by Susanne Severeid
Where do I start? That is what I asked myself as I sat down to write. Never before have I felt so stunned by the emotional and metaphorical “body blows” that 2020 has brought us.
Do I start with the recent devastating Almeda Fire and the indescribable destruction it has wrought? I would guess most of us have never been to the site of a bombing or a war zone. Driving through Talent and Phoenix and seeing entire neighborhoods, with countless cars still parked on the streets, their tires melted off and windows shattered, leaves one shaken. There is no doubt that it will be a long process of recovery for Southern Oregon, one which will leave lasting scars on the people, the affected cities and landscape, and which will cause many residents to relocate in search of work and housing. How many of these businesses-turned-to-ash, already on the ropes from Covid, will remain closed permanently for lack of resources or inadequate insurance pay-outs?
Do I begin with the self-appointed vigilantes in our great State of Oregon, their assault rifles and ammo belts slung over their shoulders like in some cheesy, low-budget western? And then there is the Covid-19 nightmare with its uncertainty, economic impacts and ongoing emotional isolation. Not to mention the question, nay, the insanity,over “To Wear, or Not to Wear” a simple face mask?
What the hell happened? What kind of wicked Pandora’s Box spilled open, giving us a year that has taken us all by surprise in its intensity and bad fortune; a year that has grabbed us by the shoulders shaking us hard again and again, and which has now, in Oregon, punched us squarely in the face?
When the toxic wildfire smoke settled like a suffocating blanket over the Pacific Northwest, my partner and I loaded up the car and drove off in search of breathable air. We drove 500 miles before we found blue skies in Nevada, then Utah. But no matter how far we drove, by the next morning, the smoke would find us. It was like being chased by a relentless creature in a Twilight Zone episode.
We were shocked by the numbers of people we saw wearing no masks, particularly in rural areas. Oh, sure, the restaurant or store would have the obligatory “Masks Required” taped to the entrance door, but beyond that lip service there was often little else to suggest this planet is in the midst of a pandemic that has so far claimed 200,000 lives in America alone. We repeatedly saw people preparing and serving food without masks or gloves. If one dared to make a comment, the tone was clear: you are an outsider and if you don’t like it, then leave. We saw confederate flags from private flagpoles and Trump banners and signs everywhere: through eastern Oregon, across Nevada, into Idaho and finally Utah. Never saw a single Biden sign. But that might be simple prudence by the silent minority in those areas.
Then came the news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Not unexpected, but, still, another gut punch. Comparing her intellect to that of more recent appointees is like comparing the wonders of the ocean with a shallow pond of pollywogs. We know the president will try to further politicize the Supreme Court which will change our lives, choices, and options in America for decades to come.
Now it was time to drive back to Ashland, smoke or no smoke. Once we got home, it was also time for a stiff drink and a good night’s rest, bracing for the next day in a year like no other.
Susanne Severeid is an award-winning author, public speaker and performer with a background in international journalism. www.susannesevereid.com