A View from the Hill: Objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear

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This is the time of year when columnists, having run out of good ideas, turn to a year-end review to get them past yet another deadline.

I wasn’t going to succumb to the temptation. I had an OK idea for a fresh column. Then, an early deadline was thrown at me by my editor. 

Andrew MarstersI began to see the appeal of a year-in-review column. Even if you, the reader, can’t. After all, who wants to look back at the wreckage that was 2021? Nobody. But it had its high points. So here we go.

My first column of the year, published on Jan. 13, revolved around a wishing bowl into which I had tossed a bunch of wishes for the year, such as:

• Get vaccinated. (Done and boosted.)

• Boat time. Many hours on the boat touring and fishing on Casco Bay. (Done, though not enough. But those rides led to some fish and lots of absorbing that beautiful bay and even some column ideas. Win-win.)

• Dinner at Scales. (Check. Fun conversation and great food in a far corner that we called COVID Corner for its distance from all the other diners.)

• Dinner with my grandson Teddy at his favorite restaurant. (OK, not exactly, but lots of fun dinners with him at home and a few safe outdoor-dining meals. Thank you, Portland restaurants, for adapting.)

• Sleepovers in my home with grandkids and others. (Yes to the grandchildren. But I’ve been strangely reticent to open my home to others. Not just the risk, but a sense that I don’t want to fully give up the isolation that came with the pandemic. I may crab about loneliness all the time,  but I’ve also come to value solitude.)

• Go to a movie. (Done. Once.)

• Entertain friends. (See two paragraphs back.)

• Book group. (Only recently restarted.)

• Handshakes. (Once by mistake, with regrets.) 

• No more reading daily death tolls. (I only wish.) 

At the time I made that wish I could not possibly have imagined today’s numbers and news from Maine. New COVID-19 cases: 1,286. New deaths: 27. National Guard called in. Northern Maine counties reporting some of the worst numbers in the country as something called Omicron creeps across the border.

And yet, unlike last January, we go blithely about our business.

Writing last January: “Contemplating the lists I have just assembled, I am reminded that I am very lucky to be able to do so, and that many thousands of souls lost to the pandemic cannot. I suppose all great tragedies draw to a close this way.”

Draw to a close? Hah! As I write, there have been 271,376,643 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 5,324,969 deaths around the world. That’s some kind of a close.

In my March 10 column, with my first vaccination completed, I chastised myself for doubting the country’s resolve.

“I’ve always been something of a cynic,” I wrote. “I thought it was a good quality for a journalist, helpful in sniffing out bad behavior and trouble in the making. I’ve learned my lesson. We’re not perfect. But in the train wreck that has been the last few years, something went right. That’s a hopeful start.”

Today, those words sting.

You know, now I’m thinking that under the circumstances this whole year-in-review thing wasn’t such a good decision.

I should have stuck to my original idea, which was to write about the proliferation of mice and rats in certain Portland neighborhoods due to all the tearing up of sewer pipes where rats like to hang out, and a bad year for acorns, which mice like to eat.

Sounds so innocent.

By the way, speaking of rats, did you know that rats may not have been responsible for spreading the Black Plague through Europe in the 1340s? According to National Geographic, the problem was really fleas jumping from person to person and spreading the disease, which killed 25 million people.

Oops, here I am going down the plague and epidemic rathole again. Sorry. 

See you next year. Meanwhile, stay safe.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.

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