In the beginning we were told by health experts to stay calm during
the coronavirus pandemic. The fact is there are no two words in the English
language more likely to incite panic in the human species than the
phrase, “stay calm.”
Unless it’s, “Don’t panic.”
Personally, I prefer to panic early and often at every opportunity. I
panic at everything, phone calls, the mail box and writing this
column. I know this is wrong, but old habits die hard.
Back in 2001 during the dreaded Anthrax scare where some nutcase was mailing
letters and packages containing a white powdery form of deadly poison around
the country, I panicked when finding a mysterious white powder in my
box of donuts.
The good news was there was no anthrax in the donuts. The bad news was
the donuts themselves were a sugar-coated jelly-filled death-wish
filled with recycled petroleum products and unpronounceable
ingredients that every year kill far more people in this country through
diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
But nobody cares. Death by donut will never make the news.
The fact is with the appearance of the coronavirus, nobody seemed to
care about the boring old diseases like the flu, which accounts for
between 12,000-61,000 deaths annually since 2010. Fewer than half of
us bother to get a flu shot.
There could be many reasons for this. There is an anti-vaccination
movement in this country that has allowed the reappearance of diseases
that were once thought to be extinct. Measles, scarlet fever, whooping
cough and even a form of polio are making a comeback thanks to
people’s reluctance to be vaccinated against these diseases.
In addition, there are an estimated 533,000 homeless people which
includes 37,000 homeless Veterans in our nation. Living in filth and
poverty they are increasingly susceptible to outbreaks of contagious
diseases including typhus, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria,
Hepatitis, Shigella and HIV/AIDS.
These diseases account for an estimated 13,000 homeless deaths every
year not counting veterans who, according to the Department of
Veterans Affairs are committing suicide at the rate of 20 every day
nationwide. But that is not news. Any more than the shocking impact
that cancer, smoking, obesity, food-borne illness and even the common
cold continue to have on our country.
Since last spring we have been focused on a new disease. But do we
listen to doctor’s advice on how to deal with this new health
challenge? No. When the CDC tells us to wash our hands, wear a face
mask and avoid crowds what do we do? We buy hoard toilet paper, stop
drinking Corona beer and go on vacation.
There was also a reported shortage of soap in some areas of our
paranoid nation. Causing questions to be asked. Were all these people
not using soap and toilet paper before the Corona virus?
Other news outlets reported a disturbing snack shortage during the
early stages of the Pandemic. Shoppers hoarded Ding Dongs and Twinkies
as if an emulsified mixture of sugar, hydrogenated oils and chemicals
was the ultimate survival food. I started hoarding donuts. That was
until I found some mysterious white powder on them but I tried not to
Personally, I was OK with the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for handling the coronavirus. Social distancing? It’s perfect for those of us who have always avoided crowds. In addition, it’s about time someone told all the
“close-talkers” — you know the ones that have to lean in close within
inches of your face — to share some intense revelation, to just back off
and shut up.
No hand-shakes? Finally. It’s about time this barbaric practice was
abandoned. This medieval form of social greeting not only spreads
germs it is physically painful for those of us with hand injuries.
No school? I only wish they had told us that when I was a kid. We
would have gone fishing. Of course, kids don’t fish these days. All
they really need is a video game, a microwave chimichanga and an
energy drink. There, they’ll keep very well.
The paranoid delusions over the coronavirus created a self-publishing
boom. No toilet paper? No problem. My self-published books were flying off the
shelves and out the door in record numbers during the toilet paper
shortage. The fact is paper is paper.
We were always a nation of problem solvers who got it done.
Despite everything we carried on. At the time my morning routine
included breakfast with some ladies. They considered breakfast the
most important meal of the day. One day I was late. I would have
called them with a list of excuses for being late, but they were
smarter than most humans. They didn’t carry phones or care about
yakking on them all day. They wouldn’t care if the truck had a dead
battery, a leaky radiator and a flat tire. They just figured a man is
either as good as his word, or he’s not.
The fact remained that I was late, and there was going to be trouble.
Sure enough, the herd was starring daggers at me when I backed into
the barn to load hay. They started an insistent mooing to register a
complaint about breakfast being delayed.
Which was entirely understandable. Some tend to get a little ornery at
feeding time. When I got the truck loaded with hay, the mooing
stopped. The ominous silence meant they were maneuvering around the
back of the barn to get into position to rush the gate as soon as I
We both knew the drill. Cows aren’t too hard to figure out because
they’re just like people. Even though there’s enough food for everyone
to eat their fill, they’re going to panic, stampede and fight over it.
I had to get the hay off the truck before that happened and I got
squished. Getting caught between cows and their hay could be painful,
if not fatal. That must be why the rancher’s parting words of advice
were, “Don’t let them kill you.”
With breakfast served, the herd calmed down and ate for a few hours.
They got a drink and lay down to chew their cud. Watching cows fight
over hay was not unlike watching humans battle over toilet paper.
There’s plenty for everyone, but they like to fight over it. Which is
an illustration of the herd mentality in humans.
Experts tell us our primitive brains go into panic mode in threatening
situations, causing us to freak out, stampede and hoard things we
don’t need, no matter what the cost. That can give us an illusory
sense of control in an out-of-control world. It can cause the rest of
the herd to panic and stampede into grocery stores and gun stores and
buy things they don’t need because everyone else is doing it.
The past summer was a perfect example. After buying as many groceries
as they could possibly hoard, the herd decided it was the perfect time
to go on a vacation. Everyone went out to their favorite recreational
area to enjoy the sunshine because everyone else was doing it. Never
mind warnings from doctors to stay home.
Instead, the herd panicked and stampeded spreading the coronavirus
farther, but who knows, since tests for it were scarce. The herd
ignored disaster-preparedness experts who had spent years telling us
to have two weeks of supplies on hand. Instead, the herd panicked and
stampeded to hoard gloves and masks, denying them to doctors and
nurses who needed them. Then the herd stocked up on disinfectant
wipes, which were flushed down the toilet to clog the sewers.
The herd ignored doctors, disaster-relief experts and plumbers. The
herd listened to politicians, infomercials and TV preachers. Someday,
the human herd needs to develop an alternative to the automatic panic
and stampede response. Until then, it seems people may not be as dumb
as cows, but they sure aren’t any smarter.
Inevitably, public health experts were forced to impose a coronavirus
self-isolation quarantine. Personally, I would rather have gone
fishing, but the season was subject to an emergency closure. While
this was a necessary decision to control the spread of the
coronavirus, it was particularly devastating to those of us who
believe that every day spent fishing does not count against the span
of our lives.
By day one, or maybe it was day two or four, I don’t know it’s easy to
lose track of time when you don’t go anywhere or do anything, a
desperate form of boredom had set in. I wasn’t going to let a little
thing like a global pandemic keep me from reaching my life goals.
Experts told us it was a good idea to use the period of isolation to
engage in productive pursuits to improve the quality of our lives. To
optimize the effectiveness of our time spent in quarantine, it’s best
to prioritize the most important tasks, identify which can be put off
and move on to the next project. I decided to shovel out the house.
It was time to start the vacuum cleaner. First, I looked for the pull
cord and discovered vacuum cleaners don’t have one. After some
searching, I found the on-off switch. The vacuum cleaner worked great.
For about a minute or so. Then it started smoking. It turns out the
vacuum cleaner was a piece of junk that couldn’t even handle sucking
up a little 20-pound test fishing line. Prioritize, identify and move
What better time than a pandemic quarantine to start cutting firewood?
If only I could have gotten the chainsaw started. It must have sat
too long and the fuel went bad. I pulled and pulled on that pull cord
until it broke right off. There’s no way to cut firewood without a
chainsaw. Prioritize, identify and move on.
Springtime means one thing to gardeners. It’s time for the spring
plowing. We had no way of knowing how long this disaster would last,
but it’s always a good idea to have some fresh, homegrown vegetables.
It could keep you out of the grocery store. The only problem being the
garden spot had been taken over by a gnarly patch of blackberries and
salmonberry bushes so thick you’d need a chainsaw to cut through
them. Time was a wasting, so I attacked the brush pile with a shovel.
That was a bad idea. I’ve never been able to find a shovel that would
fit my hands, but sometimes you just have to make do with what you’ve
got. Stabbing the shovel into the rocky ground, I pried at a big
salmon berry root until the handle broke. Prioritize, identify and
I have always wanted to make my own bread, and there’s no time like
the pandemic quarantine to try. I was out of bread. I had all of the
ingredients. Sort of. My only jar of yeast was 15 years old. Bread
dough is supposed to rise and double in size before you bake it. Mine
just lay there like a ball of mud. I ended up with a loaf of bread so
heavy I could have used it for a driftboat anchor. The yeast must
have gone bad.
That’s life in quarantine. We moved through the rhythm of our days
alone but together, doing the small things that made our lives better,
in hopes of helping others who have no choice but to leave home and
work for the good of us all.
Meanwhile, there was a lot of talk about herd immunity, the theory that
if enough of the human population was infected with or vaccinated for
the new coronavirus, then a majority of the herd would be immune from
However irrelevant this Darwinian theory may be in a country where
testing for the disease was largely unavailable to the general
population and a vaccine had yet to be formulated, it was the basis
for the argument that the country should get back to normal as soon as
Humans are herd animals. They share a common belief with other herd
animals that gathering together increases their odds of survival
because, chances are that predation and accidents will only happen to
the other herd members.
That premise can be observed in a herd of elk. They are often nervous
and fearful from being stalked by cougars and bears. When the calves
are born, they are sheltered from predators in the center of the herd.
Once the calves are weened, they are on their own.
When elk feed, their heads are down. That’s when they are the most
vulnerable. That could be why, when adult elk are feeding, they are
often observed barging in closely between two calves. The adult elk
use the most vulnerable as a shield against predators. This
characteristic of the herd mentality is readily observable in the
human herd these days.
We believe nothing bad can happen to us becauseit hasn’t happened to us yet, just the others. People who work in
essential industries are the most vulnerable. They are often paid the
least. They have to show up anyway. The rest of the herd uses them as
a shield to keep society functioning. Once again illustrating how the
human herd was no better than the animal herd.
Meanwhile, the rest of the herd got bored. They wanted life to return
to normal as soon as possible. They wanted to go fishing, to the
movies and church because everyone else was doing it. Because they
thought the pandemic was a hoax and efforts to deal with were a
creeping form of socialism that denied our constitutional rights to
Maybe they were right. Did efforts to control the coronavirus send our
country down the slippery slope to a communist regime? Perhaps we
could look at other examples of government interference in our
personal and professional lives to observe a pattern of insidious
government control in our society.
April 15 marks the traditional opening of fire season. Loggers and
other woodsmen are required to have fire-fighting tools and water
tanks on the job. Sometimes loggers are even required to build fire
trails around their logging operations so there is a better chance of
stopping a fire if it starts. Outdoor burning is restricted during
fire season, or even outlawed altogether as the woods dry out. With
good reason. The government agencies get stuck with the massive human
and financial costs of fighting forest fires. Maybe that’s why they
want to stop the woods from burning. Is that socialism? Or is it just
People were disagreeing with government efforts to control the
coronavirus, such as the stay-at-home order and the suspension of
fishing season. Both of which I supported. Now, before I am accused of
going soft on the government, please remember I wrote this as an
out-of-work fishing guide. Like many people who were out of work, I
was broke. But I knew one thing. There is not a fish you can catch on
this Earth that’s worth catching this virus and giving it to others.
One day I had to learn that the hard way. It was a day I’ll never
forget. I remember it like it was yesterday. How would I know? After a
month of staying at home in quarantine, I lost track of time when the
boundaries of the known universe constricted into a small world of
isolation, privation and poverty.
The locals have always prided themselves on how tough they were when
dealing with tough times, and there’s no time like the quarantine to
demonstrate this time-honored truism.
I thought it would be a good time to catch up on some of the more disgusting chores I had been
putting off all winter, like cleaning out the bait cooler. That was
something I had been ignoring for the several weeks since bait was
outlawed on our rivers. That left me with a cooler full of rotting
fish eggs and sand shrimp congealing in the warm spring sun.
That is not usually a job for the faint-hearted. The funny thing was
when I opened the cooler, I could not smell a thing. That should have
been a clue. When you can’t smell a cooler full of rotten shrimp, you
could have the coronavirus.
Just looking in that cooler made me feel a little queasy, which was
odd. I usually have an iron gut that allows me to consume the offal my
clients bring out on the river for lunch. Here’s another clue: If your
stomach starts gurgling like you just drank a gallon of cheap beer,
you could have the coronavirus.
About that time, health experts warned us not to touch our face.
That’s when my face started itching and twitching like I had just
sniffed a pile of black pepper. Here’s another clue: When your eyes
turn red and start tearing up like you’re watching the end of “Old
Yeller,” you could have the coronavirus.
When your body starts aching all over like you’ve been on a 40-mile
hike, but you haven’t gotten out of bed in a week, you could have the
When the fever hits and you’re lying there soaked to the skin and life
is not fun, you really could have the coronavirus, even if it’s not
confirmed by a test.
Also known as the “Boomer Remover,” because older people tend to be
more susceptible, the coronavirus has a wide range of symptoms.The
most amazing thing about it is that some people can get it and die
while others can carry it without any symptoms not knowing they have
it, while infecting the rest of the population.
Those of us in the middle who have survived this virus are not likely to be joining one
of the mobs protesting the stay-at-home orders. We are just trying to
heal up and count our blessings.
The Boomer Remover is not all bad if you survive it. The virus has a
way of showing you who your friends are. And I will never again complain
about a slow day’s fishing or the weather.
Since I tested positive for the Covid-19 anti-bodies, people have been
asking what having the disease was like. Imagine a view from a ridge
top high in the mountains. It looks like someplace up the Dungeness
where there’s nothing but bare rock without even a wild onion sticking
out of the ground. The ridge is steep on both sides and narrow in the
middle, so you have to balance pretty good if you are going to walk up
it. And you had better walk up it because there are fires on three
sides of you, and you have to make it to the top of the ridge to
escape. Except you can’t breathe, and the sweat is pouring out of you
and there is no water. But you cannot stop. You have to make it to the
top of the ridge, where it looks like the sun is going down. You hope
the ridge top is heaven, because hell is down below.
That’s what it’s like to have the boomer remover, COVID-19. You get
the weirdest dreams. Even when you’re awake. This disease can affect
every organ in your body from your aching brain to your burning toes
and all of the guts in between. The remover is weird because you can
have it and not know it. Without testing, you can be an asymptomatic
contagious mess, and it is difficult to get tested. I only knew I had
the remover after they tested me for anti-bodies. By that time, I had
This is my story.
One of the toughest things about the remover is figuring out if you’ve
got it. Loss of taste and smell is a prime symptom. Then you can start
feeling about as bad as a person can feel, like you’re going to die. I
was OK with that. I’ve had a good life. Being a fishing guide is a
dream career, except for the clients. These can be sick individuals.
People are the most dangerous critters on Earth. Fishermen are even
worse than that.
Social distancing? No, guides have client hazing rituals where the
anglers are jammed in a truck then driven around in circles in the
dark causing them to lose all sense of direction. At some point the
clients are lowered off a bluff and loaded into a boat while being
told they are probably too late to catch anything.
We share fishing gear, beverages and food. My guys know they will not
catch a thing if they don’t bring some Forks Outfitters apple
fritters. And if that apple fritter should drop on the floor of the
boat the five second rule doesn’t apply. It’s a full sixty seconds.
That’s how I got the boomer remover, taking guys fishing. That’s why I
wrote this, so my fellow guides would get a clue. If I can get it so
If you get Covid19 you probably won’t be fishing for a while. Take
heart, you can contribute to the herd immunity. That’s where some
people are supposed to die off before they collect Social Security.
You want to try to cheat the system by staying alive. How you do that
has become a political debate.
I wear a mask in public. It’s for your protection not mine. I’m no
medical expert. I am no constitutional expert, but I’m pretty sure
wearing masks isn’t in there, but neither is the barbless hook rule.
I’ve never won constitutional arguments with fish cops anyway.
Stay healthy. It is good to be alive.