I live in Hood River, Oregon. The river for which it is named flows north from the foothills of the Mt. Hood National Forest. Its three forks converge ten miles south of town. My youngest son and his family shelter in place near that spot. From there it meanders through woods, pastures, and orchards before emptying into the Columbia River at the waterfront where I often walk.
My wife and I moved here more than forty years ago. Good fortune came from that choice. We raised our sons in the upper valley. Our first home sat on a plateau between the middle and west forks of the river. The roots of the grandkids sprout from the same soil that nurtured their parents. They share the same legacy of mountain forests and streams; wildlife and rural community.
The county of Hood River depends upon agriculture and tourism for its existence. The orchards and vineyards thrive in spite of the virus. Tourism, however, stopped abruptly when Oregon’s governor imposed restrictions to prevent the pandemic’s spread.
The itch to be normal again is strong. But, uncertainty circulates through our community. One day there’s confidence the coronavirus will dissipate in the ether of time. The next you are reminded that this disease persists with an ubiquity reminiscent of dandelions. It’s everywhere.
Locals, unemployed by the shutdown of small businesses, return to work with caution. Some retail outlets prefer to continue offering their products from behind closed doors. Some restaurants feel takeout only is still appropriate. Other stores allow customers to browse their wares. A few serve food with revised seating to maintain a semblance of social distancing.
Our health department reports 16 cases of COVID-19. Some have completely recovered, none required hospitalization, and no one in Hood River has died from the virus. Sheltering in place and the discouragement of visitors worked to keep the level of infection low. Now, as we open ourselves up to outsiders, the risk of disease looms.
What have we learned from the pandemic of 2020?
We know that 370,000 people world wide have died from the disease.
We know that the United States owns over 100,000 of those deaths.
A disproportionate number of the deaths are borne by the elderly.
We know the delayed response from our national leadership was a mistake.
Rosy pronouncements from the White House conflicted with reality again and again.
We know its disorganized rollout of plans and promises seldom materialized into action.
We know, incredibly, the president has fostered division instead of unity.
The result is confusion and the world’s worst rates of contagion and death.
The result is a collapsed economy that still wobbles.
We know 40 million people are unemployed in the United States.
Forty. Million. People.
We know simplicity, once enacted, made a difference.
Social distancing, masks, and good hygiene flattened the curve.
We know essential workers in a community are ordinary people, doing ordinary jobs.
We know, if we choose to adjust priorities, hope exists to renew our troubled planet.
The wonders of our rivers and forests and wildlife carry on, unaffected by the crisis of disease. The human community, however, restricted activities to protect themselves from contagion. Now, with the relaxation of those controls, what consequences will the latest new normals deliver?
Answers elude us about things such as whether public schools can open next fall. Then, there’s the renewed permission to be going out and mingling with one another. It’s like a blind date with mortality. You hope to be lucky.
I wait. Time goes by. There will never be no risk. But continuing with safe behaviors will increase your luck.