Last spring, most of us looked forward to a ‘return to normal summer’. The Delta variant disrupted our plans.
As has been the case for the past 8 years, I spent the summer at our cottage on Mount Desert Island in Maine.
2020’s travel bans and restrictions kept things quiet on the island. Summer 2021 was the backlash. Acadia National Park is experiencing record breaking visitation. Acadia’s Free Shuttle Buses (the Island Explorer) are running – but with fewer routes, shorter hours, truncated stops and limited capacity. Parking in the park is a serious challenge!
Downtown Bar Harbor is more crowded than I have ever seen. Some restaurants and shops remain shuttered this summer due to staffing shortages and the ones that are open have long waits. (and occasional closures due COVID exposures).
Bar Harbor’s Independence Day parade and fireworks took place, but the accompanying Seafood Festival and lobster races did not. The Band concerts at the Village Green were scheduled to start mid-July, but were cancelled at the last minute when it became clear that COVID-19 was making a comeback.
For the second summer in a row, Friends of Acadia’s drop-in “stewardship volunteer’ program was not running. A loss both to the park as it tried to recover from washouts caused by a severe rain storm on June 9th, and to people like me who enjoy spending a few hours working on trail maintenance and meeting new people.
When I arrived in June the Jesup Library (“Bar Harbor’s Living Room”) was open for browsing, with masks required for all. A week later, fully vaccinated patrons didn’t need to wear masks, except in the Children’s room. By August, masks were required for everyone again.. and by the time I left there was the additional restriction that visits be under 15 minutes long.
All the library events were outside or ‘virtual’ this summer, as were the public programs at the Jackson Labs and Mount Desert Island Biological Lab. The College of Atlantic’s Summer Institute (this year’s theme: “Good Food and Food Fights”) was held outside, under a big tent. The 9 sessions that I participated in provided rewarding intellectual stimulation (“food for thought”!,) but I wasn’t inclined to ‘mingle’ for the social part. I attended a couple of COA’s Tuesday morning “Coffee and Conversations” series (held indoors) but a COVID exposure at one of them (I had signed up, but hadn’t gone) convinced me to rethink.
None of these changes was a really big deal to me. The cottage kitchen is well equipped and the Bar Harbor Farmers Market is an easy walk. I know plenty of ‘off the beaten path’ places for peaceful walks and hikes. I feel no need to peruse the shops. Sitting by the ocean and reading satisfies the need for intellectual stimulation. But I also know that social connections are critical to countering the fear and weariness of a long haul pandemic, and I decided it was time to test the waters of ‘house guests’.
Much of the summer was just me, my son Milo and our dog. We’ve been together throughout the pandemic and have developed a routine and a set of ‘house rules’ that have led to happy, peaceful cohabitation. So it was a bit rocky when Milo returned to Massachusetts for 2 weeks while I invited a small rotation of fully vaccinated friends to the cottage. I’m an introvert and not a great hostess by nature. Add 15 months of social isolation to the mix and you have flummox and tension- but also joy and camaraderie and a reminder of what I have missed most.
School starts tomorrow and we will attempt to ‘return to normal’, but we will be wearing masks.