Covid-19 is revealing just how spoiled Americans are. (As if it wasn’t already evident by the climate crisis, and how resistant we are to stopping our maddening-level of consumption of disposable goods.) I have never seen longer lines at Dutch Bros (a local drive-through coffee shop) than on this weekend in July, when we are basically supposed to still be quarantining! And I am noticing that what we Americans have deemed essential is, well… pretty much everything.
From the looks of the license plates, Oregon is the new California. On my trip to the coast this weekend, I counted 8/10 license plates as California or Washington. Not Oregon. When we pulled up to the Sea Lion Caves, an attraction about forty-five minutes from our house, I realized that these out-of-staters must have felt entitled to their summer vacations. Being American myself, it’s not a far stretch for me to put myself in that mindset too… but really?
Standing in line at the Sea Lion Caves for about twenty-five minutes, I chatted with the person in line next to us. I didn’t find out where she and her family were from, and knew it would be rude to ask. But I slowly started to question our decision to cram into the elevator that takes you down into the Sea Lion Cave with all of those people. I was already uncomfortable with how some folks weren’t respecting social distancing, and I began to wonder why I go out at all if it just pisses me off so much. (I’ve never been much of a rule follower, but with this virus it’s been different. Valid rules are a totally different type of rule.)
Instead of going to see the sea lions of the Oregon Coast, which I hadn’t done since I was a kid, Autumn and I left, telling the lady next to us we were “jumping ship,” indicating that we couldn’t wait any longer. I don’t know why I couldn’t just say “this doesn’t feel right given the CDC recommendations” or “what, are we crazy??” but it felt safer to feign boredom.
Up the road in Waldport, we found a soft, sandy, mostly empty beach. I contemplated my decision to even leave the farm this weekend, and recognized that though I may not have been from out-of-state, I was still a big part of the problem. Instead of renting a hotel room for a relaxing escape, I could have remained at home, picking up after Steve and our toddler, stressing deadlines, and chasing chickens. Anyway, this mama needed a break…and I guess all those big families from California did, too.
It troubled me to see people shoulder-to-shoulder in line to see the Sea Lion Caves. People were wearing masks, but coupled with the carelessness of travelling so far, improper physical distancing, and a general obsession with want, want, want, more, more, more, I became disappointed with my fellow Americans. Suddenly my room back at the Economy Inn in Florence didn’t seem so selfish, comparatively anyway… I’d packed our own food, disinfected the room when we got there, and wore my mask exclusively.
Back in Old Town, I’d wanted to get out of the van, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me to do so. There were babies in strollers, large families bumping past each other on the sidewalk, couples dining outside, inside, and everywhere in-between.
It made me think how a small town is only a small town if it’s not crowded. You can’t bring the city to a small town and still call it a small town. I knew the residents of Florence were mostly retired or elderly, and was saddened to think of them inside their homes and apartments, watching the spectacle of tourists from their windows.
Instead of walking the boardwalk or getting a bite for takeout, I just parked on a side street and wrote in my 9×6 inch sketch pad while Autumn napped in her car seat. In an attempt to not be 100% spoiled, we went back to the hotel to pee. And then at the beach where we went to catch the sunset, I just pee’d inside a grove of spruce trees. From the vantage point of my mini-van, sandy flip-flops on the floorboard, I watched the RVs pulling in and out of the beach parking lot. I couldn’t help but think what trouble we are in, even here in Western Oregon, where the case numbers for the coronavirus have been relatively low.
I couldn’t help but thank my parents, for raising me to be slightly less of a pig than your average American. I couldn’t help but think how we really need to lighten our footprint, and reassess our priorities dramatically. I couldn’t help but think how this virus has served as an experiment, an experiment to determine if we can create and sustain change for the greater good of our species and of our ecosystem. The question still lingers, and is still in the data-collection phase, but the results as are not looking so good. We know that doing a, b, and c causes suffering, death, and destruction, but we would much rather prioritize our glutenous wants, like now.
Terah Van Dusen is a writer living near Eugene, Oregon. She operates a poultry farm with her fiance and their 2-year old daughter. She has authored two books: Love, Blues, Balance: A Collection of Poetry and New Moon: Transformative Poetry and Quotes for Soul Searchers and Independent Folk. You can read her personal essays at www.terahvandusen.com.
Whoever and wherever you are, we want to share what you have to say. Tell us here.