Goodnight, 2020.

December 17-30, 2020

“Hi, Bijan, I’m calling from the staffing office. You and Jamie will be floating to the covid floor today.”

It’s the phrase we heard over the phone at 6AM for the next three days as we returned to our work after some time off. By the end of day three my poor nose felt like it was going to fall off from the N95 respirator glued to my face for 12 hours each day. The saving grace was that Jamie and I were going through it together (being sent to the same floor each day), helping each other out when the other was overwhelmed with their group of patients.

It was important to keep in mind that the folks we were serving were having an even harder time. Isolated from the support of family and friends, frightened and confined to their room for most of the day, we found ourselves trying to help them fend off loneliness as best we could. Our facility had provided iPads to the patients to video chat their loved ones, and I found it to be immensely helpful for their state of mind.

As the vaccine shipments arrived to the facility, it brought with it a sense of hope and progress in combating “this persistent calamity,” as Jamie’s grammy so eloquently put it in this year’s Christmas letter. I’ve heard stories of other facilities fumbling the rollout of the vaccine, offering it to those working from home at the same time as frontline workers treating patients with covid. Additionally, I’ve heard of places separating their travel nurses from permanent staff in terms of invitations to receive vaccination. Our hats are off to our hospital, as they prioritized those higher-risk employees, regardless of their status as temporary or permanent staff. We have yet to get vaccinated (logistical issues with ending this contract prior to the timetable for the second required dose), but are hopeful we’ll get it sorted out soon.

We were looking forward to four days off after our last shift Saturday, and decided to keep it mostly local. Our routine that we fell into when the stay-at-home order was issued continued: Wake up, go for a run or walk to either the beach or a city park, come home and relax for a couple hours, and head somewhere for sunset.

Sunday morning I ran over to Parma Park, a city park situated in the Riviera neighborhood in the foothills beneath the Santa Ynez Mountains. Along the run, I passed innumerable extravagant properties with exotic plants lining the street in the Riviera. All of the houses enjoyed expansive views of the city and the Santa Barbara Channel. Everything felt fictional- no way this place could be real.

Arriving at Parma Park, Charley and Jamie met me and we went for a hike through the hills. With burnt grasses and thirsty trees as far as the eye could see, it seems the park was at its ugliest, yet it was still pretty. The views over the hills of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands were beautiful as ever, and we watched paragliders and hang-gliders make their way down from the mountains, silently descending to the sea in a graceful procession. We realized, however, we’d chosen the worst time of day to come, as the sun beat down on us and made 70 degrees feel like 90. By the time we returned to the car, both Jamie and I were craving a cold smoothie, so we stopped and grabbed one on the way home in the downtown area at Blenders in the Grass, a local chain.

For sunset that evening, we met our friends Maggie and Brandon (along with their dogs Donald and Gurley) at Franceschi Park in the Riviera. It was recommended to me by one of my patients, and the spot did not disappoint. The sun glistened off the Channel, glassy in the calm evening, and we enjoyed the last light from the hillside, as the city below already sat in darkness.

After much of the color had left the sky, we climbed back in the car and made our way over to Maggie and Brandon’s RV for some card games and authentic Mexican from Cava in Montecito.

For the winter solstice on Monday, it was a balmy 70 degrees in SB with good visibility of the islands and blue skies above. I went for a run over to the botanic gardens in Mission Canyon, and Charley and Jamie met me up there for a stroll through the various plant exhibits. We enjoyed a walk through the desert area, with succulents and cacti stoically unfazed by the never-ending dryness of the canyon. We passed through redwoods, massive and stiffly straight, but still far smaller than those we’d seen in Sequoia and Redwoods National Parks. Leaves of the California Bay were so aromatic that they stung the nostrils. The overseer, Arlington Peak, backdropped the garden with its craggy sandstone teeth.

We spent an hour or so casually meandering through the vegetation, and letting Charley sniff and explore (except the cacti). When we were both good and hungry we left and put in an order at Norton’s Deli in town for lunch and enjoyed it in our little yard back home.

The night of the Solstice was also the night of the Great Conjunction- a cosmic phenomenon aligning Jupiter and Saturn in such close linear fashion that they nearly appear as one (though millions of miles from each other). It was a great night for a trip to a dark site, so we loaded up in the car and set out north on highway 1 to Jalama Beach, a county park 15 miles off the highway and far from any artificial light.

We made it in time for sunset, which turned out to be the most spectacular part. Whereas Santa Barbara looks out on the Channel with the Islands on the horizon, Jalama Beach sits in front of endless ocean, save for a couple sea-dwelling oil rigs.

Sunset brought some clouds, which only intensified the colors strewn about on the horizon. We watched the masked sun spill what seemed like smoldering embers through the bullying clouds as it tried to break through. As we took in the last glow of daylight, we turned our attention to the darkening skies in search of our planetary neighbors.

Though we caught a glimpse of the Conjunction for several minutes, it was difficult to get a decent shot, and eventually the clouds obstructed our views to the southwest, where the action was happening.

When it was good and dark, we climbed back in the car and set our GPS the hour-drive back home, southward along the coast.

Tuesday morning, with no plans in place, we (somewhat reluctantly, to be honest) headed up to Romero Canyon in the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Montecito, the east-lying enclave of the super-wealthy.

Doing a loop hike up through the canyon, first on the west side of Romero Creek, then the east on the way back, we clocked in about 7 miles and completed the hike as the sun started to get aggressive around noon. Along the way, Jamie and I enjoyed the sound of running water, a notable auditory pleasure in the oft-arid landscape, and Charley enjoyed soaking her paws in the cool streams. The climb was up through shaded single-track trail, with little indication (in the way of views) that we were going up in elevation. On the way back down, though, there were seemingly nonstop vistas of the canyon and Montecito below, coming at the cost of seemingly nonstop sun exposure. The Channel in the distance was tough to discern from the hazy clouds above it, as it all blended together in a faded blue graininess. We kept alert for mountain bikers and their warning bells on the way down, as it’s a spot frequented by thrill-seekers that zip down the exposed rocky ridges. And I kept alert for wildflowers, building a mini bouquet for Jamie as we walked.

Wednesday was a slow day, and our last day off before returning to work for three more shifts. We made a couple beach trips, one to Butterfly Beach in Montecito, and to Hendry’s Beach (Dog Beach) in Santa Barbara for sunset. It was relatively cloudy that evening, so there wasn’t much in the way of a sunset (a rarity, it seems), but we enjoyed it nonetheless. During the day I managed to get a haircut despite the stay at home order by booking an appointment in my hair-stylist’s front yard- certainly a unique experience.

In the evening, the three of us celebrated Christmas, as we’d be working the Eve, Day, and day after the holiday. Jamie had caught wind of a live (virtual) Christmas concert being put on by one of our favorite groups, the Lone Bellow. So we threw that on the TV and opened up some gifts sent to us from family, and had a quaint little Christmas evening.

The following three days were spent at work, floating to the covid units again. It seems to be a theme that will likely repeat itself until our contract here is finished. I found myself forgetting it was the holidays over and over, as we had plenty to keep our minds busy at work. We were a bit sad to not be with family for the holiday, but taking care of folks that also can’t be with family reorients us constantly. Theres no holiday cheer for these patients. Except for one really nice gesture put on by the floor I was working on for Christmas Eve: All the staff had homemade Christmas cards they placed on each patient’s dinner tray when they were delivered to the room. I thought that was just an incredible but simple way to warm the heart, and it made me well up a bit.

I love my fellow nurses. They are truly exceptional people with the biggest hearts.

When our stint of work days was up, we had another 4 days off sitting on the other side of it. With the stay-at-home order still in full force (and conditions only getting worse), we again were thinking of keeping it local and keeping it outside.

Heading over to Parma Park on Sunday morning (again), we did the same loop we had done the week before. I ran over the Riviera to the park and Charley and Jamie met me there. This time, we enjoyed some cloud cover on our stroll, and brought the camera with us to take some shots.

When we’d finished up the loop, Jamie and I were feeling a smoothie, so we satisfied that craving, yet again, at Blenders in the Grass. It seemed we were repeating the prior Sunday, and that was just fine with us.

After some time kicking around at our little tiny-home, we set out in the evening for Lookout Beach in Summerland, and walked along the beach for a mile or so with Charley while the sun dipped out of the sky. Harbor seals’ silhouetted heads bobbed in and out of the rocky waves offshore.

We returned home after dark and Jamie whipped up an excellent Hello Fresh pasta meal while I watched football.

That night, something happened that hadn’t happened once since we’d arrived in SB.

It rained.

And it rained, and rained, and rained. It rained so hard I thought the roof was going to collapse (yes, I know that sounds ridiculous).

The storms carried through the night and into the morning, then into the afternoon on Monday, and didn’t let up until right around sunset Monday evening. All the streets of SB were inundated, and finally I understood why they needed the road dips and storm drains everywhere. It doesn’t rain often, but when it does, it does.

We didn’t let it get to us too much. We slapped on our goretex rain suits and Charley’s raincoat and set off for Stevens Park, a city park that runs up San Roque Creek and continues into the mountains. We went only for an hour or so, rock-hopping across the swelling streams, and sliding down muddy hills through the forest. We were the only ones there, and what the park lacked in expansive views, it made up for in aromas that seemed to be released by the heavy rainfall. And Muddy Paws certainly earned her name that day.

The storm cleared out of the area before Tuesday, and sunnier skies followed. Jamie took the car up to the shop to get new brakes in preparation for our road trip and journey to Arizona in a couple weeks. I still can’t believe how quickly our time here passed.

In the afternoon we packed up the car with the Charley, the camera, some snacks and a bottle of wine and drove the hour northwest along the coast to Jalama Beach. The drive along the coast, then twisting through some inland hills before popping out on the ocean once again, is a treat in itself. We arrived at low tide around 3:45 and walked the shoreline for an hour or so, checking out tide pools teeming with sea creatures and watching the waves begin to encroach as the tide made its way back toward us. The sea shells were plentiful, and we took some time to stop and inspect the different colors gleaming in the late afternoon sun.

When we’d returned to the main strip of Jalama Beach, I set up the tripod to give a time lapse shot a try. It seems I need much more practice. But I poured some wine and Jamie and I watched the sun sink inevitably out of sight, its last gasps always seeming to hold on just a moment longer than you think it will.

The full moon shone the road home, twisting 14 miles along the backcountry highway road through the hills until we reached the junction with highway 1. We got back home a bit before 7 o’clock and Jamie made another delicious HelloFresh dinner: Golden Chicken Schnitzel with roasted potatoes, green beans and a creamy honey dijon dipper. I swear, the person in charge of making the names for these dishes has the best job. And they do it well.

Today’s Wednesday and it’s looking like a slow day. We had intended on hiking in the morning, but the three of us woke up a bit groggy and decided against an early morning get-out to the mountains. We have some errands to run and things to get in order for the upcoming 3 shifts of work. When we’re done with them, we’ll be in 2021. Hopefully that means a change for the better. We’ll see.

See you on the other side!

One thought on “Goodnight, 2020.

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