Well, it’s May as I’m writing this, and we’re still staying at home. I’ve got deer fences up around the vegetable gardens for the first time and a greenhouse on the way, and classes are ending a little early for students. Nebo and Calderwood are doing takeout occasionally. So it’s not all bad.
As the quaran-times roll on, I’ve been interested to see how people in various communities adapt. And I’m realizing that the skills islanders develop through our relative isolation are completely relevant to these times. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that everyone’s an honorary islander right now!
One skill that islanders have honed over time is the bulk grocery experience. Not that our island grocery stores don’t keep us fed, but sometimes you just need to load up on that specific brand of cereal, or enough Tofurkey slices to keep a kindergartener in lunches for a trimester.
We’re very good at going in with a list, loading up on a month’s worth of necessaries, and getting the heck out in time to catch the boat. Now, so are you! Pull up the mask, follow the arrows, get what you need (and lots of it), and get out.
Hannaford to go? Even better. Islanders have appreciated curbside pickup before it was cool. That underlying anxiety of not knowing when you might get to the store again is always there for islanders, and now mainlanders can share the feeling.
Another aspect of island life that mainlanders now appreciate is the canceled plan. We’re at the mercy of the boat, or the plane if we’re very brave and willing to spend the money. My band missed two shows recently due to weather, and I heard a little skepticism from some music friends that a “canceled boat” was even a thing. But now, everything is canceled! Welcome to island living!
A reliance on really good internet is another thing that mainlanders and islanders now share. Broadband access has gone from something that’s nice if you have it, to a necessity for work, school, and connecting with other human beings. If you lack reliable internet, it’s no longer just about the convenience of streaming Netflix (not that it ever really was!); it’s now become an accessibility issue for work and education.
Islanders have known this for a long time, as access to online classes and in some cases remote work can be crucial for a sustainable island existence. But now it’s the way the world connects.
The pandemic has led to an increase in online content, something islanders especially appreciate. I was able to “attend” a Deerhoof listening party and the Space Gallery book launch for Phuc Tran’s memoir Sigh, Gone, in April, neither of which I would have been able to go to in person.
There’s no replacement for live, in-person events, but I really enjoyed and appreciated being able to be a part of both of those. I’ve also watched a lot of live-from-home local music, which again, is not a replacement for going to a venue, but it’s certainly better than nothing and is keeping creative communication alive when it feels the most challenging and the most important.
Maybe the remote access element of events will continue when distancing is eased, which would make it possible for islanders and others to participate when it’s not feasible to really be there.
Welcome to island living, everyone! Maybe when things are back to “normal,” if that is where we wind up, ensuring access to food, remote work, and learning, broadband will nudge a little higher on the nation’s priority list. Islanders certainly wouldn’t complain.
Courtney Naliboff teaches, plays music, and parents on North Haven.