fit in the tiny lift, and then send the empty car back up to Lucinda, who was waiting up there with the rest of the luggage. !No problemo! as the French would say. (Actually, that might be what Spanish people would say. She really had no idea. She did not speak French. Or Spanish.)

Her anxiety stemmed from the fact that the elevator opened into a small room, and the glass door to that room opened up into the courtyard where she was now standing. She had run down the stairs to get to the descending luggage and exited into the courtyard from a different door that had slammed shut behind her. As she heard it click shut, she realized she had no way to get back into the building, having deposited her rental keys in the small silver bowl that was embossed with rabbits. But she was certain that if Lucinda needed her to do something else, she would come down to get her. Well, pretty sure. Lucinda did not like the stairs.

She pushed the button to unlock the door into the elevator room, and through the glass she could see the lift standing open with the solitary piece of purple luggage inside. What a beast it was; it took up almost the entire car. She really had overpacked. She pulled the handle on the outer door but nothing happened. The button lock had been a bit sticky all week, and now she remembered that the door had not opened for them yesterday, either. Her eyes widened as she watched the elevator doors slowly close, and the car began to ascend to the third floor, still completely full of luggage.

Lucinda stood in the hallway outside the adorable apartment where they had spent the last week. Paris had been amazing, but today was supposed to be kind of hot and she was ready for some air conditioning and iced tea. The elevator opened and she started to push her suitcase into the car, but stopped in confusion as she realized that there was no room. The huge purple bag was still in there. This was not correct. What part of this did Darlene not understand? Exasperated, she pushed the button again and watched the doors close as it began its repeat journey.

A tiny trickle of terror ran down Darlene’s temple as she pushed the sticky button again and again, but the stubborn door would not budge. Horrified, she watched through the glass as the elevator doors opened with the purple bag still intact, unmoveable. There was a very long pause, and then the doors slowly slid shut and began, once again, to ascend. She considered pounding on the exterior door for someone to let her in, but it was early on the third morning of a four day holiday weekend and Paris was still sleeping. Also, there had been a bit of an altercation with someone from the building the day before. An angry Asian man had muttered at them in French, and then said in English “How did you get the code?” This was baffling because it was a button that unlocked the door, not a code, and left both of them wondering if they had been mistaken for spies. The next day a sign had appeared on the glass door to the elevator. It was hand-printed in French and neither of them had any idea what it said, but they both had a feeling it was directed at them. There were a lot of exclamation points used.

Darlene stood in the courtyard, sweating, unsure what to do. The Uber to the airport was already waiting for them, and she was pretty sure Lucinda was going to be ticked off about her not doing her part with the luggage, even though it was totally not Darlene’s fault. She wished that she had a way to communicate with her, when it suddenly it occurred to her that she was holding a phone in her hand. Darlene was halfway through an apologetic text when the elevator doors opened again; but instead of the big purple suitcase sitting frozen in time and space, it was Lucinda who was inside. She had analyzed the situation from her position on the third floor and had realized the door was probably stuck. Either that, or all that cheese had made Darlene really stupid.

She pushed open the glass door into the courtyard as Darlene rushed inside, apologizing and trying to explain what had happened. Lucinda waved her hand in dismissal and said she had figured it out, then got back in the elevator and went up to start the loading process again. Darlene was relieved that she was finally inside the correct cubicle, because she had been envisioning Lucinda coming out the other door and having it slam shut with both of them outside the building and all of their luggage in a pile on the third floor.

The elevator slid open, and Darlene wheeled out the purple beast and happily pushed the button to send the lift back to Lucinda, this time completely empty and eager for some suitcases that were not this shade of aubergine. She squeezed around the bag in the tiny room and reached for the doorknob to exit into the courtyard. As she turned the handle, it came off in her hand.

Hysterical laughter inappropriately burbled up inside her as she stood there, trapped with the huge suitcase, knowing that at any moment, the lift would silently open with another large bag inside (this one orange) that she would have to watch helplessly rise again to the third floor where Lucinda waited with the last of the carry-ons to be loaded. Darlene looked through the glass prison she was now entombed in and realized that she had left her phone on top of her purse in the courtyard. She suddenly had to pee really badly.

She heard the rumble of the elevator descending and knew it was just a matter of seconds before it was going to get really crowded in there. Holding her breath, she carefully re-inserted the doorknob shaft back into the proper hole. She turned the handle very slowly, and as the elevator doors opened behind her, she heard the magic click as the lock disengaged and the tiny room released her. She shoved Barney the Purple Dinosaur into the space to hold open the door and managed to turn around just in time to get her arm inside the elevator as it was closing. She forced the door open and dragged the orange suitcase out into the cubicle, then triumphantly punched the button to send the lift back up for its final destination of the morning. The next time those doors opened, she would be standing nonchalantly in the courtyard with both suitcases and looking at her watch to see if there might be time to get a chocolate croissant before they headed to the airport.

Lucinda would be so proud of her.


The Blind Woodchuck has locked herself in her burrow and will not come out until she has finished The Muller Report. Please enjoy this short fiction from her friend Darlene (who may or may not be The Blind Woodchuck.) She knows this is very confusing, but at least half of it hasn’t been redacted.


As the morning light filtered into the tunnel, the blind woodchuck moaned and sat up. Torn candy wrappers littered the dirt around her like fallen leaves, and the crunchy sound they made when she rolled over them gave the burrow a festive autumn feel. Something was poking her left haunch, and she batted at it until she realized it was a melted Snickers bar that was stuck in her fur. Barely able to reach over her swollen belly, she licked at the hairy chocolate lump until it completely dissolved in her mouth. What a delightful way to take a bath, she thought.

Getting up the day after a foggy Halloween was always difficult. She had found that bad visibility was a friend to the rodents who scavenged for a living, as it tripped up little trick-or-treaters who scattered their candy as they fell. She knew she should save some of her stash for the long winter ahead, but common sense did not always prevail when a mound of Mounds bars presented themselves to her. There was another pile of things she had collected from broken treat bags, and she sorted through the non-edibles in case she had missed something. She spit out a spider that appeared to have been petrified, wondering how old that thing was. There was a long skinny wooden stick with a rubbery end and a sharp point that could be useful as weapon, so she set that aside. There was also a piece of paper that had a lot of writing on it, but it was wet and smudged. The only part she could make out said, “GET OUT THE VOLE!” in large letters.

The woodchuck was alarmed. She had heard rumours of some kind of caravan of these mice that was coming from another field, and she worried that they were almost here. Although the woodchuck and the vole were both rodents, she felt no camaraderie with the smaller animals. She disliked it when they came to her field uninvited, even though she knew they were trying to escape predators. They were voracious consumers of her favorite nuts, and she often worried that there wouldn’t be enough daffodil bulbs left to help her double her weight for hibernation. It did not occur to her that the calories she had consumed last night would put her well past her goal.

There had also been chatter that the voles and the moles had been working together, which was an odd thing since they traditionally had little in common. The moles liked to hang out in gangs, so if in fact they were all coming to her field, the confrontation was going to be at West Side Story levels. She picked up the sharpened pencil and hummed a few bars of “Tonight.”

“Phil? Are you up?!” Her cousin’s head poked upside down inside the burrow. “Phil!”

“You know I hate to be called that,” she hissed. Her cousin scampered down the tunnel and looked disapprovingly at the piles of wrappers. “What a mess. Your mother would be heartbroken to see what a hoarder you’ve become.”

“I’m not a hoarder! This is all from last night. Shirley, did you see this flyer? The voles are coming! They’re the ones that carry the hantavirus. Or maybe it’s the plague? One of those diseases that’s really bad, I can’t remember! What are we going to do?!”

“First of all, Phil, you’re going to calm down. This stuff about the caravan is nonsense. It’s not herds of mice – it’s a group of our species who need some help. The weasels are attacking them and their food supplies are running low, yet you’re acting like they are invading our field.”

“But the fox said . .  .”

“Stop listening to that Ichabod Crane wannabe with the pumpkin head! You’re getting all worked up over nothing.”

“Look at this warning flyer I found.” The woodchuck thrust the paper with the smudgy words “GET OUT THE VOLE” at her cousin. “Read what they said!”

“Philomena, take off those stupid sunglasses. You’re in a dark burrow and you’re not blind anymore! It doesn’t say GET OUT THE VOLE, you idiot. Look at it again.”

The not-really-blind woodchuck removed her sunglasses and took a long look at the headline. In large black letters it said GET OUT THE VOTE!

“Oh. It’s not . . . vole.”

“Look, Phil, I know the eclipse messed you up, but you can see again and you have to start questioning things. Those glasses are like blinders. You simply can’t believe everything the Fox tells you. He does not have your best interests at heart; or any of us other animals, either. So let’s go do what the flyer says. Are you ready?

“Yes, I’m ready. Let’s go! Um, Shirley?

“What now, Phil?”

“You have a Snickers bar stuck to your butt.”


Unfortunately, woodchucks are not allowed to vote. But you are! Do it for all the marsupials who have no say at the ballot box.

Give it up, for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!

The blind woodchuck rubbed her paws together furiously. She’d been digging a new burrow for weeks now and was never going to be able to get the dirt out from under her nails. The new body scrub from Goop she had ordered was supposed to be fabulous for this, but it hadn’t come yet; it was possible that her credit card hadn’t gone through.

She wasn’t actually still blind, but the nickname had stuck.  It had been nearly a year since the retina-burning experience that had been the eclipse and her vision had mostly returned, but she still wore the sunglasses because she thought they looked cool. Also, it matched the picture on her Tinder profile.

Things had gotten very strange in the woods since the moon had blotted out the sun on that steaming day last August. The Fox had been obnoxious to begin with, but now he was terrifying. His orange fur was styled and sprayed so that it looked like he was wearing his tail on his head, and he had somehow gotten the idea that he was king. The weasels helped him, of course, by letting him do whatever he wanted and then covering up for him when what he did was really stupid. There were rumors that the bears were in on this conspiracy as well; that they might have even planned it. The woodchuck tried to steer clear of bears, as one had eaten a second cousin of hers just last week. Even scarier was the possum who seemed to be in control of the whole thing; his little pink eyes looked amused at all the chaos he was causing. The woodchuck had seen a picture of the shirtless possum riding a horse, and it had made her question the reality in which they were living. 

The new burrow she had been furiously digging was a way out of the madness. If she kept heading north, she assumed she would end up somewhere in Canada. They were supposedly much nicer to refugees up there, and she hoped that even if she was stopped at the border, she wouldn’t be put in a cage. One of her third cousins had been arrested and thrown into a detention center called Gitmo or PetCo or something like that. 

She thought she must be close. There had been a lot of shouting above ground a few weeks ago—she could hear people yelling “Puck, yea!” and talking excitedly about some cup that Stanley had won. Cups held ice and ice had something to do with hockey, so that meant that she must be in Canada.

She switched directions and started tunnelling upwards, manicure be damned. Her need to know where she was became all consuming. Her tiny paws scooped up earth like a furry backhoe, and suddenly a whole clump of it fell in her face. She shook the dirt from her whiskers as the light filled her burrow, and then cautiously poked her head up to the surface, her sunglasses just clearing the edge. She knew enough to be careful about peering out of a hole; one of her fourth cousins had been hit with a golf club swung by a groundskeeper. For some reason, she remembered that every time she heard a Kenny Loggins song.

A ray of sunlight beamed from the clear blue shy, and for a moment she was filled with joy; she had made it! She would feast on poutine tonight! But suddenly the sun was blotted out and a huge shadow covered her face. Was it another eclipse? She wasn’t prepared! She was wearing the wrong kind of glasses! She was going to burn her damn retinas again! 

But it was not the shadow of the moon that passed over her. A giant orange baby blimp floated above her in the sky, its’ tiny hand holding a phone while waving in the breeze as a crowd of people below started cheering. A drumline joined in with the voices, and then bagpipes added their wail to the cacophony. The sound was deafening, as people began to chant “Lock him up! Lock him up!” This couldn’t be Canada – those northerners were much too polite to be making this much noise.

The woodchuck glanced around, trying to find some kind of a landmark to help identify where she had ended up. There was a statue on a very tall pedestal directly in front of her and she squinted up to see if she could recognize who it was. Of course! It was Lafayette! She hadn’t seen Hamilton yet but she would recognize Daveed Diggs anywhere! 

That meant that this must be Lafayette Park, which was located . . . where? A huge white house with columns loomed in the distance as a shiver of sharks danced past her holding a sign that said “You have terrible taste in chums!” when the realization finally hit her: this was not the birthplace of Wayne Gretsky. She must have veered too far east, and that meant . . . New York City! This must be Times Square!

A large lit up sign blinked “LIAR!” and another one screamed “TREASON!” as she took in the scene. The crowds were growing and the energy was palpable in this city where no one ever slept, including the person who lived in that big white house across the field. Off in the distance, a song was beginning, and she could barely make out the words:

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

The tune was familiar and she began to hum along. What was this song?

Then join in the fight
That will give you the right to be free!!

The music swelled as the masses raised their fists and marched toward the white house. In perfect four part harmony, they raised their voices as one and joined into the chorus that promised that they would not go gentle into that good night!

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

The woodchuck sang along loudly, thrilled to the bone to be a participant in saving democracy, when she suddenly realized what it was. The song was from Les Miz, which was on Broadway, and that meant only one thing:

Maybe she could get Hamilton tickets!


The woodchuck does not have a very good grasp on geography, but you have opposable thumbs and Google maps. Protests are happening every night in Lafayette Park across from the White House. You are encouraged to join the chorus on August 6 for a spirited rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” And if you are in Canada or somewhere else, donations are being encouraged to buy bigger and louder sound systems.

You Had One Job.

The pounding kept getting louder and louder and the woodchuck, deep in hibernation, was jolted awake. It was hard to locate the source of the vibration as her mind was still groggy. Was it the pounding of her heart, she wondered, as she was ripped from her recurring Tommy Skilling dream into consciousness? Or maybe the hammering was her head, a hangover from the last bottle of wine she had polished off before going to sleep for the winter. She did enjoy her pre-nap Chardonnay. Also her post-nap one.

“What is that noise?!” she shrieked. “If they have started fracking again, I’m going to chew through the brake lines of all their vehicles.”

The pounding suddenly stopped and the upside down head of the weasel popped into the woodchuck’s burrow. “Hey, Phil, you up?” he shouted.

“Well, I’m awake because someone has been using a jack hammer above my bed, but that doesn’t mean I’m up. I’m hibernating, damn it. And don’t call me Phil. I hate that nickname.”

“Okay, Philomena, but nap time is over. Doncha know what day it is?”

“Of course I know what day it is,” she snapped, as she glanced at her iPhone and realized with dismay that it was dead because she had forgotten to plug the charger in and had, in fact, no clue. “It’s Tuesday.”

“Nice try, dummy,” smirked the weasel. “Try Friday. The second day of the second month. Come on, baby, it’s named for you!”

The woodchuck glanced over at the paper planner that she still kept in her burrow. She knew it was old-fashioned but it came in handy whenever her T-Mobile went out, which was always. Also it had pictures of kittens on it. There was a red circle around February 2.

“It’s Groundhog Day!” yelled the weasel unnecessarily. He was so rude to her, and she hadn’t yet forgiven him for not telling her to put on the special glasses during the eclipse. She was still not completely recovered from her vision issues, although she could see a shadowy silhouette of his body. His short little legs were hilarious.

“I’m not doing it this year,” she announced. “I’ve already been up once and I need to rest.”

“Whatta ya talking about? It’s still cold out – why would you have been up?”

“If you weren’t so busy killing five times your body weight in prey and read a newspaper once in a while, you would know why. Honestly, that habit of storing your leftover rabbit parts in your burrow is disgusting. Don’t you know there is political turmoil everywhere and people are marching in the streets? We are the Resistance! We have to take back the government!”

“Oh yeah, how ya gonna do that? Make some little signs and walk in a circle with all the other land beavers?”

“That’s a rude way to put it but, yes, that’s what we did. There were more than a million of us, and we marched in solidarity with all of our sisters and supportive brothers who promised to stop abusing their power for the afternoon. There were gopher and squirrels, prairie dogs and marmots, all of us united as one! It was glorious! I got a t-shirt!”

The weasel saw some bent cardboard in the corner and turned it over. It was a hand-lettered sign in red and blue marker that read, “Impeach the Treason Weasel!” The letters were outlined in glitter glue and gave the message a festive, sparkly look. “Hey, you mentioned me!”

“Your name seems to come up a lot. Just the other day, the former head of the FBI mentioned you in a tweet. He said “But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up.” I assume he meant woodchucks as well, although it would be nice if he were more inclusive.”

“I didn’t hear nothing about rodents marching. I woulda gone to it  – sounds like dinner to me!”

“That’s because you get all your news from the Fox and he never mentions anything like that. Although, no one else did either. Millions of woodchucks in the streets with something to say and they interviewed a bunch of white guys on all the news shows. I hate Chuck Todd.”

“What about your meteorologist gig? You gonna go outside and make your prediction?”

“To quote the bio-pic they made about my life –without permission, I might add– “I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be gray, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.” Or at least until the mid-terms.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I’m going back to bed. You want to know what the weather is, go call Tommy Skilling. He’s much more accurate than a simple whistle pig, plus he knows tons about tornadoes. And tell your cousin Devin to stop hanging around my burrow. Apparently he didn’t get the memo I sent him telling him I think he’s creep.”

How much wood would Chuck Todd chuck?

The blind woodchuck spent most of the last year huddled in a fetal position in her burrow. Save for that one magical day of August 21 when she acquired her new moniker as well as a collection of necessary sunglasses (she swears the weasel told her it was okay to look at the sun), she found the results of November 8, 2016 to be too depressing to even contemplate.

But something told her she should at least check out the world above and see if anything had changed. As she crawled out of her cozy burrow, she could hear birds singing. Not a lot of birds, mind you, but enough to let you know that perhaps the end of the world hadn’t actually happened. The sun was warm on her whiskers as she heard another woodland creature scampering by and she called out to it. “Hey, what happened? Did Trump resign?”

“No such luck,” squeaked the chipmunk. “But the Democrats won two governorships and a bunch of House delegates in Virginia!”

“Is that a big deal?” asked the woodchuck. She didn’t really know anything about the south.

“Well, not according to Fox News,” said the chipmunk, “but I hate foxes so imma have to believe that they are lying. Nate Silver says we can be cautiously optimistic but not to assume we can take over the House in 2018. A lot of us were really happy about how big the win seemed but the press keeps telling us that we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. And then they interview white Trump voters to see what they think about it.”

“But that’s the first positive thing that got me out of my burrow all year!” exclaimed the woodchuck. “Everyone must be so happy! I’ll bet Bernie Sanders is thrilled that our candidate won!”

“Bit of a glitch there,” smirked the chipmunk. “Turns out he endorsed the guy who primaried the eventual winner Ralph Northam, and then refused to work for the actual candidate. But Chris Hayes keeps having him on his MSNBC show anyway to speak for all Democrats.”

“But he’s not a democrat!” The woodchuck was confused. “What does Donna Brazille have to say about that? As a former head of the DNC, she must be furious!”

“Rumor has it that Donna was bitten by a rabid racoon and has lost her mind,” replied the chipmunk. “Sad!”

“Oh, dear. This is all so upsetting. Is there anything to be happy about?” The woodchuck could feel her depression enveloping her like a chemical fog unleashed by toxic waste set loose during a hurricane.

“Well, of the fifteen delegate seats that were won in VA, eleven of the winners were woman! And every single person they will replace was an old, white man! Not that I have anything against old white men, but you have to admit that this has not been the best year for them.”

“Why would you say that?” fretted the woodchuck. “You have brothers! Don’t you want to defend them?”

“Well, I would, but Alvin and Theodore are both in prison now for inappropriately touching that porcupine who lives under a log. They tried to bust out with the help of that Pepe LePew guy but got caught. They actually made a movie about it  – The Shawskunk Redemption. It will be on Netflicks this month.”

The woodchuck crawled back into her burrow,  cheered up because of all the gains made by her sisters. She was still a little sad, though, because she had given up cable and would not be able to watch the movie. She could only get NBC and she hated Chuck Todd.


Part Two: Taking Umbrage


Our Wise Old Owl house was 150 miles away from where we needed to be for Totality, so on Monday, August 21, we set our alarms for stun and got up at 5am. The drive was long but thankfully traffic was not the gridlock we had worried about. Not yet, anyway.

We arrived in Hopkinsville around 10am and found our reserved spots on a sun-bleached field that had been chalked into a grid. The lingering morning fog we had encountered as we entered Kentucky had burned away, promising a full day of sweltering and squinting at the cloudless sky. The atmosphere was festive, the crowd giddy with anticipation; Hubble-sized telescopes were set up next to amateurs who hadn’t even brought sunscreen. NASA was supposedly roaming around somewhere, answering questions. Our group had shelters and chairs and a buffet table, because if you’re going to bear witness to a celestial event, you don’t want your stomach growling while it’s happening.

The temperature was already in the 90s, a fact we knew for certain because my niece had arrived with a variety of activities to measure the temp drop for when the moon slid in front of the sun. We sat on blankets as we wove ultra-violet sensitive beads together to make ankle bracelets. The beads were pink and purple when exposed to UV rays, but would turn white when the sun and its’ beams were in shadow. That was how we would know that we were in totality; that and the fact that thousands of people would be screaming and pointing up in the dark.

Two hours away and people started checking the sky. Everyone had eclipse glasses, because they obviously had heeded the warning of the woodchuck, or possibly seen a million articles online in the past week about not staring at it with naked eyes. The tiniest bite appeared in the blazing white sun and a cheer went up from the crowd. Viewed through the filtered glasses, the sun was a perfect circle of orange. It looked like a logo design created with graphics software, the edges crisp and clean as the black crescent shape moved across the surface.

It was still full daylight, but something weird was happening to the light. It seemed to flatten, sharpening shadows and causing strange angles that were unfamiliar and foreign, like I imagine Bizzaro World would look. There is a filter in Photoshop that allows you to polarize an image and it felt like the entire landscape had been run through it. Tiny crescent shapes appeared on different surfaces as the splintered sun beams pushed through leafy trees. As the light drained from the sky, the air cooled and a chorus of cicadas woke up and began to sing. It was dusk to them and they were going to have sex no matter what time their phones said it was.

We were now just minutes from totality but not at full dark. Venus was a brilliant bright spot in the sky, but the horizon was still lit. I had expected complete darkness, but I realized that I could still see a thin band of sunset in front of me. Confused, I turned around and saw the same rosy glow behind me. To my astonishment, the sunset was everywhere! We had reached totality and the moon had blocked the entire star, creating a night sky on top of a perfect circle of a 360 degree setting sun. The effect was thrilling and surreal at the same time; it felt like we were on a different planet, one with more suns or a couple of extra moons. My bracelet was completely white, with zero UV rays reaching my ankle. For the next two minutes and forty seconds, I could throw away my sunscreen!

It’s hard to come up with an adjective that adequately describes what it felt like to be in the middle of that darkness in the middle of that day. A chill ran through me that had nothing to do with the temperature drop, and my eyes filled with tears. One would expect to feel insignificant in the midst of an extraordinary moment where it’s clear that our existence is barely a blip in the lifetime of the universe, but I didn’t. I felt connected, with the earth and all the people around me and all the others standing in fields across the country, staring up at the sky. It felt powerful, and unexpectedly hopeful. I haven’t felt hopeful in a long time, specifically since November 9. Chaos and confusion may be ruling our daily lives, but the universe is going to continue to do whatever the hell it wants. There is some comfort in that thought.



Part 3: The Really, Really Dark Side of the Moon

And then we got in our cars and drove home. All several million of us, at the same time. On the same road.

Talk about harshing your buzz.

We were filled with wonder and inspiration from this remarkable event that we had borne witness to as a community. We were not filled with common sense, for it did not occur to us that trying to drive home that night might also be on the agenda of everyone else in said community. It looked like we were evacuating Florida.

We tried small country roads where amused farm folks directed traffic through the lone stop sign, but cars still backed up for miles. The entire world used the Waze app and we all ended up at the same Dairy Queen for dinner in a town of 200 people. It took a really long time to get our Blizzards. Darkness fell and we were still barely a third of the way through Illinois. Torrential rain and non-stop lightning lit up a gridlocked I-57 North, where two lanes merged into one in a completely unneccessary construction zone that added at least two hours to the journey. When cars finally emerged from the single lane nightmare, every single one of them got off at the next rest stop. It took a really long time to pee. Fourteen hours after we had held hands and sung Kumbaya as a nation, we finally made it back to Chicago. It took a really long time to get my knees to bend into a standing position.

After the butt-numbing commute memories began to fade a bit, I was reliving the event on the internet and saw disappointment expressed in online forums about how unimpressive the partial eclipse had been; the word people used was “meh.”  I can understand why people weren’t that impressed because they were doing it wrong. Any fool could get up from the couch and walk out into the yard with a shoebox on their head and see the partial eclipse. But to really experience the whole phenomenon, you’re going to have to leave your living room. You’re going to have to commit.

Kelly Clarkson says some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this, but she’s wrong. You only have to wait seven years! On April 8, 2024, the Path of Totality will again cross the United States, this time starting in Mexico and going north to Maine. The center of the big X that started in 2017 will be the same place – Carbondale, IL, with many other towns along the Path where you will have a perfect view.

It’s hard to predict where we might be in seven years. We could be speaking Korean or living the script of Waterworld or, as I may have mentioned before, ruled by robot overlords. The robots might show us some pity, or I suppose they could tattoo bar codes on the back of our necks. But at least we can count on the universe to keep doing what it does, with the moon playing chicken with the Earth. As long as scientists can project real data and true facts that will give us lots of information about how and when to get ready, we can all experience this again together.

Or we can just pretend the whole thing is fake and kiss Uranus goodbye.


Part One: Barbie was Right*

Planning for the eclipse weekend had started almost a year ago. My oldest sister Kathy was the first to alert us all to the importance of the event, and months ago discovered that many houses and camping sites in the Path of Totality had already been booked. But my youngest sister Karen was persistant enough to find a huge log cabin-ish farmhouse in southern Indiana that would sleep the entire family. While not directly in the Path, it was close enough that we could get there before the eclipse.

(As is fitting for her profession as a psychiatrist, Karen is pragmatic and practical. But as a sign of her committment to this event, she had dressed the statue in her front yard as an eclipse enthusiast. Karen calls the figurine Georgeanne and she has an outfit for every holiday. I warn my sister that this is one step away from decorating a concrete goose and I mock her accordingly, but damn, the old girl looked good.)


So we gathered on the Friday before the event at the Wise Old Owl cottage, where every surface was decorated with either an owl or a moose, but sadly, no woodchucks. My other sister Carolyn and I were the last to arrive from Chicago, as we had been led down the wrong road by an arrogant, disembodied voice from Google maps. In my phone, the voice is known as Joyce, and she insisted we turn at a place we had no business turning. We had been warned that cell service could be spotty and had printed out two different sets of directions, neither of which matched the way Joyce urged us to go: yet still we followed her instructions rather than our own instincts. She gayly led us down winding, unmarked roads and then abandoned us in a field. I believe this was a test by the robot overlords to see if people would blindly follow the voices coming from their phones and may be the precursor to the robot uprising, as we did exactly what we were told and then pleaded for Joyce to come and save us. When they instruct us all to drive our cars into quarries, we will  join all the other lemmings at the bottom, holding up our iphones and searching for bars.

Eventually we came upon two gentlemen and a chihuahua sitting on a front porch and they gave us directions back to the main road in a bemused tone, as if we were not the first fools that the voices had led down their road. The chihuahua, however, was furious and had to be restrained, no doubt angered by the clear and present danger that no one except him seemed to understand. It was a weird beginning to the trip.

The house was huge and supposedly slept 20, if your idea of sleeping is two bedrooms on the top floors and then sixteen assorted bunk beds, double beds and pull out couches in one big basement room. It was very cozy down there with all the nieces and nephews and aunts and owls and squirrels. It was also very cold and completely dark, or as I call it, perfect vacation sleeping weather, with none of that pesky natural light to wake you up. I felt like Kevin in Home Alone when I woke up in the dark silence and realized that I had no idea where my family had gone.

The next two days were a whirl of activities, with some people participating in everything and some not moving from the porch swing. I like a vacation where no one judges you for inertia. There were fabulous meals and many bottles of wine, and games and a fire pit and a funtoon boat with a slide, but always lurking in the back of our minds was the event on Monday. We became obsessed with finding gas, stopping at every tiny station to top off a tank in a car that had only driven 2 miles since the last time it was filled. We worried that there would not be enough ice for the coolers and ended up with enough to fill the back of a station wagon. One of my favorite finds out in the middle of nowhere was an ice ATM. You fed two bucks into the slot and it dispensed 16 pounds of ice, no clerks needed. You could even get it unbagged and let it flow right into a cooler. Clearly this is once again the robots looking to catch us off guard as we complacently let them control the flow of cubes, but I’m willing to let them have this one. You can just never have enough ice.

Sunday was our last evening at the house, and after another amazing meal with lots of wine to wash it down, the core four sisters sat down to try to figure out who owed what. We are all smart women; some of us hold advanced degrees and at the very least, all of us can use a calculator. So we were amazed and chagrined when the simple task of dividing up costs turned into an SAT math problem, one that assured that none of us were getting into college, not even a community one. For over an hour, we subtracted and divided and swore and multiplied and could not come up with the correct sum. A spread sheet was created and abandoned, amounts were rounded up and down and the final amount owed was furiously scratched out in order to begin again. One by one, the grown nieces and nephews left the room, completely embarrassed by their algebraically impaired mothers. At one point, my brother-in-law begged to let him eat the cost of the whole trip, just to get us to stop. I’m still not sure the number we came up with was correct, but it was such a relief to move on that I don’t even care. There is no place for math on a vacation, especially when combined with a nice red.

*Math is Hard.

Next: Part Two: Hopkinsville