Random thoughts after a trip to Mary’s Peak

I dedicate this piece to Otto, Malcolm, Aubrielle, Emiliano, and Glenn, “Pandemic” babies born to friends and family.

Joey Blum

In 30 years of living in Oregon, I had never visited Mary’s Peak until last Monday. “The native Kalapuya called the Peak tcha Timanwi, or ‘place of spiritual power.’” Southwest of Philomath, it is the highest peak in the Oregon Coast Range. Atop the mountain, there are stunning views of the ocean, Coast Range, Cascades, and valley floor.  The outing gave rise to some random reflections with no single unifying thread.  

The late comedienne Joan Rivers once undressed a heckler offended by Rivers’ delivery of a ‘Helen Keller’ joke. The heckler must have had a death wish when he shouted, “Blindness is not funny” to Rivers, a veteran of fifty years in comedy. Instead of brushing off the heckler as she easily could have, Rivers stopped her act, and told the righteous fool that her mother was blind, and “explained” that laughter is how we survive the things that cause us the greatest pain. Amen.  

While walking the trail to the top of Mary’s Peak, I stopped to look at a massive anthill. By some estimations, ants weigh more than any other single animal group on the planet. I would never deign to speak for ants, but I think one reason ants are successful is that they don’t spend time in woeful self-reflection. When something disturbs the anthill, they immediately start rebuilding. Humans and ants have much in common.

During the Vietnam War, the American government exaggerated enemy casualties to convince the public the war was “going well.”  It wasn’t, and in the end, close to 66,000 American lives and accurate estimates of close to a million Vietnamese lives were wasted.  Lying did not change the truth then, nor will it change the truth now.  

On my 65th birthday, I walked in my garden between lush rows of tomato plants. I found myself thinking about the final scene of the Godfather when Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, plays with his grandson and keels over dead amongst his tomatoes – born a Sicilian peasant, dying a Sicilian peasant. I’m glad I didn’t keel over, and I’m not a Mafia Don, but the lesson I took from the scene was that life comes full circle.  

I regularly use automobile seat belts, a motorcycle helmet, safety glasses, gloves, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, chainsaw safety pants, a tractor roll bar, and these days a mask to protect others and myself from becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus.

It’s human to distance ourselves from harm, so it’s only natural to take some comfort in the knowledge that many of the people dying from COVID-19 had underlying conditions. Maybe you feel a little safer, but it doesn’t negate that under different circumstances, a simple gesture might have prolonged the life of another whose absence now leaves a void. Wear a mask or don’t wear a mask, attend a gathering or not, maintain social distance or not, but know that your action or inaction may demand a reckoning.  


Here’s the list of underlying conditions and the number of people in the United States who have them from the CDC ranked by from most dangerous to least:   

People in the United States who are over 5 years of age, 50 million (American Census)

νCancer survivors, 17 million (American Cancer Society)

ν Obese, 125 million (Center for Disease Control)

People in the United States who have:

ν Heart or lung disease, 121 million people (The American Heart Associations)

ν Kidney disease, 37 million (National Kidney Foundation)

ν COPD, 18 million (American Lung Association)

ν Type 2 Diabetes, 30 million (American Diabetes Association)

Which brings me back to the ants on Mary’s Peak … 

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