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Venturing out into our new world one step at a time

by John Pixley

This was our second go-around. Our second chance, so to say. Not that we had gotten anything wrong the first time around.

Last summer, after more than a year of being apart, of isolation, meeting only on Zoom, sequestered in our little on-screen squares, we finally met in person. COVID seemed to be in retreat, and vaccines were widely available, so we felt safe having in-person meetings.

We were still being super careful. After all, the Delta variant was something of concern. As we kept hearing, we weren’t out of the woods yet. So we wore our masks, and we had our chairs several feet apart.

At first we met outdoors, under a large oak tree. With our chairs moved out there, it felt like we were camping. It felt like an old-time revival, a revival after a dormant time.

When fall came and the weather got cooler, we decided it was okay to meet inside. The Delta variant was still concerning, but we wore our masks and sat apart and celebrated taking another step toward the way things used to be. We made sure there was plenty of ventilation and didn’t have coffee and snacks. Things weren’t back to normal, but we were doing everything right and even made plans for a Christmas party.

Then there was the Omicron variant, and it looked like it could be even more of a problem. We weren’t sure, so we moved the party outside. Luckily, it was a nice day, not that cold.
But there was a definite chill—something was wrong again—with COVID cases soaring more than ever. It turned out that was our last in-person gathering, and we were back isolated in our Zoom boxes.

At least we had Zoom—right?

Still, it was definitely not the same—we were all so over Zoom—and we were glad that, just two months later, the Omicron variant was proving to be not so bad, with COVID cases going down as fast as they had gone up, and we were back to meeting in person. Even if we were masked and seating apart and holding off on the coffee and cookies.

This was a step forward. Or really two steps forward after a step back. Either way, it was something to celebrate, something we now find worth celebrating.

Who knew we would ever be celebrating getting together in person? Not with friends we haven’t seen in years or at a family reunion, but with our friends in town or even down the street that we see every week or every few days or perhaps every day in normal times.

There it is again. We keep talking about normalcy, about normal times. But these aren’t normal times.

Indeed, these are strange times. And not just because we find ourselves celebrating getting together in person.

These are strange, confusing times, full of mixed messages. These are days when the Super Bowl was held in a full stadium and a parade was held for the victorious Rams and concert venues like the Hollywood Bowl are planning full schedules even as we are told to be ever so careful, to be vigilant. We are encouraged to go out and enjoy a movie or an exhibit, to eat out at our favorite restaurants, when, although the numbers are certainly down, thousands are ending up in the hospital and significant numbers are dying with COVID. Yes, many of us are vaccinated and boosted, but we all know someone who has been vaccinated and boosted and still got COVID, and there are still millions who aren’t vaccinated. Some of us are barely getting out of our house, masked up and keeping our distance when we do venture out, while others are out and about, unmasked and crowded in, like nothing unusual was going on, like “Pandemic? What pandemic?”

So we venture out, carefully—or perhaps not so carefully—celebrating that we can do so, celebrating that we can be with each other IRL, in real life, as strange or now not so strange as that sounds.

Just as we ventured out last month, carefully, to find our lives changed after a night of horrific wind. Almost all of us experienced power outages—unusual enough in Claremont (they always happened in other places)— but some were without power for two or three days. It was bad enough that I was out of power for an hour and a half—I rely on electricity for some medical equipment and am seeing about getting a generator. I can’t imagine not having power for a whole weekend!

And who could have imagined that, when we did venture out after that scary night, we would see so much damage? My yard was a mess—luckily no real damage except for a broken string of lights—but I kept hearing that was nothing. I went out two or three days after the wind storm to see the aftermath for myself, and, yep, the unimaginable was real. College Avenue was still closed, with huge trees being cut, and Memorial Park was all but in ruins. When I saw the big pine blocking Eighth Street, that was enough.

I got the picture, and it was bad.

Our world, our Claremont, had changed. Whether or not it was from climate change—it’s argued the wind storm was a byproduct—we were no longer insulated from such change. Could it be that the “City of Trees and Ph.D.s” will be more just the city of Ph.D.s and not so much the City of Trees? At least for a while, until whatever replacement trees grow?

I was amazed that the Los Angeles Times had so little coverage of the wind storm and its aftermath. And, sure, we are a small town in a wide area that was affected, but how about a story about how a community known and loved for its trees deals with the loss of many significant trees?

We also find ourselves still mired in drought, definitely as a result of climate change. There was a glimmer of hope that things might be changing after a remarkably wet October and December, but January and February, which should be the wettest months, have been “troublingly dry,” according to reports, and it looks like, barring a March miracle, we’re in for another long, dry year and hot summer. Perhaps the recent news that this mega-drought in the Western U.S. is the longest in 1,200 years—no typo—shouldn’t be all that surprising.

And so we venture out into this world of risks we now find ourselves in, with determination but also with great care. When it comes to COVID, at least, maybe, hopefully, this second time—or will it be the third time?—will be the charm.

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