Near 2,000 feet in the Front Range Chugach Mountains on Monday, halfway through a two-hour skijor in a White-Christmasesque snowfall, it hit me that the year of the pandemic has been one of the best years of my life.
I felt so guilty about it that the day’s writing was abandoned. As I sit here now a day later, I’m still conflicted about whether to make this confession.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus has visited untold suffering and, as of today, almost 2.7 million deaths upon the planet. Some of the dead were acquaintances or old journalism colleagues, though, thankfully, none were good friends or family.
Still, it is sad to hear they have passed, but not so sad as when we were young. There comes a time when you start to get accustomed to the deaths of those of your generation and ponder the fates that could be worse.
Four years before the pandemic shocked the globe, researchers at the University of California were warning of a different but equally troubling epidemic on the horizon.
“The number of U.S. adults 65 and older – roughly 40 million as of the 2010 census – is expected to nearly double to 71 million by 2030 and to reach 98 million by 2060,” researchers at UCLA observed. “But if the aging trend illustrates the success of public health strategies, it also raises the specter of a major public health crisis – a sharp rise in the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Too many in my small circles of friends have been touched by this disease. Several have wrestled with parents stricken. A good friend’s old high school buddy was among those suffering when struck by COVID.
We had a discussion about which was worse, living with Alzheimer’s or dying of COVID. As one who has spent a life in a never-ending search to know more about everything, it was impossible to avoid choosing the latter.
Old friend Joe Delia of Skwenta, a man who reminded me of my grandfather in that he regularly sent stories clipped from newspapers and magazine back in the day, was stricken long ago and died in 2014 only a couple of years after friends moved him from his beloved log home along the Skwentna River to Anchorage.
The Delia home used to be a regular stop for me when covering the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the Iditasport, the human-powered, winter competition on the trail. I was fortunate to sit at Joe’s table and listen to him, Joe Redington, Herbie Naykokpuk, Norman Vaughan and a long list of others now gone tell tales of an earlier Alaska wilder than most knew at the start of the new millennium, let alone today.
The last time I saw him, shortly before he and his wife moved to the city, he didn’t remember me. A year later, a friend found Joe wandering lost in a south Anchorage neighborhood and helped him return to his new home in the city where he’d never wanted to live. It was no surprise that he did not last long after his departure from Skwentna.
But he’d live a rich life and made it to the age of 84. I can only hope to be so lucky.
The pandemic has helped in that regard. The annual physical a few weeks ago found me 10 pounds lighter than last year despite a lack of dieting (which would still be a good idea) with my blood pressure significantly lower than in 2020.
A goodly part of this is due to a pandemic heightened attention to the fitness program. Severe COVID and death are strongly correlated with age, weight and cardiometabolic health.
There is nothing anyone can do about age, but a lot one can do about the weight and physiology. The winter of 2020-21 in Anchorage has been particularly cooperative in this regard, too. The return of the old normal has brought plenty of snow to the slopes above the city, and a lot of time has been spent on snowshoes or skis breaking out neighborhood trails.
There might be no better low-impact cardio workout. Breaking trail uphill through a few inches of snow pushes my heart rate to the level of a moderate-paced run but with none of the pounding.
An online calculator would indicate the exercise also burns about 800 calories per hour. Who knows how accurate such calculators, but suffice to say it’s obvious that when the temperature is 10 or 15 degrees, and you’re warm to the point of being too warm wearing nothing but a fleece sweater under a windshell, you’re burning a goodly number of calories.
That’s physiologically good, not to mention that exercise is a recognized boost to mental health. So getting in a couple of hours per day is no doubt beneficial there, too.
Plus I try to break away from the computer in the daylight to boost production of that good, old vitamin D.
Winter sun-short Alaska should really have a government-mandated midday siesta to encourage everyone to get out and get some sun, but for some reason this state – like the rest of the country – remains locked into the rigid, eight-hour workday that dates back to the early 20th century.
Vitamin D is produced in human skin in the presence of sunshine. There has been considerable debate, and conflicting studies, as to its role in helping people combat COVID-19. But Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes “laboratory studies show that vitamin D can reduce cancer cell growth, help control infections and reduce inflammation.
Vitamin D is good for physical health. Exercise is good for physiological and mental health. And as something of an introvert, the pandemic seems personally beneficial in more ways than these.
Pandemic standards of avoiding crowds and social distancing were sort of made for me. Even as a small child, “huggy” relatives were a nightmare, and that didn’t change much as an adult.
Crowds were an equally troubling experience and social affairs where one was expected to make small talk?
I HATE SMALL TALK!
If you want to discuss something of substance, I’m all in. But the social pitter-patter of talking for talk’s sake is something I’ve never understood. It just makes me uncomfortable.
As for social distancing, I’d be happy to have the rule of six-foot separation made a law. I don’t like people breathing down my neck, and close-talkers have always made me want to punch them in the chest.
Then there is working from home, a behavior I embraced long before working from home became the norm. My long tenure at the Anchorage Daily News (I was for a few decades a reporter and outdoor editor there), in fact, frayed when I was told to spend more time in the office.
Offices are an impediment to journalism. A lot of socializing and too many meetings take place in offices. All the time spent doing these things detracts from information gathering. I remember pretty specifically when it became obvious this was a problem.
It was in 2008 when the Washington Post revealed that then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had been working from her home in Wasilla, sometimes commuting to her Anchorage office, and billing the state for per diem as if she were on the road traveling.
Palin was at that time the Republican candidate for vice-president, and I admitted to ADN editor David Hulen that it was embarrassing to have an Outside newspaper break a story about Alaska’s governor collecting $17,000 in per diem payments from the state while living in her own home.
Hulen’s reaction to this was hard to forget. It was to fume and counter that “you don’t know what we’re doing here because you’re not in the office enough.” The order to spend more time in that office followed.
Apparently, he was under the impression that knowing things in the office was as good as putting them in the paper to inform the public, which might explain why the Alice Rogoff-owned ADN galloped into bankruptcy under Hulen’s leadership with nary a hint to the public that the newspaper was in financial trouble.
A little reporting there might have warned Anchorage Boot Country co-owner Mindy Fisher Leary that letting Rogoff charge anything to the ADN might be a bad idea. Unaware of the newspaper’s troubles, she was happy to let Rogoff walk out of the store with a $119 pair of boots only later to end up in the long list of ADN claimants in Bankruptcy Court.
So much for all the important reporting that gets done in newspaper offices. The only real reason they exist is to make editors feel in control of something. And now, between the pandemic and the internet, they’ve lost control.
The news is running wild.
Fun to watch
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is open to debate, what with fake newsers calling other newsers fake to such a degree it’s sometimes hard to tell who is not fake. But running wild does provide for some hilarious moments as in this post from blogger Freddie DeBoer:
“(But) I used to watch the naked social climbing going on, and it was the source of my disgusted fascination with Media Twitter. The fundamental thing that you need to understand about media Twitter is that it is a somewhat grosser, more explicit version of what media socializing is in real life: an endless, white-knuckled effort in pure careerism and influence trading. You ever see someone in the media announce that they’re changing jobs on Twitter?
“It is the weirdest f—–g thing I’ve ever seen. I guess I understand the need to announce your career changes, but why do people always respond with absurd hyperbole on Twitter? ‘You are the greatest and best person in the world!’ You don’t have their email address? You can’t text your congratulations? If you aren’t close enough to the person to do that, why are you congratulating them at all? And don’t even get me started on launching an independent tweet of your own (being sure to tag them, of course). DM them with your sincere happiness for them! I guarantee it’ll mean more. Do people who work at Geico do this shit?
“REBECCA: I’d like to announce that I’m transferring to the motorcycle division.
“JENNIFER: (standing up, loudly) REBECCA IS THE MOST AMAZING HUMAN I HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED. OUR LOSS IS THE MOTORCYCLE DIVISION’S GAIN.
“It’s a culture that’s full of bizarre rituals that only make sense if you understand that none of it is sincere, that all of it is motivated by the desire for social and professional gain.”
For the record, I’m not as down on the mainstream media as DeBoer, but there seem to be a lot of people in the business today influenced by the movie “Almost Famous” in the way an earlier generation was influenced by the Watergate scandal.
Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s old hat for the older generation to decry the behavior of younger generations. But DeBoer is not of the old generation. He’s somewhere between Generation X and Generation Z.
The author of the “Cult of Smart,” DeBoer has been branded a “leftist firebrand,” but his recognition that intellectual capacities vary from individual to individual and that our education system has created classes based on educational success is so far from most of the modern left that he’s almost over there with former President Donald Trump making noises about trying to restore working-class jobs.
That someone can entertain themselves reading DeBoer’s ranting, or study almost anything online is one of those things that makes this global pandemic so much eaiser to deal with than the last big global pandemic must have been.
When the Spanish flu swept the globe slightly more than a century ago, information was stored in libraries and at universities. Now, it’s all in the tubes.
You can access almost anything from your home office, kitchen counter, dining room table, living room easy chair, toilet seat or wherever you happen to take your computer. If you’re a science nut like me, you can get up and spend entire mornings reading through the latest research on SARS-CoV-2 – a real-time, out-of-control lesson in evolution.
Yes, there is lots and lots of garbage flowing through the internet, and nowhere more of it than on Twitter where the goal of most is to be the sound-bite star of the day. But in the same tubes that deliver the garbage, plenty of useful and interesting information can be found on just about any subject you can imagine.
And not only that, you can use that computer to visually and verbally connect with others almost as if they were there in the room with you. It is great preparation for the next generation which will, hopefully, be pushing human pioneering out into the galaxy.
Of course, by then, the technology might have perfected holograms to make digital communication even more like the real thing.
CORRECTION: Mindy Fischer Leary’s name was misspelled in the original version of this story.