Locals keep busy as stay-at-home order sets in

Becky and Rowdy Dugan, with their sons Ranger and Wyld, entertain themselves in bed at their Marfa home during the stay-at-home order. Marfa schools have closed, and The City of Marfa –– and later Presidio County –– ordered residents to remain at home except for essential business and activities. (Photo by Rowdy Dugan)

MARFA – During a usually busy season for Marfa, locals are coming up with new ways to stay productive as layoffs, closures and county orders keep them out of work and stuck at home to prevent the arrival or spread of coronavirus. Some have come up with ways to contribute to public health, some are digging into hobbies, and others are suddenly thrust into the roles of round-the-clock childcare provider and educator.

Clara Williams had to put her Workshops Marfa program on hold when the local governments advised social distancing. Her hands-on workshops that teach various crafts and endeavors happen in close quarters usually. Unable to work, Williams says, “It seemed much more productive to actually try to focus on helping others than to spend time on other projects for myself.”

Almost two weeks ago, she began sewing face masks to send to healthcare workers in New Orleans and Odessa and to high-risk individuals. Williams designed her own simple pattern, which is now being used by Nurse for Nurses. The masks have a pocket for workers to insert additional filtration if desired.

“Ideally, these masks would not be needed. Ideally everybody would have as many N95 masks as they would want, but that’s not the case,” Williams says. She’s seen some flack from commenters as she’s shared her project online. “At various times people have posted, or I’ve seen different studies about how cloth masks are not as good as N95s, and everyone knows that. But they are still so much better than not having a mask.”

She adds, “This is not an ideal world we’re living in right now.” On Tuesday night, she was making masks for a local woman’s sister who is a nurse in Odessa. In the mutual aid groups she is a part of, hospitals are providing their preferred mask styles and making requests for what they need.

Marfans have donated fabric, and Williams is able to produce six to eight masks per large t-shirt. Williams said she was happy to coach others interested in making masks, saying they could contact her at [email protected]

At Cactus Liquors, Faith Gay is able to stay open since her business is deemed essential. When coronavirus concerns began and hand sanitizer shortages became prevalent, Gay sprung into action – with 151 proof rum. Done properly, the rum can be turned into a hand sanitizer that meets the over 70% alcohol guidelines recommended by the CDC. But as more studies came out, she shifted her advice on how to make homemade hand sanitizer with the high proof alcohol, instead suggesting buyers use it without dilution.

“What I’m doing is I’m using it straight in squirt bottles to sanitize and that works perfectly well,” Gay says. “I got a squirt bottle from the dollar store and I spray off my [point of sales] screens, keypads, telephone, my cell phone, my hands, surfaces that are metal or plastic and any bottle [of alcohol] I sell.”

Customers can order the 151 proof rum, which the liquor store is offering at cost for $10 a liter, either by phone or at the liquor store’s drive through window.

The rum is technically drinkable as well, though Gay says she wouldn’t “unless you’re going to a frat party.” However, aside from the sanitizing, “You can make some really nice essential oils or fragrances with it,” she says.

Other locals are digging into activities that might fall by the wayside during the normal workday.  Marfa Public Radio employee Lisa Kettyle says that her new work-from-home situation is ideal for tending to baby chicks. Kettyle bought 30 chicks on the internet after collecting orders for residents all over town. Days later, the New York Times published a story about a national shortage of chicks due to a high volume of orders during the pandemic.

“Everywhere in the tri-county area was sold out of chicks. I tried to order online, but there were order minimums. That’s when I put out the call for chicks,” she recounts.

As the chicks are in the mail, her partner Phoenix Navidson got busy turning an old shed into what they call a “chicken mansion,” adding ventilation windows, nesting boxes, reinforced flooring and a new place to roost.

“Hopefully by the time they’re old enough to be in the coop I can be back at work,” Kettyle says. Musing about why so many are getting chicks in these strange times, Kettyle says, “I wonder if some people have end-times fear of having to provide for themselves or are wanting companionship.” Locally though, she says, “It’s really fun watching everyone getting their coops ready, and it’s fun to have camaraderie around chickens.”

Rowdy and Becky Dugan, like many others in town, have had their kids at home ever since Marfa ISD closed its doors. The parents have set up schedules to structure their day, breaking up school work sessions with fun activities and kids’ yoga lessons.

“For us, we are really trying to use this time to work with our children and enjoy them as they learn,” Rowdy Dugan says of their new routine. “Although challenging at times, we are happy to be able to be with our children and guide them and us through these unpredictable times.”

As Marfa residents adjust to a new normal with no definite end in sight, locals are looking to help others, expand their horizons and learn to live in new ways. Share your quarantine stories and photos with us at [email protected]