What's Tony Thinking

Weather Report: March 28


I’ve been walking the Loop Trail at Seattle’s Discovery Park, as have many others. The trail is wide enough in most places to give one another the required berth. But yesterday there was a sign on the parking lot at the park saying it was closed. The park is still open, just not the parking. Later I saw the same thing at Golden Gardens Park, which is about a mile north of us and even more heavily used.

I guess this is an attempt to reduce the number of the people in the parks. But it’s too bad. The parks are about all we have left, with libraries, schools, churches, community centers, restaurants and brew pubs all shut down.

A week ago our weather had “spring” written all over it. Most days were sunny. Temperatures in the 60’s. This week has been cold and grey almost every day. Daytime temperatures dropped into the 40’s. Ten degrees cooler at night. Still, spring continues, if at a slower pace. The plum trees are always the first to bloom around here. Their blossoms are now gone. But the cherry trees (right) are beautiful, as are the magnolias (below). It’s a wonderful burst of promise, with the grey skies bearing down on us.

Seattle attempted an Italy-like joyful noise on Thursday night at 8:00. I guess it went well in some neighborhoods. Here it seemed a little anemic. We rang bells from our balcony and heard a cacophony of other things clanging and blowing in the distance, but not for long. People wanted to retreat back inside and get out of the cold.

Our son, Joe, and his family delivered coffee cake today. They have been baking a lot with the kids. I guess a lot of people have, to judge from the shortness of flour, sugar and yeast in the stores. We stood on the sidewalk — social distancing — and waved at our grandkids, who were tucked into their car seats. I wanted to hold them but of course did not.

Arthur Brooks wrote about social distancing this week at The Washington Post. “While public health officials are no doubt correct that social distancing is necessary, as a social scientist I would add that it is a necessary evil.”

He went on to discuss the way physical touch releases oxytocin (not related to the opioid, Oxycontin). Oxytocin is “a highly pleasurable neurotransmitter” prompted by hugs, touch and by looking into one another’s eyes. I kind of hate it when everything is reduced to brain science and chemicals. Seems obvious that touch, contact, connection is good for you. Anyhow, Brooks reports that you can look into the eyes of a stranger for 3.2 seconds before they are weirded out (one wonders what the time limit is for those you know well?)

I notice when walking, whether in the neighborhood or on a park trail, many people seem to have added “avert your eyes” to social distancing, which seems too bad. If Brooks is right we are depriving ourselves of a hit of happiness (oxytocin) by adding no visual contact to social distancing. If that is the case, it is also true that running into someone you know now seems like a small miracle. You laugh, talk at a distance and wish each other well with a fondness that seems heightened by the crisis. It is as if you had run into one another in Rome or Australia. I guess we’re all living in a kind of foreign county now.


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