It all started with a skunk digging for grubs in our garden and leaving behind a vigorous amount of spray. For European readers who may not have had the pleasure, a skunk fires off a noxious, sulfur-laden defensive spray so powerful it can deflect a bear attack, temporarily blind a predator, and be detected by the human nose over distances of more than three miles. You do not want these critters hanging about your garden where you might stumble over one on your way home after a wine party.
Rich bought skunk repellant and lavished it on the garden and then, for good measure, the inside of the tool shed. The good news: that skunk is long gone. The bad news: a new, hideous odor has taken up residence in the tool shed. While not as eye-watering as skunk spray (what is?), it clobbers you in the nostrils with a pungent, musky scent — the precise words the Nature Channel uses to describe muskrat secretions. Which is why we dubbed the malodorous mystery in our tool shed “An Excess of Muskrat Love.”
I know what you’re thinking, and no, the smell isn't coming from the pest repellant; that's more like pine. And we’ve checked every bag of fertilizer and each bottle, box, and tin of Sluggo, ScootMole, Captain Jack’s Deadbug, etc. in our collection; they’re all sealed tight and definitely not the source. Nor is it the final resting place of some hapless woodland creature or domestic animal; the smell isn't right and hasn’t changed over time. Expensive commercial air fresheners have failed to make a dent.
“We’re going to have to take this to the next level,” I said grimly on Saturday morning.
So we emptied the shed, sniffing everything before hauling it outside, then scrubbed the interior with a pungent mixture of ammonia, vinegar, and baking soda. The concoction stripped paint off sections of the floor, cleared up my sinuses, and reduced the smell very slightly for a short while.
“It’s The Thing That Couldn’t Die,” I said.
Sniffing our shed has become a daily ritual along with ever-wilder schemes for finding and eradicating whatever-it-is. Today we take delivery of a spy camera with an endoscopic tube for peering under the floor, and tomorrow we're consulting a pest expert. Rich and I are determined to get to the bottom of this soon. Because next month we’re finally (yay!) going back to Spain.
Or are we?
You won’t be surprised to hear that traveling to Europe has gotten very, very complicated, requiring all sorts of QR codes on our phones (and printed on paper, too, just in case).
First we signed up for California's new Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Records — which the governor insists are not vaccine passports, just voluntary backups to printed shot cards. I figure they should at least get us through the doors of the airport.
To board the plane to London Heathrow, we have to show proof we’ve had a negative Covid test within the past 72 hours. Oh, good! I thought I might miss out on the fun of having someone shove a swab up my nose; this will round out my pandemic experience nicely.
A British friend warned us that once we're in Heathrow we mustn’t set foot outside the airport or we’ll lose our in-transit status. What would happen then? He didn’t elaborate. Possibly we’d be quarantined for ten days in a hotel room full of skunks. At any rate, we’re staying in Heathrow until we can catch a plane to Spain. Unfortunately, Heathrow has no direct flights to Seville, so we’ll land in Madrid and take the train from there.
Entering Spain requires filling out an online Health Control Form in advance. What does that entail? Who knows? We can’t even glimpse the form until we can provide details of our arrival flight into Madrid, and we don’t have those tickets yet. We’re planning to buy them later this month.
Or maybe not.
This pesky Delta Variant has everybody rattled, including me. Three weeks ago, I felt confident about getting on a plane and spending 11 hours in an enclosed space with 150 strangers who would be masked at all times — except, of course, when flight attendants came around with drinks, dinner, coffee, snacks, breakfast, more coffee, and yet more snacks.
“People often think of planes as major vectors for transmission,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, “but overall, we have not seen much data on transmission on a plane, except for people that are in the immediate vicinity of that person.” Whew! So all I have to do is verify nobody around me picked up the virus in the 72 hours since their test.
And hope that I’m still healthy, too. Although completely vaxxed, I no longer feel very bullet proof, knowing I could contract the Delta Variant. While it (probably) wouldn’t kill me or send me to the hospital, Delta could lodge in my body like a muskrat in a garden shed, sharing the love with everyone in the vicinity. Researchers say Delta spreads like chickenpox; if you get it, you’re likely to infect eight or nine others. Even hard-core anti-vaxxers are lining up to get their jabs; as my sister-in-law Deb put it, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
Dallas mom Heather Simpson was an anti-vax influencer until she realized her own health, and that of her daughter, really were at stake. She followed the science and got her shot. “It’s nice to know that I’m going to be protected against COVID,” she says. “This is the way to end this pandemic, and I’m glad to be able to do my part.”
Just when we thought it was safe to take off our masks, the news has turned scary and confusing again. The State Department says “Do not travel to the United Kingdom due to COVID-19. Exercise increased caution due to terrorism.” (Great, something else to worry about!) It also says “Do not travel to Spain due to COVID-19. Exercise increased caution in Spain due to terrorism and civil unrest.” Friends in Spain say, "Nonsense, things are peaceful, come on over." The NY Times considers travel viable, as long as you dot all your i’s and cross all your borders with the correct documentation. “The welcome mat is being extended most enthusiastically to vaccinated travelers,” gushes Travel Weekly, adding more soberly, “Each country is able to set slightly different entry requirements, causing complications.” The European Union says, “EU countries have agreed on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The situation is changing so rapidly the only thing you can count on is that nobody has a firm grasp on what’s happening now, let alone what's next. One clear truth stands out: this virus isn’t finished with us. We’re still in a pandemic and we may have to give up a lot of plans and dreams that we’re holding dear. But as author Ally Condie says, “In the end, you can’t always choose what to keep. You can only choose how you let it go.”
Letting go is never easy, and I find myself anxiously scrutinizing the present for clues about the future. Am I going to return safely to Seville in September? How bad will Delta get? Will I ever figure out what’s happening in my tool shed? Could it be a bizarre revenge plot by the ousted skunks? The Buddhists tell us that learning to live in mystery is good for the soul. If so, I think we’ll all be several notches closer to nirvana before the pandemic is finally over.
How are you navigating the Delta Variant? Are you altering any plans over the next few months? Taking extra precautions? Let me know in the comments section below.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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