News: SF at Purple COVID-19 tier

Our case rate nearly quadrupled? This is ominous.

Our county is tiny, so the idea of avoiding travel outside of SF is kind of wild. I haven’t left SF since March, so it is obviously totally do-able, but it’s still kind of a shock.


If you feel sick or you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, get tested.The City has issued a travel advisory urging residents not to travel outside of the county and recommending a 14-day quarantine for anyone who traveled outside the state or engaged in higher risk activity.

Life: Sunsets

Views of San Franciscans socially distancing out at Ocean Beach

I went for a two hour walk to the beach yesterday, in order to enjoy the sunset, and it was LOVELY.

It was also great to see people (people!) out and about; dogs losing their minds with joy over chasing balls; children digging in the mud… The surfers were fun to watch (the waves weren’t great, but they were patient), and the soothing, deep sound the waves make was good for me…

Art/Science: Citrus Botanical Illustrations

This is a reminder that many citrus fruit used to have insanely thick peels, the way some pomelos do:

An early-modern ode to citrus fruit – in pictures

Johann Christoph Volkamer was a 17th -century Nuremberg silk merchant with passion for gardening that defined his life. He was obsessed with citrus fruit at a time when the genus was largely unknown in northern Europe. In 1708, he commissioned 256 plates of 170 varieties of the fruit – images collected in a new book by Prof Iris Lauterbach called JC Volkamer.

Internet Rabbit Hole: the Recent Life of the Last U.S. Slave

I was reading my very strange Twitter feed (it’s so geeky – lawyers, writers, activists, marine biologists, comedians), when I fell into a Michael Harriot thread about Bruce Boynton, who died on November 23, 2020. His thread would up telling multiple stories: of slaves making off with a ship, fighting in the Civil War, and all the cool things their descendants did.

As he unwinds these stories (which you should read in his thread), the story includes having one of Boynton’s relatives discussing the last surviving U.S. slaves – not the one that was famous at the time, but another. A woman named Redoshi, who was on that last, highly illegal final ship called Clothilde, the wreckage of which was recently found.

You can read more about her specifically in this video, from an Alabama news station:

I thought Mr. Harriot had linked to the wrong video in his thread, since it is a USDA film about how the 1930s USDA had dedicated trainers and agents to train and advise southern Blacks in successful farming techniques, but Redoshi does appear briefly and early on in this video from the USDA under the name Sally Smith:

(This video really inspires me to think of 4H and other agricultural programs differently: they played a role in supporting those freed from slavery and their descendants in a way I hadn’t been aware of. It’s not JUST white farm kids having animal breeding competitions (which is how the 4H kids I knew described it to me) – there was a real public good element to it!!!)

According to Wikipedia (and the video from, above), Redoshi died in 1937.

She was alive during my grandparents lifetimes.

SLAVERY WAS VERY VERY RECENT. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Book: Hunger by Roxane Gay

Good cover design! It also matches the color scheme of her essay book, Bad Feminist. Hooray for consistent designers!

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
by Roxane Gay
published by Harper Collins, New York

Hunger is a remarkable memoir by Dr. Gay, whose essays I’ve always enjoyed. She is a child of Haitian immigrants; a sexual assault survivor; a university professor; a writer; and a six foot three inch woman who has to cope daily with the overt hostility of the designed physical environment toward larger people.

This memoir is as charming, thoughtful, and well-written as her other essays, but also deeply personal. She shares many private experiences, not only relating to the sexual assault that traumatized her and changed her relationship to her body, but also her struggles in managing the pressures of her parents, the decisions that were made for her by others about her future, her loneliness in school, difficult interpersonal relationships, the appeal of the Internet to communicate, and her path to teaching and writing.

Dr. Gay writes that her memoir was very difficult to create. It does contain many painful moments, told with her clear, direct, and elegant prose. I enjoyed the audio version of this book read by the author, and her voice is pleasing; the intimacy of the work in her voice is especially touching; while she won’t admit to bravery, the way she shares her life with honesty and vulnerability is moving and admirable. Her wry humor shines through in unexpected moments.

Portions of the book relate very much to the body she has created as armor against the traumas she has survived, and much of the press for the book when it came out focuses on this. I’ll include an excerpt printed by the UK Guardian on this topic, but know that this is just one of her themes.

Roxane Gay: ‘My body is a cage of my own making’

o tell you the story of my body, do I tell you how much I weighed at my heaviest? Do I tell you that number, the shameful truth of it always strangling me? At my heaviest, I weighed 577lb, or over 41st, at 6ft 3in.

I felt a bit defensive about the decision to publish excerpts on this topic by the press and/or the publisher, but I think it supports a point Dr. Gay makes about large bodies being treated like public property by our society.

This is an excellent memoir, and I hope it was satisfying and cathartic to write it. I think it will be enjoyed by: anyone who already appreciates her essays; sexual assault survivors (and their loved ones); writers (and anyone else with a passion) who need reassurance that the path to a writing life (or a professorship) can be indirect and filled with detours; people who are trying to understand trauma; and anyone who enjoys a well-written, contemporary memoir.

Art/Science: Marianne North’s botanical paintings

Details from the Kew Gardens postcard box collection of Marianne North’s work. I’m delighted to have come across this, and know I’ll need to keep some of these for myself, though my pen friends will enjoy all the others!

If you’ve read any of my prior blogs, you know I love scientific illustrations, both by hand and with photographs, especially for botany. I’m delighted to now have a Kew Gardens (UK) postcard box dedicated to Marianne North’s botanical oil paintings.

Kew has a collection of more than 800 of her oil paintings, which were not only attractive, but also novel for her time: they were painted in oil paints, when the convention was watercolor; and they were painted with details of their native environment, not just on a white background. North had been impressed by Kew’s plant collection, and wanted to go to where those plants came from, to study them in the field. Though her father had died and she was unmarried, she was wealthy enough to ignore conventions requiring her to travel under a male relative’s supervision, and set off at age 40 to explore 15 countries over 14 years.

I love that she painted a pitcher plant that had not previously been documented by Europeans, which excited the botanists, who worked her name into the formal species name. (I always have an issue with Europeans naming things outside of Europe after themselves, rather than getting input from local people IN that region, but in this instance I’m consoled that they at least named it after a female artist who called their attention to it.)

Marianne North Gallery

More than 800 remarkable paintings cover the walls of the Marianne North Gallery. A vivid collection of 19th century botanical art, the gallery is a treat for both art lovers and adventurous minds. As a woman who defied convention, North travelled the world solo to record the tropical and exotic plants that captivated her.

I like her work; I like her convictions about including the natural settings, which themselves convey a great deal of information; and I am impressed that she could do so much in oil paint, which I think of as requiring more time (to dry especially) and requiring much heavier supplies (and solvents!). I like that Julia Margaret Cameron photographed her in Sri Lanka. (I hadn’t known that JMC even WENT to Sri Lanka…)

Kew’s collection isn’t an accident: North not only gave it to them, she paid for, designed, and staged the building her collection resides in. She could afford to share her work and love of plants on a rather grand scale, and she did.

I’m enjoying her work (I love many of the plants she loved), and love the quality of the postcard collection, which will allow me to ply my friends with her art.

Book: No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh

Book cover with SHINY letters! Nicely designed.

No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering
by Thich Nhat Hanh
published by Parallax Press, Berkeley, California

I own and have read MANY books by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and talented author of many books on Zen Buddhism. I’ve seen him speak in an auditorium here in the Bay Area. No matter how many times I hear or read him, I find great clarity and some useful insights into Buddhist philosophy. While I joined a temple of a different Buddhist sect for several years and enjoyed meditating and studying with them, I return to TNH’s work frequently.

TNH’s work helps me be more thoughtful about living in the present moment, a key concept of Buddhist study. He writes about it many different ways in different books, but the key concepts always remain the same.

This particular book emphasizes that suffering of various sorts is a part of life, and that we need to acknowledge that. This isn’t some book about faking optimism, or always looking on the bright side of life [insert Monty Python song here]: it’s about admitting that our suffering is real, but not letting it consume us. (It’s refreshing to read this, when we know people who force optimism on us for their own comfort…) Discussions of how we compound our suffering by dwelling on particular misfortunes and berating ourselves over them ring very true, and can help us manage misfortune more thoughtfully, without tearing ourselves apart.

Like many of TNH’s other books, this has the main thematic writing plus a supplement with a different structure. This time, it is a sort of workshop to help us resolve conflicts with loved ones through being present and thoughtful about emotional pain. The words seem simple, but the approach is highly thoughtful, and presenting these concepts in such a clear fashion makes them less intimidating. Just the first step – telling someone dear to you who is in conflict with you that you are really THERE for them, fully present, that they have your full attention – this rings really true to me, and I can name times when that first step alone could have de-escalated difficult personal situations.

This is another thoughtful, easy to read, problem-solving book written in a calming, reasonable tone. I’m glad I picked it up.

Culture: 51st National Day of Mourning

Native Americans would appreciate it if the U.S. acknowledged that its national Thanksgiving myth is a myth; that Wampanoag generosity was rewarded with oppression; and that the Wampanoags are STILL fighting for their own land.

I’m sharing an article from Time of the current challenges the Wampanoags face – yes, they still aren’t properly recognized and need their land rights to be respected, which needs to be addressed (hello, Biden Administration) – plus a link to the livestream from the demonstration today.

Tribe Who Fed the Pilgrims Strives for Survival Amid New Epidemic

Many Wampanoag hoped that the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing would be a galvanizing event to remind people that they still exist

Information about the National Day of Mourning and details around this event can be found on the page for the United American Indians of New England ( The livestream below has many intersectional values – hello, Palestine and Black Lives Matter! – but also ensures that Native Americans speak for themselves.

Even with the current list of obstacles, the speeches have encouraging solidarity for other groups around the world who have survived colonialism, and emphasis on a need to save the planet and ensure climate justice. The video is 5 hours long, but it includes real time video scenes from the march and other demonstrations – it isn’t all speeches. The pre-recorded portion of the program starts around 2:17, and it is a collection of remote testimonials and videos from many native cultures.

(Aside: one of the speakers from Puerto Rico sent greetings at the end of his speech in the Taíno language, which Wikipedia says is extinct … I recall reading that before, but Wikipedia’s page has a video of a speaker they say is speaking Taíno, and I’m more likely to believe someone speaking it than I am a Wikipedia article based on books from outsiders. While many Google search results insist that both the language and people are extinct, this article, “What became of the Taíno?” in the Smithsonian magazine takes a broader view, and allows people who self-identify as native speak. This touches on the topic of ‘who gets to decide what you are,’ which I think of often as a mixed-race person.)

Life: November 2020: COVID-19 Pandemic

So, in addition to dealing with the record-breaking and dramatic U.S. elections, we still have the pandemic to cope with.


This month, the U.S. surpassed 2 million confirmed cases and 250,000 deaths.

It’s bad. We have something like 4% of the world’s population but more than 20% of the COVID-19 cases.

Americans are even now traveling and visiting each other for Thanksgiving, so there are very grim projections for December. Extremely grim. Something like 40% of Americans surveyed planned interstate travel for the holiday.

I mean, we’re already at 2,000 deaths per day. Reuters reported in this article that there is a U.S. COVID-19 death every 40 seconds. But that isn’t enough to make some people change their plans.

From, as always.

Some of the spread is persistent political toxicity – people recall that Republicans insisted that this GLOBAL PANDEMIC was just a hoax to make the U.S. President look bad. [eye roll] The heartbreaking story last week was of people in North Dakota denying on their literal deathbeds that COVID-19 is real, and abusing their hardworking nurses and other caregivers. (We really need to stop both-sides-ing partisanship folks. One particular side is dying of it.)

{My own circle’s COVID infection numbers are climbing VERY slowly, thankfully, and feel like they are tapering off from earlier seasons. I still have just one first degree friend who was infected (and was denied a test), but seven second degree contacts had it, and more than 8 third degree contacts… And that’s without having checked social media for a year to find out who in my wider circle has been infected.}

Vaccine Testing Progress

The good news is that the vaccine trials are going well. While the data is still being compiled, theoretically nearly all of the advanced trials are showing something over 90% efficacy, though the math seems to work differently for each of them.

I could just share the data, but why do that when I can also share an Oxford comma joke?


Pfizer vaccine: effective, protective and safeModena vaccine: effective, protective and safeOxford vaccine: effective, protective, and safe

So, there is hope that we can get treatments next year, but they won’t be 100% protective, and we don’t know how long their protective effects will last. And some asshats still think the virus is a hoax, even as they are spreading it or dying from it, so getting people to use the vaccine or any other protective measure will be a challenge.

COVID Treatment and Prevention Risks (beyond the obvious nationalist ones here)

Plus, there are new variants of COVID-19, including a strain that leapt from domestic mink to humans, which is not a thing we need right now – it’s just another front to manage when we aren’t even managing the human infections. (See this article in Scientific American about the infection that has spread to more than 200 people in Denmark.) . This is yet another time when I gripe and say that everyone who eats or wears animals is endangering all of society with their lifestyle. Yes, there is the massive environmental damage and greenhouse gases, and water consumption, and land consumption, and related pollution – all of that – BUT ALSO these animal diseases jump to humans and spread around the world, and we really wish you would stop. Swine flu global pandemics, bird flu global pandemics, COVID-19 from an animal market as a global pandemic… I’m not even going to discuss Ebola.

HUMANS – learn from these pandemics – for all of us – PLEASE.

To me, a non-expert who reads lots of news, this feels like it means:
-ongoing major losses of life;
-ongoing need for funding and expansion of health support needs for people who have long term side effects (and a big expansion of health services worldwide);
-six months to another year of major precautions, perhaps followed by many years of less serious precautions IF we can manage long term immunity, with changes in design, ventilation, and occupancy of indoor spaces, and
-lots of hard work to recover in all the ways that matter to society.

This really is a world-changing event, and managing the changes will be a big challenge for us.