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In Birdland, we had our first frost. I knew it was coming and had a harvest of herbs and squash on my to-do list for the day but lost track of time. In the wee hours, I remembered the plants from the front porch, so I carried in my Norfolk Island pine and the big dish of succulents I planted this summer. In a while, I’ll see what I can salvage from the garden. How much we lost, how much survived the frost. The seasonal cycle is natural but feels more poignant this year.

I am grief-stricken that although we just had a quick visit with our youngest — Ellis came from the fiery west to spend six weeks in Illinois, where he could see his beloved — I had to deliver him up to quarantine in a room in Chicago for two weeks to keep his host family safe. On the way, we stopped and had an outdoor visit with Dylan, our middle son, and his sweetheart. They made us snacks, and we sat in the backyard at a picnic table. Now I will spend the next two weeks waiting to hear if that quick visit infected any of us. We test often and try to be careful, but it’s hard not to worry.

I think of my cloistered boy and feel sad for him, and for so many of us living a cloistered life. Still, I am grateful for the technology we have to keep in touch and be safe. We can at least see our boys’ faces when we talk with them. We get our test results very quickly on my phone, but then I remember that not everyone has a phone or has easy access to tests.

I am grieving that I don’t know when I will be able to hug my folks again. We visit in their yard, and while Ellis was home, ate pizza together outside with Mom and Bob and my brother, Robby. Winter is coming, but I am grateful that my sister set up a tent and an outdoor heater to keep cold-weather visits possible. I long for the day when I can go inside and help Mom repot her plants, sit at the dining room table and eat Bob’s good soup, or his turkey meatloaf.

Sometimes I am consumed by grief. Grief that we missed our own son’s wedding. They had a wonderful celebration planned for next May but decided to elope instead in case we are still under the thumb of this pandemic. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t feel slighted in the least. In fact, I am proud of them for their low-risk celebration with their “pandemic pod” out in Seattle, a very small group of trusted friends who have promised to socialize only within the pod. They sent us beautiful photos — on the beach in their wedding clothes, and they managed to travel safely to a small venue and have their outdoor dream wedding. Later, he told me that it was the perfect day — except for missing family members. His brother was supposed to be his best man. I told him that we would celebrate someday and that he can think of it as expansive. Maybe instead of a wedding day, they will have a wedding year. We will dance and toast their marriage and laugh and celebrate — when it is safe to do so.

Where are you finding joy in these times? I asked Ellis, and he told me he really likes to watch movies, so we rented “Hamilton,” discussing it for the next few days. Any little thing to spark conversation with people I love brings me joy. Sitting under the canopy in Dylan’s backyard, surrounded by herbs and vegetables, we talked about the harvest and the turkeys and chickens. He told us about a project called “Reasons to be Cheerful.” I checked it out. It’s not just feel-good pictures of kittens and rainbows (though I admit I like to look at those, too) but features news stories from around the world that show how we can make positive changes. I think the idea is to bring people together by sharing good ideas. The stories are compelling and detailed and touching and positive. These times have made me a news junkie. This has become my antidote.

When I dropped Ellis off at his sweetheart’s house, we visited a few minutes with her family on the porch. They had made me a good dinner of Indian food, but I didn’t want to keep them out on the cold porch as the sun went down, so they packed it to send home with me. I cried a little on the way home while fragrant spices filled my car, thinking about my last glimpse of my boy as he went inside to his little lockdown. I don’t know when I can hug him again, but I’m grateful for what we all do to keep our loved ones safe.

Mask in Beauty; Distance in Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in the News Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal Republican. Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at or via snail mail care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.

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