Pandemic Pastimes

Granger MeadorDecember 5, 2020

Wendy and I are concluding the ninth month of a contracted lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic. I expect we face at least six more months of daily masking, distancing, and hand hygiene at work. We’re probably going to have limited travel for another four months or more, with only remote contact with our elderly parents, since as educators we might be able to get vaccinated in early spring.

We would normally be enjoying vacations around the region and out west, so we daydream about our future travels. But it is likely that for over a year our farthest outings will wind up having been one-hour drives. We occasionally head south to Tulsa to get each of us a Chatsworth boxty to-go from Kilkenny’s (with Irish Balloons, of course). Then we head over to Southroads Shopping Center so she can get painting supplies at Michael’s while I browse at Barnes & Noble.

Elk River Trail

But an hour’s drive from Bartlesville in the opposite direction gets us to Elk City Lake, where there are many nice trails. During the pandemic, Wendy and I are only interested in day hikes on narrow nature trails if there are few fellow perambulators. Last summer we drove out to Osage Hills State Park west of Bartlesville, but decided to redirect to the city’s Hudson Lake when we saw how many people were out enjoying the nice trails at Osage Hills which I mapped years ago.  This fall we made the hour’s drive north for an enjoyable Halloween outing to the seldom-frequented middle section of the Elk River Trail.

link to trail photos

Elk River Trail hike

Bridge Project at Osage Hills

Ranger Nick

Ranger Nick at Osage Hills

Back at Osage Hills, I’m excited that a new roadway bridge is being built to reach Lookout Lake. Kenneth Standish, Jr. was one of Wendy’s Student Tech Support Team students last year. He made replacing the old bridge to Lookout Lake, which often washed out, his Eagle Scout project. We contributed $1,200 of an impressive $15,000 Kenneth has raised to partner with the Osage County Commissioners in replacing the bridge with a higher I-beam structure that won’t require repeated repairs. I truly appreciate Ranger Nick Conner’s updates at the Osage Hills State Park Facebook page.

I look forward to when I can drive across that bridge in my car, which is adorned with an Oklahoma State Parks license plate. That is a fun way to support them.

License Plate

You can support our parks with a nice state park license plate

Pathfinder Parkway

Most pandemic weekends you can find me strolling along one part or another of Bartlesville’s Pathfinder Parkway trail system. Back when the weather and foliage were cooperative, I shot many photos along the way and at Johnstone and Jo Allyn Lowe parks.

Flickr Photos

Photos from my summer and autumn walks in Bartlesville

Backbeat Fit headphones

My Backbeat Fit headphones 

Wendy joins me on walks in our neighborhood, but I’m usually solo on the Pathfinder. Since my brain is seldom in repose, I have always enjoyed listening to audiobooks on my walks and hikes. My classic Apple AirPods are okay, but I long preferred my Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones for walks.

Bone conduction headphones

My bone conduction headphones

Then Mat Taylor of Techmoan, one of the YouTube creators I support on Patreon, posted a review of the Aeropex AfterShokz bone-conducting headphones. I trust his judgment and, given my tinnitus and hearing loss, decided they were worth a try. Wendy has far more acute hearing than I do, so I routinely use earphones around the house. These bone conduction ones don’t block the ear canal, so I can hear ambient sound better and just tap a button to communicate with Wendy or someone I greet on the Pathfinder, rather than push and pull plugs out of my ears.

The downsides to these bone conduction headphones are their Bluetooth reception and their rigid loop. Their connection to my iPhone or iPad is more likely to encounter interference from our microwave oven or cut out with distance. The rigid loop, compared to the loopless AirPods and flexibly linked Backbeat Fit plugs, has to be shifted when I’m relaxing in my recliner listening to YouTube videos on my iPad. But I wear them routinely, only shifting to my AirPods when the Aeropex ones need charging. And I hardly ever use my Backbeat Fit ones anymore.

Books ⇒ Kindles ⇒ Swings ⇒ Boox

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I am an avid reader. You might even know I was an early adopter of the Amazon Kindle e-ink devices. I have owned at least seven of them since I bought my first one a dozen years ago. The basic technology has changed little, with the most significant improvement being lighting beginning with the Paperwhite in 2012. I still use a Kindle Voyage I purchased in 2014, but I regret purchasing an Oasis in 2019.

Kindle Oasis

I don’t like the shape of the Kindle Oasis

With age, my eyesight has diminished along with my hearing. So I purchased the Oasis to get a bigger screen: the Voyage is the usual 6″ diagonal, and the Oasis bumped that up to 7″. But it didn’t make enough difference to matter, and I prefer a device of uniform thickness over its odd shape, which I find annoying to hold. I also prefer having forward and back buttons on each side on the Voyage over the one-side buttons on the Oasis. And if you like physical page turn buttons, none of the current Kindles have them except the Oasis.

So during the pandemic I have found myself often reading a book using the Kindle app on my iPad. There are two downsides to that for me: the screen and a lack of focus.

The iPad is bright, colorful, and interactive. That makes it great for my daily reading of the Tulsa World, USA Today, Washington Post, and Bartlesville Radio News, although the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise’s iPad app has been unreliable of late. And the iPad is great for YouTube and Facebook. But reading a book on its bright screen can be tiring, and any LCD screen is a poor experience outdoors.

The sepia mode on the Kindle app helps a bit, but then there is the focus issue. The screen is always sharp, so the issue is my own. It is far too easy on the iPad to jab the home button to shift away from a book to look up something on Wikipedia, get distracted with something on YouTube, or, heaven forbid, start doomscrolling on Facebook.

Henry Reed's Journey

A book from childhood 

This was driven home to me this autumn when I decided to read Keith Robertson’s crime novels. He wrote the Henry Reed series which I enjoyed as a child. Out of nostalgia and a desire to escape from the pandemic, I purchased Henry Reed’s Journey to revisit that tale and its fun illustrations by Robert McCloskey. I don’t enjoy illustrations on a Kindle, so I bought a used hardcover copy.

I enjoyed re-reading the book, but I was bemused to see how one incident, where Henry is stained brown to blend in with some Hopis, to ride with them on a parade float, has aged terribly.

Awkward story

The less said about this part of an old children’s story, the better

Originally I could not recall the book’s title or even Henry Reed, only that it had shared the adventures of a boy and girl riding across the country in a station wagon, and there had been multiple books with those characters.  The internet helped me identify it, but it also revealed that Robertson had written a series of crime novels, long out of print, using the pseudonym of Carlton Keith.

I couldn’t find them in electronic format for my Kindle, so out of curiosity I purchased on eBay an old pulp paperback copy of A Gem of a Murder, originally published as The Diamond-Studded Typewriter in 1958. Its cover was not illustrated by Robert McCloskey but by Harry Schaare.

Not a children's book

Murder is not for children 

I enjoyed the book, so I bought the rest of his crime books, again in used paperback and hardback copies. Amazon didn’t have most of them, but Abebooks let me order copies from used bookstores. One came in from Warr Acres, quite close to where I grew up, but others came in from Illinois, Ohio, New York, Tennessee, and…New Zealand. Isn’t the internet marvelous?

I spent part of the time reading the first book out on the patio on the covered two-seater swing which Wendy helped me assemble this summer. As it turned out, that experience proved costly.


The two-seater swing assembled but not yet placed 

I loved the swing, but found myself stretching out on it sometimes to read. Even at only 5’8″, my legs were sticking way out over one side when I did that.

So this fall I decided to move it to the mini-deck I had assembled beside our shed last year. For the patio I purchased a 3-seater version of the same swing, which Wendy again helped me set up. I can stretch out far more easily on it and have continued to enjoy both swings. So purchasing a 60-year-old pulp paperback on eBay for less than $10 led me to spend hundreds more on a larger swing. C’est la vie.

But, patient reader, you may ask, “What does any of that have to do with Kindles?”

Well, while reading that old paperback on the patio, I stayed engrossed in the story. It transported me from a sunny patio in Oklahoma to various locales in New England, wondering what its protagonist, a smart-aleck red-haired document examiner, would do next. I wasn’t able to distract myself by looking up the story environs on the internet, opening Wikipedia to check on something, or ending a chapter to wander off into a video.

I’m still no longer a fan of physical books unless they have illustrations. I prefer the Kindle. And I like an actual Kindle device, with its non-glare e-ink screen and laughably limited internet capability, over the Kindle app on my iPad. But while the 6″ screen on my Kindle Voyage is perfect for reading a book on the go, such as in a restaurant (oh yes, I’ve missed that for the past nine months), it is a tad small for me when relaxing at home.

I longed for an e-ink Kindle about the size of my iPad. But Amazon doesn’t offer any such thing. They stopped selling the 9.7″ Kindle DX years ago. But they do have the Kindle Android app…

I also am a Patreon supporter of Alec Watson of Technology Connections. Last year he showed an Onyx Boox Max 2 with a 13.3″ e-ink screen, although he advised viewers not to buy it, delving into its pros and cons. That led me to splurge on a 10.3″ Boox Note Air; here’s a review video. It has a fancy stylus, supports gestures, etc., but all I really care about is that I can read Kindle books on its big e-ink display.

It arrived earlier this week, but COVID-related work for the district was too unrelenting for me to have the energy to even turn it on until Friday night. I’ve only read a few pages of a book using the Kindle app on this Android device, but I’m quite hopeful that this will be a boon for my reading.

The shot below compares the screen sizes for my iPad, the Boox Note Air, the Kindle Oasis, and the old Kindle Voyage.

Comparison shot

The 10.3″ e-ink screen on the Boox Note Air is larger than the colorful 9.7″ LCD screen on my iPad

Holding my Boox Note Air feels much like holding my iPad, but its e-ink screen is actually a bit larger. Below I’ve opened the same book, one with an illustration, on each device. (For the curious, this is from the Cooling the Lava part of John McPhee’s The Control of Nature, about how the residents of Heimaey, Iceland saved their harbor by spraying water on the volcanic lava flow threatening to close it off.)

Boox Comparison

The same book on my different readers

I can adjust the brightness and hue of the Boox Note Air, going continuously from bluish to sepia to white. I’m hopeful the large non-glare e-ink screen will cause less eyestrain than reading on the iPad and keep my reading more focused.

One good thing about the pandemic is that it has supported my love for reading. Since COVID-19 canceled our Spring Break trip, I have read 22 books on my Kindle and listened to another 18 books on my iPhone. Adding in physical books brings my consumption in 2020 to 45 with four weeks still to go, whereas I read a total of 38 books in 2019 and only around 25 books each in the two years prior to that.

Lewis Meyer

Lewis Meyer

I think it is time to close this discursive look at some of my pandemic pastimes. I end with a quote from the lovable little Lewis Meyer, who reviewed books for decades on Tulsa’s channel 6 in the longest-running book show in America.

The more you read,
the taller you grow.



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Walking it off

Solvitur ambulando.

It is solved by walking.

Walking into the woods near the Piedra River in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado

Longtime readers of this blog know that my online and trail presence have declined since the glory days of a decade ago, when I was out hiking almost every weekend, posting photos from my outings. My pace slackened once the novel trails within easy driving range were exhausted. In recent years I have only gone on a true day hike once every couple of months, and now the coronavirus pandemic has temporarily extinguished my hobby.

YearHiking DaysMileageBlog Posts
2020 through August133
My day hikes and accompanying blog posts peaked almost a decade ago

I’ve loved day hikes since childhood, when my parents introduced me to the trails at Roaring River State Park in southwestern Missouri. Walking is good for both mind and body, helping me get away from work to enjoy and admire the natural world…and to often indulge in audio. Some of my clearest walking memories are imbued with sound.

I was listening to Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth on my first hike on the San Bois Mountains trail at Oklahoma’s Robbers Cave State Park in 2010.

Mmmbop was playing on my first iPod as I skipped along in short sleeves up and down a snow-covered trail at Mt. Rainier in June 2005.

As a critical technology/communications/health protocols cog in the great learning machine that is our school district, I have heavily circumscribed my life for the past six months. It has been a grind with long hours of carting around and preparing thousands of devices, virtual meetings, no spring break nor summer vacation, almost no out-of-town travel, and only one in-restaurant meal, the last being a risk Wendy and I were only willing to take on our wedding anniversary.

At home I have escaped into 18 books, about three per month, both in text and audio form. YouTube is a steady distraction. I still enjoy workday morning aerobics using videotapes I recorded over a quarter-century ago. Wendy laughed when I mentioned how I had inadvertently watched a Hot Pockets commercial from 1993 countless times yet never had one. So she bought me some to satisfy decades of rather mild curiosity.

Wendy has buoyed my spirits countless times, but the most sustaining thing for me amidst the pandemic, with its accompanying cacophony of racial strife and poisonous politics, has been a feature of the city which helped me embrace moving to Bartlesville back in 1989 and has long been part of why I have stayed: the Pathfinder Parkway. For my stress, solvitur ambulando.

The Pathfinder Parkway

Here is an album of shots from three early morning walks this summer along parts of that marvelous trail system and connected attractions:

Field of Clasping Leaf Coneflowers
Album of Pathfinder Parkway shots during the COVID-19 summer of 2020

And what was I listening to along those beautiful walks? Great history books by Sarah Vowell, particularly Lafeyette in the Somewhat United States, Unfamiliar Fishes, and The Wordy Shipmates. Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill. And the silly The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, whose Robert Langdon must be a relative of Frank & Joe Hardy.

The city will have an election on August 25 for another round of bond projects and a sales tax extension. It’s not a tax increase, just renewing funding that has made Bartlesville a great place to live. Wendy and I already sent in our absentee ballots long ago. Among many other projects, the bond election will fund improvements to the ring road at Johnstone Park, while the sales tax will fund maintenance and repair of the Pathfinder Parkway. I urge everyone to VOTE YES for Building a Better Bartlesville.

And if you are stressed…walk it off. Solvitur ambulando.


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Can we be hopeful in the wake of the storm?

May 3, 2020

“I must confess that I found myself almost hopeless in the wake of the storm.”

So wrote Dr. J.C. Taylor, the health officer of Rogers County, Oklahoma, of his feelings after the 1918 flu pandemic. What lessons can we learn from that H1N1 viral outbreak, which was commonly called the “Spanish Flu”?

Few elders have useful memories dating back over 100 years, but written history has helped prompt a more vigorous and coordinated response to the 2020 pandemic. The so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918 got its name from when it spread from France, where news of it was suppressed by wartime censorship, into neutral Spain. The press coverage in Spain helped spread word of its devastating impact. No one is sure where that particular strain of the H1N1 influenza virus originated, with hypotheses including Haskell County, Kansas and a hospital camp in France.

But the importance of social distancing and closures was made perfectly clear in comparisons of how a parade in Philadelphia helped overwhelm its health care system to how closures in St. Louis “flattened the curve” and helped suppress its death rate to a fraction of that observed in the City of Brotherly Love.


Those examples and a far better understanding of viral transmission have led to a massive response over a century later, which has, as of early May 2020, avoided overwhelming Oklahoma’s hospitals.

Due in part to outbreaks in multiple local nursing homes, I am unlucky enough to live in the zip code with the highest rate of infections in the state as of May 3, 2020.




As of this writing, Bartlesville has a reported infection rate of 224/36,423, which is over six times higher than Tulsa’s (405/400,669) or Oklahoma City’s (627/649,021), and our death rate is 11 and 13 times higher, respectively.


So, as closures ease after this first wave, I wondered how both Oklahoma in general and Bartlesville in particular fared in the 1918 pandemic. I used a variety of internet sources, but the most comprehensive was in print: the Spring 2001 edition of The Chronicles of Oklahoma with an article by Dr. Nigel Anthony Sellars: Almost Hopeless in the Wake of the Storm: The 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic in Oklahoma. I have included highlights from it below, but you must order your own print copy to see his complete overview.

Dr. Sellars documented how 7,350 Oklahomans died of the influenza and related secondary infections in the second and third waves of the epidemic between October 1, 1918 and April 1, 1919. Health officials were overwhelmed by the second wave, and few back in 1918 suspected that the culprit was a virus. Many incorrectly blamed Pfeiffer’s bacillus, a bacterium.


Emergency hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas in 1918

The first reported human case was in early March 1918 at Camp Funston near Fort Riley, Kansas. The first wave of outbreaks was carried to Europe, where the virus spread in the trenches of World War I. Thankfully, it retreated in the summer.

But it mutated in Europe into a more deadly form, leading to a devastating second wave in the fall, which peaked in October. Entire units fighting in Europe were disabled in the late summer, and returning naval and merchant vessels brought the mutated influenza back to America.


Typhoid inoculation lineup at Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, circa 1917-1918

Camp Doniphan near Fort Sill in southwestern Oklahoma had only 8 deaths from flu among 25,000 men in the winter and spring of 1918. But as Dr. Sellars noted, “…from September to December, with just 3,964 troops, the camp suffered 2,856 flu cases, eighty-three flu deaths, and eight pneumonia deaths.” The Spanish Flu attacked adults in their twenties and thirties rather than children or the elderly, with those between twenty and forty accounting for half of the epidemic’s deaths.

Article-1-Sept-27-pg2Prevention strategies were haphazard. Articles recommended that folks quit smoking, drinking, and overeating. They were told to steer clear of people who sneezed or coughed, to avoid using public drinking cups, and to gargle with various concoctions.

The deadly second wave in Oklahoma

In October, the flu exploded in Oklahoma City (OKC), with the first reported case on September 28. By October 1 there were 1,000 cases, and that would double within two days.  Much of the nursing staff at St. Anthony Hospital fell ill. Dr. Sellars notes, “The flu practically collapsed all city and commercial operations, a pattern duplicated in nearly every state town.”

okc editorial

Daily Oklahoman editorial on October 4, 1918

Dr. LeRoy Long, the dean of the University of Oklahoma’s Medical School, recommended correctly that people avoid crowds to check the disease’s spread. At first, OKC failed to organize a coordinated response. The Daily Oklahoman newspaper editorialized that the city should close all schools, churches, theaters, and other public spaces. But the county physician considered those actions premature, with many city doctors believing the crisis would pass after the weekend. A lack of new cases for two days provided false hope, followed by fourteen deaths over the next three days. That finally prompted the City Commission to issue a sweeping closure order on October 9. By October 12, 70 citizens had died from the flu, including attorney Norman R. Haskell, the son of Oklahoma’s first governor. Hospitals were overcrowded, and pneumonia spread.

Tulsa was more organized, with its leaders meeting on October 2 on a response plan and working with the Red Cross to open an emergency hospital at “The Ark”, a former women’s detention clinic to combat venereal disease. It was fumigated for 18 hours, and trustees from the county jail carried out old beds (which were burned), whitewashed the walls, and installed new cots. But while the virus did not discriminate, Tulsa did, with racially segregated wards at The Ark. The Tulsa Race Massacre would occur less than three years later.

Its efforts did not prevent Tulsa from being overcome with 3,000 cases by October 5. The Tulsa Red Cross ordered its members to make 5,000 gauze masks, obtain clothes and bedding for victims, and drive nurses to see patients. Local school children and the Red Cross folded newspapers to make sputum cups to collect and dispose of nasal and oral discharges. Nurses went out into Tulsa schools to give nasal douches, a questionable preventative.

Tulsa finally shut down all schools, churches, and public meetings on October 8. Later soda fountains, cold drink bars, bowling alleys, and pool halls were also closed. The mayor ordered morticians to provide their ambulances to the city and notified car dealerships, taxi companies, and private citizens that their vehicles should be made available to transport nurses free of charge. Restaurants were closed between midnight and 5 a.m. for nightly fumigations.

On October 10 the state health commissioner prohibited all public gatherings of more than twelve people, including funerals, and forbade even small prayer meetings at churches. Police in Tulsa and OKC jailed persons found spitting or coughing without a handkerchief. In Oilton, after a local Baptist minister prayed over one young prostitute whose fever then broke, the local prostitutes turned their brothel into a treatment center and worked as nursing volunteers.

footballBy October 11, every member of the Stroud High School football team was “ill in bed with Spanish influenza” and the school’s game with Drumright was canceled. OU’s game against Phillips University in Enid was called off due to both schools being in quarantine, and the OU-Texas game was postponed. 

Formaldehyde became the disinfectant of choice, with Tulsa city workers flushing the streets twice daily with water before sprinkling the chemical. It was used to fumigate hotel rooms, victim’s homes, and even local libraries in both major cities. Oklahoma County officials used so much of it on the jail floors that newly released inmates reeked of it as they walked the city streets.


Clean-up campaigns and fumigation did not prevent the state from reaching over 70,000 reported cases by October 21. Tulsa added 400 cases in one day. Muskogee had 14 deaths in a single day and converted schools into hospitals. Obituaries filled the front pages of local rural newspapers.

Dr. Sellars noted, “The worst struck was Bartlesville, where the flu wreaked havoc, especially among smelter workers. The city had suffered fifty-six deaths by October 22, which gave it the second highest ratio of flu deaths to population in the nation, trailing only Philadelphia. Federal officials sent a doctor and two nurses to aid city officials. The city set up an emergency hospital at the local Elks Lodge, but as the number of victims grew, officials had to create a second one at the city’s First Baptist Church.” Late in the epidemic, Bartlesville closed all stores, except drugstores, at 5 p.m. each day.

bartlesville flu

Medical and prevention measures

Doctors and nurses were in short supply statewide since about 1/3 of the doctors had joined the military alongside about 1/2 of the nurses. What doctors and nurses there were relied on aspirin to treat fever and reduce pain and epinephrine to battle pneumonia victims’ congestion. There were experiments with cinnamon in milk, quinine, and intravenous delivery of digitalis.

General prevention recommendations included avoiding crowds, getting plenty of sleep and fresh air, and washing hands with antiseptic soap. Some advised gargling with chlorinated soda or a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and boric acid.

The public was urged to wear six-by-four-inch gauze surgical masks, but only Muskogee and Clinton mandated their widespread use. Those without surgical masks could use an 18-by-18-inch piece of gauze folded diagonally three times or a cotton handkerchief worn like a bandit’s bandana. But gauze was scarce, so health officials recommended changing masks every two hours and boiling contaminated masks for 30 minutes before reuse.

gauze mask

Red Cross nurse with gauze mask from October 1918

A doctor at the Mayo Clinic claimed bacteria caused the flu and promoted a serum for it, but some Oklahoma doctors correctly believed that was incorrect and that any existing vaccines lacked value. Labs in both Tulsa and OKC produced the useless serum in bulk and thousands received injections, including public officials. Sellars recounts, “Oklahoma City mayor Ed Overholser had himself inoculated with an earlier ‘vaccine’ on October 7. He came down with the flu the same day, eventually growing so ill he resigned his office under doctor’s orders.”


Patent medicines were ineffective treatments, while pharamacists could prescribe whiskey as a “remedy” during Prohibition

The public turned to dubious over-the-counter patent medicines such as Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root, Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets, and Eatonic. Vicks VapoRub did relieve congestion, and customers cleaned out the drugstores of it, with the manufacturer placing ads in major newspapers promising to supply more.


Folk remedies were utilized, with one farmer attributing his own resistance to “quinine and lots of coffee” while whiskey was the most popular remedy, which was issued by pharmacists for medical purposes under Oklahoma’s prohibition laws.

Tulsa had a burial casket shortage by October 15, with the county making them for sale at seven dollars each. Gravediggers were in short supply, with Bartlesville asking for volunteers but eventually pressing county jail inmates into service.

Another echo of our current times was documented by Dr. Sellars. “But as the epidemic wore on, many Oklahomans started to chafe under the local and statewide restrictions. Although the bans initially helped create a sense of community action and solidarity, they soon became an inconvenience to some groups, especially merchants who feared the bans posed a threat to business and who claimed the state order was an improper intrusion on local authority.”

The state health commissioner, himself ill at the time, finally suspended the quarantine on November 9. For the first time in almost a month, schools, churches, theaters, and other public places opened. By then the disease had killed over 5,000 Oklahomans.

The third wave

Rumors of an armistice in the world war and then the actual end of the war on November 11 led to crowded city streets in both major cities, despite a cold drizzle, with many people drunk.


Armistice Day Parade in Lawton in November 1918

The epidemic returned by November 25 with outbreaks in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Drumright, Sapulpa, Bristow, Chickasha, and many rural communities.

That wave was slightly less virulent than the October outbreak but lasted into late spring. By December 15 there were 10,245 cases in 45 counties, but that dropped the following week to 4,640 cases in 38 counties. Some doctors yielded to local pressure and suppressed information to avoid affecting Christmas business. Tulsa police arrested several doctors who failed to report cases for up to two weeks.

In the later wave, some cities abandoned public closures as ineffective. Tulsa relied on home quarantines. Lawton tried closing schools again, but children congregated on city streets and the city instead relied on limiting attendance at public places, restaurants, hotel lobbies, pool halls, cigar stores, and soda fountains. OKC required all public places to have at least 200 cubic feet of air space per person, so movie houses left every second or third row vacant.

But some members of the public and local businesses often disregarded or opposed preventative measures in the third wave. OKC restaurants resisted orders to boil dishes. People were reported to have openly sneezed in others’ faces, and streetcar riders frequently ignored a regulation that every third window be open for ventilation.


The flu eventually burned out in the cities but lingered in rural areas. Once again the front pages of small town newspapers carried almost nothing but obituaries. The flu finally ended in the late spring, with smaller outbreaks in the fall and winter for three more years.

In late January 1919, the state health department figures showed 125,000 to 150,000 flu cases with at least 7,500 deaths. The actual toll was higher due to under-reporting, particularly in African-American and rural communities. Native Americans suffered the most, with 861 deaths out of 15,227 cases, for a death rate of 5.7%, which was twice the national average. 1918 was the first year Tulsa ever had more deaths than births.

The effects were long-lasting, but thankfully so was charity. In February 1919, a destitute 35-year-old father arrived in Enid with two boys, 8 and 6, and a 4-year-old girl, all thinly clad and barefoot. Their mother had died from the flu and the father had lost his job while battling the sickness. He traveled by train from Oklahoma City to Enid, looking for work. En route, passengers collected $15 for the family while local residents purchased clothes for the children and helped get the man a job.

Dr. Taylor of Rogers County, who had weathered the storm, continued to advocate reasonable measures in the fall of 1919. He suggested avoiding contact with those who were sick, not sharing eating or drinking utensils, and washing “the hands and face several times a day.” He also shared, “plenty of soap and water and fresh air are the best means of prevention.”


Dr. Richard Shope was instrumental in identifying influenza as being caused by viruses

Health departments were eventually beefed up even as public attention to pandemics waned. Research continued, with American virologist Richard Shope noting in 1928 that a swine flu virus resembled the Spanish flu. Shope’s techniques led to the first human flu virus being isolated by British scientists in the early 1930s, finally ending the misconception that influenza was caused by bacteria.




1945 flu vaccine

The first effective flu vaccine did not come for another decade, in 1943. But the constant mutations of the virus means influenza vaccines must be reformulated annually and thus influenza, unlike smallpox and polio, has not been effectively wiped out. In recent years, misinformation has led many to refuse vaccinations, leading to unnecessary outbreaks of measles in 2019.


The current pandemic promises to linger through the summer of 2021 as we hopefully await an effective vaccine that might help us eventually achieve herd immunity. But even that is being quite optimistic, given that we’ve never had an effective vaccine widely deployed in less than five years.


So we must continue to wear masks and practice social distancing for the foreseeable future, with public gatherings carrying significant health risks. If the easing of restrictions across the nation in May 2020 leads to an unacceptable rise in infections and death rates, we can expect fresh closures that attempt to avoid overwhelming hospitals in second and later waves of infection.

So far we have handled the 2020 pandemic far better than our predecessors handled the one of 1918. For us to remain hopeful in the wake of this first wave, we must continue to heed the lessons of history and apply scientific advancements to weather this latest storm.

Posted in books, history, random | 2 Comments

Loaves and Fishes

In travels over the years with my father, on my own, and now with Wendy, I have repeatedly encountered remnants of the Fred Harvey company. It was a chain of restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality businesses alongside the Santa Fe railroad in the western U.S., renowned for the quality of its food and service and for how its Harvey Girls helped to “civilize the American Southwest.”

There are still traces of Fred Harvey at Union Station in Kansas City, and one can still stay at a handful of former Fred Harvey hotels: La Fonda at Santa Fe, New Mexico, La Posada at Winslow, Arizona, and El Tovar and Bright Angel at the Grand Canyon.

I’ve been reading a splendid history of Fred Harvey and his namesake company: Appetite for America by Stephen Fried. A story from late in the company’s history, amidst the Great Depression, sticks out which I want to share with you. By then, the actual Fred Harvey had been dead for decades, but the company remained in the family, who just called it “Fred Harvey” and company policy was to speak as if Fred were still around, running the place:

As the Depression deepened, the Harvey Houses took on a new role in economically ravaged America — they became known as the softest touches in the West, the places where impoverished locals and drifters went in search of a free meal. It was company policy never to let anyone who couldn’t afford to pay leave hungry. Many begged for food at the back door and were pleasantly surprised to get sandwiches, fruit, bread, and coffee. Others came in through the front door.

Bob O’Sullivan, who later became a well-known travel writer, never forgot the hot, dusty fall afternoon in Albuquerque when he was a second grader and his family had to rely on the kindness of strangers in Harvey Girl uniforms. His mother was driving him and his eleven-year-old sister — with all of their belonging stacked high against the backseat windows — to California, where they hoped to meet their father and make a new start. The O’Sullivans had arrived in Albuquerque expecting that $25 — several weeks’ pay — had been wired to them at the Railway Express office. But when his mother walked out of the office in tears, Bob knew the money hadn’t arrived. As she pulled on her driving gloves, the children asked if they could still get something to eat.

She hesitated.

“Of course we can,” she said finally. “We have to, don’t we?”

The lunchroom at the Alvarado

She drove along the railroad tracks to the Alvarado and led her children into the dining room. There were few customers there, but lots of delicious aromas, and every surface was gleaming.

When a smiling Harvey Girl approached them, her puffed sleeves and starched apron rustling, Bob’s mother pulled her aside and whispered something. The waitress walked into the kitchen and returned with a man wearing a suit, to whom his mother also whispered. Then they were led to a table, where Mrs. O’Sullivan began to order sandwiches for the kids and just a cup of coffee for herself — until the man in the suit interrupted her.

“Why don’t you let me order for you?” he said, and proceeded to tell the Harvey Girl to bring hot soup, then the beef stew, mashed potatoes, bread and butter, and coffee for the lady. He asked the children if they wanted milk or hot chocolate.

“Yes, sir,” they both said.

Milk and hot chocolate for the children,” he continued, “and some of the cobbler all around. Does that sound all right?”

“Will that be all?” the waitress asked.

“Oh,” the man said, “and these people are the guests of Mr. Fred Harvey.”

Bob saw his mother mouth the words “Thank you.”

The taste of that stew would stay with him his entire life. As would the memory of what happened when they finished eating. His mother pushed what few coins she had left toward the waitress, who pushed them back with a smile.

Oh, no, ma’am. You’re Mr. Harvey’s guests,” she said, placing two bags in front of them. “And the manager said I was to wrap up what you didn’t eat, so you could take it along.”

But we cleaned out plates,” young Bob blurted out. His sister sighed and looked at him as if he were the dumbest person in the world. Then the Harvey Girl startled giggling, followed by his mother and then the kids.

In the car, Mrs. O’Sullivan opened the bags, and found them filled with more food than they had eaten for dinner.

What’s in them? Bob asked.

Loaves and fishes,” she replied, shaking her head in amazement. “Loaves and fishes.”

When he shared this story in 1989 in a column in the Los Angeles Times, Bob O’Sullivan added:

That evening, [my mother] swapped some of our personal possessions for a tank of gas and a room in an auto court. There was no money at Railway Express the next morning, either, but for some reason things didn’t seem so bleak or so frantic.

As we were passing the Harvey House on the way out of town, my mother pulled to the side of the road for a moment. “Some day,” she said, “when you two grow up I want you to go to a Harvey House and order the most expensive thing on the menu and then I want you to leave a big tip.”

Fred Harvey

In spite of the fact that Fred Harvey’s long gone now and the last Harvey girl is probably married and celebrating her grandchildren or great-grandchildren…I think I’ll check and see if there are any still around.

And if I find one, I’ll stop in, order from the top of the menu and maybe finish with a little cobbler and a cup of coffee. Then I’ll lift my cup: “Here’s to you, Mr. Harvey.”


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Crystal Bridges, Beavers Bend, and a Rainbow

Fall 2019 | Photo Album

Autumn 2019 ends next week, prompting this overview of our trips of the season: a visit to Crystal Bridges over Fall Break, a stay at a cabin in Broken Bow over Thanksgiving, and a quick dash to Fayetteville in early December.

Crystals at Crystal Bridges

During the Fall Break in October, Wendy and I returned to Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. The attraction was a Crystals in Art: Ancient to Today exhibit. Regular readers will know that when we are out on the trails, I’m always climbing to vistas while Wendy has her eyes on the trail to spot crystalline rocks.

The interesting thing about ancient crystal art is its timeless appearance. Unless pieces are mounted in metal with a patina or suffer chips and other damage, the layperson can’t distinguish something manufactured by a Roman artist over a millennium or two ago from something crafted recently. None of the ancient artifacts made much of an impression on me. Some of the modern items, however, more than made up for it.

In 2004 former NASA aerospace engineer Frederick Eversley casted Blue Para, a polyester parabolic lens. I used to teach physics students how spherical lenses and mirrors can focus incoming light towards an area but suffer from smearing through aberration, while parabolic optics can focus light to a pinpoint. As displayed, one could see chromatic aberration around the edges of the light cone striking the stand.

Blue Para

Blue Para

Chromalith II

Chromalith II

In 2019 Alexis Arnold created Untitled (Chromalith II) out of epoxy resin and dichroic film, although the exhibition wall plate misspelled it as dichoric. The thin films create reflections off their front and back surfaces, with wave interference separating white light into interesting colors. That made her piece more interactive, with shifting interference patterns depending on the angle of view, and a stark contrast between the reflections one sees off the piece itself versus the reflection off the stand of the light making it through the layers of film.

Alexis found some boxes of discarded books in her neighborhood and was inspired to turn them into beautifully odd crystal sculptures by treating them with borax. It was fitting that the exhibit featured field guides to rocks and minerals that she has transformed.

Crystalized Field Guides

Rock & Minerals Field Guides

In 2018, Gisela Colon blow-molded acrylic into Morph (Iridescent Platinum) which also changes its appearance depending on one’s viewpoint.

Crystal Football

Crystal football

The exhibit included several works by Daniel Arsham which both Wendy and I found particularly intriguing. He says he creates “fictional archaeology” in his works which draw from pop culture, architecture, and geological forms.

Arsham created familiar sports objects out of blue calcite crystal and hydrostone. There was a column of crystalline blue footballs, with your eye caught both by the familiar exterior texture and the unexpected crystalline structure beneath.

His Blue Calcite Boxing Set was fascinating in how the fabric trunks were rendered in hard crystals, complete with pleated waistband. His deliberately damaged castings seem to me like a blend of the ruins of Pompeii with petrified wood. His choice of monochrome is evidently influenced by his color blindness. I’d love to see more of his work.

Portal Icosahedrons

Portal Icosahedrons

The highlight of the show for me was the Portal Icosahedrons by Anthony James. He created the 20-faced and 30-edged polyhedrons out of steel and glass with LED lights, lining them with half-silvered mirrors. Their scale and being able to view them from all angles was stunning, going beyond a similar two-dimensional work at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City or similar but small pieces we would see a couple of months later at Art Ventures NWA in Fayetteville.

I’m glad there was a smaller polyhedron alongside the massive one, since that allowed me to peer down from the top while also peering easily into panes to partake of complex reflections from varying angles.

Wendy particularly liked Miya Ando’s Tides, a 2011 assembly of aluminum plates which had been anodized by submerging them in an electrochemical bath and plating them with sapphire crystals, then washing them and mixing in colors, finally placing the plates in a tub of boiling liquid to encase the crystals and dye in the aluminum. The assembly invites you to align yourself, pause, and contemplate. They remind me of a calm ocean at different times of day and night.


Anodized aluminum Tides

Your Luna Nebula by Ólafur Elíasson has partially-silvered crystal spheres which provide an inverted reflection of yourself upon close inspection, but resolve into what might be droplets of water or a starry nebula with distance. I had fun capturing another patron taking a shot of that work with her phone from a vantage point behind another crystal artwork.


Her Luna Nebula

It was a beautiful autumn day outside, and we strolled the grounds. We walked over to the Bachman-Wilson house by Frank Lloyd Wright, but hadn’t purchased tickets for a tour. Knowing Wendy is less interested in Wright houses than I am, I opted to save that for a future visit.

Bachman-Wilson House

Bachman-Wilson House

Little Hikes and Walks

After Fall Break, Wendy and I took advantage of the fall weather to take a couple of short weekend hikes on the Cabin Loop at Osage Hills and the north end of Table Mound at Elk City Reservoir. Another weekend found me trekking around the Lake Loop at Osage Hills. I also enjoyed weekend walks on the Pathfinder Parkway, including a photogenic walk at the Paul Hefty Bird Sanctuary.

Friends of the Parks provides this context:

The Robinwood Park Bird Sanctuary was originated by Paul Hefty in 1977, with approval from the City. From 5 acres of the existing Robinwood Park, Paul transformed forest land into a bird paradise by planting many appropriate food bearing bushes and trees, including deciduous holly, special flowering crabs and berry bushes, plus hickorys, pecans, oaks and walnuts. Over the years he incorporated many types of protective brush for the birds. A wide variety of birds reside here both winter and summer. Paul died in 2008.

Paul Hefty Bird Sanctuary

Paul Hefty Bird Sanctuary

Beavers Bend

Hochatown Cabin

Our cabin at Hochatown

Over Thanksgiving, I rented a cabin at Hochatown in far southeastern Oklahoma. I’d hiked the David Boren Trail at Broken Bow a decade earlier on a hot September day. Thanksgiving would be much colder, but I figured I might lure Wendy out for a hike to a vista I dimly recalled over Mountain Fork River.

Back porch

Our cabin’s comfortable back porch

Our cabin was quite new, having only hosted a few previous visitors. Its best features for us included a gas-fired fireplace and grill on a big back porch, a spacious his-and-hers bathroom combination with tub and shower, and modern stove and oven. The cabin was roomy and airy, but we wished that it had more floor or table lamps and dimmable lights, and the bed wasn’t the most comfortable for sleeping.

After a rainy and overcast five hours of travel south to our cabin, the next day was partly cloudy. We enjoyed a tasty lunch at Steven’s Gap Restaurant, but Wendy had come down with a bad cold, so I limited our outing to the shortest loop to the vista, with us hiking a total of one mile from the Dogwood Campground up to the overlook and back down. I’d researched the route and knew to travel clockwise so we could make our way up the hill via switchbacks and then return down a long steeper descent.

Panorama above Mountain Fork

Panorama above Mountain Fork

It was late for autumn leaves, and the weather pattern this year muted the colors, but the panorama was there as remembered, along with a view down the river.

Thanksgiving Day was overcast with rain, but we had gone shopping in Broken Bow after our hike the previous day. So we enjoyed a hot breakfast with biscuits, bacon, and eggs. I was able to grill us steaks on the back porch, and Wendy prepared baked potatoes in the oven for our main holiday meal.

The next day we indulged in some more pie from Steven’s Gap Restaurant before making our way home. I made a quick dash to visit my folks for a belated Thanksgiving meal in Oklahoma City, with Wendy staying home to be certain her cold wasn’t shared with others. I made sure to bring back to Wendy a salmon patty so that she could participate in our family’s odd Thanksgiving tradition that evolved from my mother’s dislike for turkey and my love of salmon patties!

A Rainbow in Fayetteville

Randy Rainbow Live

Randy Rainbow live in Fayetteville

In early December we made a dash over to Fayetteville, Arkansas to see Randy Rainbow’s live show. He is a YouTube star who does funny musical parodies targeting a particular pompous politician. The show was fun and brought some much-needed humor to this season of impeachment hearings and poisonous politics.


Instagram of my purchases, complete with mistitled print

Before returning to Bartlesville, we stopped in at Art Ventures NWA to see a series of galleries filled with a diverse body of artworks for sale. None of the artists were at work during our visit, but we enjoyed the wide variety of work. I became a snapshot on their Instagram account when I purchased a card by Carol Hart and a print of The Kind Mowers by Eloa Jane.

Eloa had moved to America and been struck by the amount of junk mail filling her mailbox. She decided to use its varied textures, patterns, text, and colors as a means of self expression, rolling pages of magazines, phonebooks, and other items individually into small tubes. Then hundreds or sometimes thousands of the paper tubes are assembled to create decorative vases, sculptures and wall art.

The Kind Mowers

The Kind Mowers

So we’ve had a good autumn. Now, with the air turning nippy, we plan to venture to Santa Fe, New Mexico over Winter Break. Wendy loves the town and its food, and neither of us has ever been there other than in summer. We’ll be bundling up to prepare for some very cold nights on the high desert or, to be more precise, on what the Köppen Climate Classification System designates as a “semi-arid steppe with cold winters” — brrrrr!

Fall 2019 Photo Album

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