Cogitation 20 Friday 15 May 2020 Reasons to wear a mask in public during the coronavirus pandemic, include: to show solidarity with frontline workers, to protect others if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, to protect yourself to some degree, to honor those heroes who have died in the line of duty, often without adequate Personal Protective Equipment. There are pros, there are cons. There’s compliance, there’s resistance. There are gradations of acceptance. There’s lots of room for improvement.

Public health directives to wear a mask for stints outside of home are nothing to sneeze at. A joint article, “Require masks to stop coronavirus,” by Jeremy Howard and Zeynep Tufekci in USA Today (May 14, 2020), makes the point: “Our research shows there are no countries with near universal mask use since early in the pandemic that have over 1,000 known COVID-19 deaths. If masks led to worse outcomes, we would see it in some of the over 90 countries that now require masks. Instead, we see that Hong Kong, which has widespread mask use, has reported only four deaths related to the coronavirus. Authorities there credit mask use as a major contributor to this outcome,” they said.

“In the United States, we should not accept the horrific death rates we’re seeing in many parts of the country. The science is clear. To save American lives and jobs, we need to fully deploy this powerful tool as widely as possible,” they conclude. Jeremy Howard is a distinguished research scientist at the University of San Francisco and led an international review of the scientific research on masks. Zeynep Tufelel is an associate professor at the Universi5ty of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a faculty associate at the Harvard Berman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

I keep a few masks handy. I call them masks though more properly they’re called face coverings, or non-medical cloth face masks to distinguish them from surgical masks. We know the cloth version is for general use and the surgical mask is for healthcare and other frontline workers.

Most of my time outside tends to be away from others, where I’ve little need to wear one. When we encounter other walkers we give and are given a friendly handwaving wide berth. I wear a mask as mandated at the grocery store and to pick up the occasional take-out food order. I shake my head at those who imagine their naked face covers all that’s essential.

Elkhart County Parks posted a clever wildlife and human safety message at the year-round calendar garden, Defries Gardens, near New Paris, a part of River Preserve County Park.

Wearing a mask, then, joins the litany of related personal responsibilities to keep from getting or spreading Covid-19: keeping physical distance, hand washing, exercising and limiting time away from home. Such measures have been, are and will be essential for the time being.

Let’s take a closer look at the word “essential.” Here’s a quote from Fowler’s Modern English Usage (Oxford University Press, 1983): “If we call something essential we have in mind a whole that would not be what it is to be or is or was if the part in question were wanting; the essential thing is such that the other thing is inconceivable without it.” At first glance the definition may seem a bit convoluted, or a truism, but very much to the point.

Simply put, assuring the safety of frontline workers who care for people with Covid-19 is inconceivable without proper Personal Protective Equipment, including surgical masks. The case for the public to wear a face covering, as directed by public health, is pretty clear, too. We’ve had, have, and will have essential, doable, supportive roles to play to get past the global pandemic. For a time, that means minding when and where to wear a mask–while being mindful of those who must wear one all shift long.

River Preserve County Park

We’ve had two walks in River Preserve County Park, part of Elkhart County Parks, just a few miles from home. It’s the first time ever we’ve visited these historic sites along the Elkhart River between Benton and New Paris. Trails follow the river and also a canal that provided water power for milling operations in the 1800s.

We heard birds, saw wild flowers, came across remnants of settlement and commerce of days gone by. Happily, the paths are not paved, but come in a variety of grass-covered, chipped stone and bare ground. Bug spray kept the small host of resident insects at bay.

Come along, virtually, no mask, nor insect spray, required.

Along the Baintertown Canal Trail

I zoomed-in on this bird sitting high in the trees. I couldn’t identify it, though noticed “What big claws you have, bird.” I sent the photo to birder friend Lois. Since the distance and light make it hard to determine size and color, Lois said, “Actually it sits like a hawk and from what I can see there are three or four possibilities. If it was about the size of a Robin, it was likely the American Kestrel. If it was more like 20 inches, it could have been a Red-tailed Hawk, and if slightly smaller a Broad-winged Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, or even a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. . . . Wish I could have seen it.” “Thanks, Lois. I could pack binoculars and a birding book. Or learn bird language. Or eventually go for a walk with you and Al.”
An exclamatory array of forget-me-nots.
Confluence of the Elkhart River and canal (left).
Red-winged Black Bird, a pleasure to see and hear.
Redbud popping out on trunks and branches.
Baintertown Hydro, historic hydroelectric power plant, no longer in use.

Paths past Benton Dam, Benton Spillway, Benton Hydro

Benton Dam.
The only place along the trail, near Benton Dam, where we found trilliums.
Ah, gorgeous trillium!
Cardinal, while eminently visible, is still more quickly identified by its song.
Redbud in full bloom along the canal.
Not sure of the name of this golden spring beauty.
Benton Spillway.
The footpath ranges for 2.5 miles along the Benton Hydro section of the canal.
Needed binoculars and a bird book, or word from a birder.
Spring beauties beaming profusely before the leafing trees supplant them.

Around Greencroft Goshen campus

Residents have been out in force, six feet apart I’d estimate, tending their allotments.

Never alone

A concluding word from Martin Wallace, who in the tiny booklet, Celtic Reflections, published selected quotes from his talks at St Peter’s Chapel, Bradwell-on-Sea, a small Celtic church on the coast of Essex, built by St Cedd of Lindisfarne in 654 AD.

“It is only our stubbornness which separates us from each other, from heaven, from creation, from God. . . . We are surrounded by God’s angels everyday, everywhere, and in everything we do. We are never alone.”

Speak a smile

Yep, even as a few of us happen to meet mask-to-mask, within earshot, I’m overjoyed that we can “see” each other’s smile. May we keep embracing ways to find and fill in the parts in question that are essential to all of life.

I’m going to refill my coffee cup. Cheers!


8 thoughts on “Mask-to-mask

  1. Great as always, John. I especially appreciated your take on wearing masks. Based on my experience, it’s ‘right on’!


  2. Luckily one thing we have been able to do is get out freely for daily walks. And the birds and geese and squirrels are having a hay day. No masks for them. Yes, as your pictures attest spring has arrived.


    1. Yes, Kaye, the times tell us not to take anything for granted. More than that, to count and share our blessings. And enjoy a bit of genealogy work. Be well.


  3. Thanks, John. Signs of spring everywhere! Are are wearing face coverings when out and about. We plan to get home May 27th!


    May the God of Wonder be with you, delighting you with the beauty of sunrise and the majesty of sunset, with the song of the bird and the fragrance of the flower.



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