“Awkward” has been used to describe masked encounters at local grocery stores and shops. A friend recently asked me, “Don’t you find it awkward when you run into people you know in masks and try to have a normal conversation?” In response, yes, I have had my share of awkward encounters with masked friends and acquaintances. But, I would say what is more awkward is when you run into a friend or acquaintance who is not wearing a mask.
This awkward situation creates a sense of polarizing curiosity. Questions emerge: “Hmm, did they forget? Do they not think this is for real? Are they making a political statement? Do they have an underlying condition I am not aware of, are they judging me for wearing a mask … and so on …”
Social etiquette has changed forever, and the rulebook is still in manuscript form. Everyone is fumbling in and out of social realities, unsure if a singular decision is good or bad. Simple interactions that were once normal can cause new social anxieties. To demonstrate, an otherwise normal social interchange today goes something like this:
Invitee: Hey, you want to go for a hike?
Invited: Sure, I’d love to, but do you mind if we take separate cars?
Invitee: Not at all, we are all taking separate cars.
Invited: All? Who else have you invited?
Invitee: Just Whosit and Whatsit.
Invited: (Hmmm, I haven’t seen Whosit or Whatsit for four months, I am not sure I am comfortable with that, not knowing who they have been in contact with, but if I say so, will I come across paranoid … I don’t know how to proceed …).
Hence the need for a COVID socializing handbook. We all know about 6 feet and masks, staying outdoors, but there are nuances on how to congregate and initiate socialness. I recently heard a health expert state that we should focus on “physical distancing,” not “social distancing” because social distancing conveys that we shouldn’t be social, and the effects of social isolation are tremendous. This is where it gets muddled. So, to help, here are some rules I have started to develop for myself. Though I admit I haven’t applied them consistently with all encounters, but it’s a start to developing the new norms.
• Rule No. 1. When inviting people to do something, disclose at the beginning who else you have invited (group texts work pretty well for this, since everyone can see how many people are on it).
• Rule No. 2. When are you invited, ask who else will be there.
• Rule No. 3 Respect others’ boundaries and comfort of exposure.
• Rule No. 4 Discuss expectations on social distance, masks, child play.
• Rule No. 5 Bring a mask to every encounter — and wear it if your host insists or others are wearing them.
This departure from normal social etiquette is somewhat uncomfortable, but the more I read about young people contracting COVID-19 and dying, the more I realize that new social norms are critical. We must adapt.
Speaking of adaptation: This week’s wildflower, Thompson’s paintbrush, has an incredible adaptation — it’s a parasite! Like all paintbrushes, the Thompson’s paintbrush feeds off a host plant. Its favorite is sagebrush. The paintbrushes invade root systems with host plants and benefit from moisture uptake and nutrients. Paintbrushes can exist without a host, but are less tolerant of extremes as they lose the benefit of parasitic feeding.
There are many types of paintbrushes (Castilleja species) and to confuse the novice, they hybridize among similar species creating a myriad of colors including red, pink, orange, purple, magenta, and yellow. The most iconic is the bright red Indian paintbrush, but the Thompson’s paintbrush has been described as somewhat unimpressive in color as the bracts and petals resemble light chartreuse or green similar to the stem creating little distinction.
Au contraire! I find the muted yellowish-green striking in its subtle tone, especially because it is often found in large clumps. It contrasts only slightly with the silver foliage of surrounding steppe vegetation like balsamroot and sagebrush, leaving it almost camouflage to quick runners or bikers on a trail; it’s this subtlety I find so charming. Slow down next time you are traveling on south and east-facing slopes at the margin of the steppe zone, keep an eye out for this common but cryptic friend of the sagebrush. Its humble beauty is one to take pause in.