Tom Clyde: Pandemic trends
If one were looking for proof of the existence of God, Wednesday’s bike ride through the fall colors seemed convincing. A friend and I rode the Lost Prospector area, the Rail Trail, and then skipped over into Round Valley for a bit. It wasn’t a long ride, nor particularly challenging. But the canopy of red maple leaves, the path covered with those already fallen and the open vistas were just beautiful. Good for the soul. There is definitely some kind of deliberate cosmic artistry behind that.
The trails were busy, as they have been all summer long. Even mid-week, on what used to be a work day, people were out. A couple of hours on the bike fits into the new work-from-home routine just fine. There were hikers and joggers and bikers on the trails, all enjoying the spectacular colors. Outside, with the breeze, it all seemed normal. But I’ve noticed a kind of strange thing the last few times I’ve been out. Some of the most basic civilities are gone.
When I pass a hiker on the trail, the normal thing to do is give them ample warning, let them find a comfortable spot to move over, and then say thanks and have a great hike as you go by. Nobody is looking for a deep conversation, but the most basic acknowledgment that they are there, that there has been a mutual accommodation of the use of the trail and a shared enjoyment of the experience seems in order.
It seems like in our pandemic paranoia, the protocol has changed from that simple level of civility to behavior more typical of the New York subway. Not even Rachel Maddow thinks you can spread the plague through eye contact. A smile isn’t the same as a kiss. Really, if we are going to get through this without psychological damage, we need to maintain some semblance of social contact. In other words, would it kill you to say, “It’s a beautiful day, eh? Have a good one.”
The social shake-up from all of this continues. The house across the river from mine is occupied by a couple who are taking care of a pile of grandchildren so the kids’ parents can go back to work. They are home schooling, or “remote learning.” The school they aren’t attending is in another state, but I guess online from the vacation home works as well for the fourth grade as it does for the parents. As best I can tell, most of the curriculum involves playing in the river. Playing in the river is an essential life skill, and not enough kids today learn it. But I suspect they are falling behind in math.
For most of my life, by about this time of year, that cabin has been closed up for the season. The pipes were drained, the plywood was over the window where the snow comes off the roof, and the place was empty. Now it’s packed full of kids, and the intention seems to be to stay there until the grandparents have had all they can take.
There has been a parade of traffic from people getting bids to winterize their old family cabins down the lane from me. Furnace contractors, window replacement people, insulation companies, all trying to price out the options for converting that 1950s seasonal cabin to a modern remote office.
A friend sent me an article from the New York Times about people moving from New York City up the Hudson River valley. The focus of the article was the town of Woodstock, where the famous Woodstock music festival didn’t take place. It was down the road new Bethel, because the town of Woodstock denied their permits. But the t-shirts were already printed. So Woodstock today is a famous little tourist town, and Bethel is a dairy farm. Anyway, we had biked through Woodstock a few years ago.
The influx of people fleeing the city to establish a new life in the country has forced housing prices up by about 50% in Woodstock, traffic is insufferable and the locals are grousing about it. They had coined a term for their new neighbors, “Citiots.” There’s a lot of that going around.
It’s hard to know if this is a long-term shift. El Presidente insists the pandemic will magically disappear by Election Day. The national trend on relocation says people are planning on things staying this way. You don’t pack up and move to Woodstock if you think everybody will move back to the city, to work in their offices, and mercifully get the kids out of the river and back in school in a few months. This experiment of working remotely has worked in a lot ways. Maybe the shift is permanent. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
While we figure it out, though, it would be perfectly all right for the newcomers to say “hi” when out enjoying the fall colors on the trails. The locals are mostly harmless.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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Tom Clyde writes that leaders must view the Wasatch Back as a single urban area. “We need to quit managing things along parochial jurisdictional lines that have long ago been stomped out, and begin managing this as the mid-sized city that it is.”