The Working Waterfront

We’re ready for pandemic 2.0

How to deal, when the expected is capsized

Sandy Oliver
Posted 2021-03-17
Last Modified 2021-04-19

Surely by now we have figured out that 2021 isn’t going to be all that different from 2020. On New Year’s Eve, lots of us bid a joyous farewell to 2020, hopefully cheering at the prospect of a new year. Six days later, we learned we were breaking nearly daily records for COVID-19 cases and deaths and damn near broke our democracy to boot.

It’s Pandemic 2.0 with a more contagious strain of COVID on the loose, a slower than hoped for vaccine roll out, and many restless, angry souls frustrated with their lives.

We know how to get through this. Maine did it late last winter and spring, and harvested a decent summer with a low rate of infection and, together with Vermont, a better than average economy than most of the rest of the nation. And, I suspect, islanders (and rural dwellers) are better at this sort of thing than most because we are good at preparing for when a ferry doesn’t run, the power goes out, when there are scarcities. We are really good at helping each other out. We offer dozens of examples of how to live well and sanely when the expected is capsized.

I suspect islanders (and rural dwellers) are better at this sort of thing than most…

So you have your sourdough, a supply of toilet paper, and you don’t miss a sports bar to hang out at because there wasn’t one to begin with. Perhaps you had a garden last year (or maybe for decades before that) and learned how to can, having stocked up on jars and lids. Maybe you started a food pantry in case your island didn’t have one already.

We have our core skills nailed down. A young friend of mine says, “It’s time to skill up and reach out.” If modern society and the economy have turned ordinary proficiencies and talents into commodities, and buying them back is our default mode, then it hurts when they are yanked from us.

What if you can’t buy dinner and take it home? On islands there are lots of good home cooks because there aren’t lots of restaurants. Never mind prepared food, what would happen if all our phones went dead and we lost our primary source of amusement? What if we had to read books in print instead of listening to them? What if we couldn’t watch the late-night comedians skewer our sacred cows? What if we wrote our own jokes and retold old favorites? (A lobsterman, plumber, and pastor walked into the island market and…)

What if we spend Pandemic 2.0 learning to play an instrument or memorizing sea chanties, Beatles tunes, or hymns, or writing our own songs? Or learning to watercolor? Or pursue the time-honored craft of whittling? All my favorite wooden kitchen utensils are handmade to my specifications; the average wooden spoon in a department store is too clunky.

Mending socks? Making socks? Tying flies? Making nets like we used to do? Relearning how to fish, hunt, and butcher meat? Lots more hunting and fishing licenses being acquired, apparently, this past year, and a good thing; just think wild, lean, organic meat and seafood.

Personally, I need to learn seed saving and how to sew my clothes, something several of the 20-somethings in my life already know how to do. Then I could replace the clothes in my closet that come from Peru, China, El Salvador, and Cambodia, all purchased, by the way, from L.L. Bean.

Of course, we nobody’s going to be totally self-sufficent. Tell you what, I’ll make you the thickest, warmest pair of wool socks you ever owned, and throw in mending them in exchange for changing the oil in my car twice a year or showing me how to download a pdf for printing without colossal frustration.

And here is the beauty part. None of this can be off-shored. Except maybe to the mainland. As a neighbor pointed out, the ferry goes both ways.

I want a fish market; I don’t need another souvenir shop and don’t give a damn if one goes under in a COVID-induced downturn; American entrepreneurs excel at thinking up something else to do.

Local food, local socks. Local jokes, local venison. We wanted cheap and sent our jobs out of the country. I’m not flag waving here, but didn’t it occur to someone that if they always shopped for the cheapest possible thing they’d end up without work? We’ve given our talents away and made Jeff Bezos rich.

Swop recipes, not lies. Plot gardens, not government overthrows. Use a gun to shoot game and feed a neighbor. Believe in our own exceptional abilities, not in conspiracies involving Satan worshipping pedophiles.

Skill up, reach out, keep it local. It’s what islanders are really good at doing, and have been all along.

Sandy Oliver gardens, cooks, and writes on Islesboro.