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Alternative Perspective

A Personal Reflection on 2021

by Tammera J Karr, PhD, BCHN, CNW

I have just come back into my toasty warm (thanks to my wood stove) home on a remote ranger station in the southern Cascades of Oregon. I have been shoveling snow, an enjoyable task that allows for aerobic exercise, thought, and fresh air. Today’s ideas began to crystalize into a theme that now has me at the trusty backup laptop. Before I ramble on too much, I must give credit where it is due; Julie Thenell, a dear friend, editor, and colleague, recently made a post on reflection – her words became the fortified soil for the seeds of thought that formed the following.

In reflection, I reviewed the events of the past two years of COVID and what I and we have learned from these 22 months, and how it can serve us in the coming year. My thought ran to what-ifs and preparedness, a subject I have written and spoken on before. Then my thoughts went to things I was grateful for and short fallings of simplicity. How to maintain resiliency and sustainability in trying times also resurfaced.

Fresh air and manual labor seem to bring the philosopher out as well as the problem solver.

First, let’s look at what the past events of 2020 taught us. We can and will get through hard times. When the COVID pandemic shut down the routines of daily life, fear, anger, and denial all surfaced as we grieved the loss of what was “normal life.” We saw families and communities divided over politics, economy, and health mandates. We also saw resolve to make the best of what was happening, innovate, adapt, and return to leisure activities of the past generations. Camping is one of those: the Recreational Vehicles industry saw a huge resurgence, now referred to as the Second Golden Age of RVs”.

Time Marched On….

We straightened our backs and stepped into 2021 with a determination to take back control….. and then the second and third waves of COVID happened and spirits sagged. It is hard to find someone who doesn’t know someone who left this earthy plane due to COVID. We all have opinions on government overreach, mandates, healthcare, education, censoring ….. and yet, the greatest gift we have gained during 2021 may be called an awakening. A return to conversing with others, playing board games, reading by the fire, painting, home renovations, and cooking added to developed skills. Homemade bread and fermenting took over kitchens previously built for design, not function.

Historical reflection on the Spanish Influenza of 1918-1919 has helped me understand the cycles of viral outbreaks. I learned the Flu would happen in waves as the virus mutated and changed every few months. Eventually, everyone would encounter some form of the virus, vaccinated and unvaccinated. Research confirmed that human immunity does happen, and it strengthens with time for everyone but those in the poorest health. Individuals who are proactive about their health and lifestyle come through viral pandemics with lower to no adverse outcomes. Sadly, the research became evident by mid-2021; those consuming industrially processed foods, consuming few vegetables, and living a sedentary lifestyle that contributes to obesity and type two diabetes, have the greatest likelihood of adverse outcomes from COVID. The research shows a staggering number – over 45% of COVID deaths are in individuals in this last category.

These bits of information led to the following thoughts about risks and assessments: We can’t stay isolated forever. Once again, as the shovel sliced through the snow:  I reflected on the history of the Spanish Flu – yup, life went on, mask mandates, pandemonium, shortages, quarantines, public and political reactions all happened. Interestingly, the COVID graph tracking these events aligns with the historical information on the Spanish Influenzas. Studies released late in 2021 also provided hope. Researchers found those individuals with optimum vitamin D, lower body fat, increased vegetable intake, quality sleep, and spent time outdoors had lower risks associated with COVID. Regardless of virus type, this gave me a growing sense of our human resiliency during (what some would call) catastrophic events. We all have choices – even doing nothing is a choice. So that thought led to the next…..

How to be resilient in trying times.

Knowledge, experience, and planning have proven to be key for my family and many others in the development of resiliency. Each time I collect another antique, I’m reminded of how past generations lived and thrived. My coffee is ground with a wall-mounted Crystal coffee grinder circ. 1906; allowing for caffeine, a nootropic chemical to stimulate the brain cells. I use an old-school stovetop coffee pot, which is versatile in its uses. On the wall ticking happily a clock dating to the late 1800’s advertising Calumet Baking Powder; it faithfully keeps time with the turn of a key. More than once over the last two years, our power and ability to communicate through electronics have been halted… I mean dead in the water, oh shit, kind of halting. Forest fires, wind, and snowstorms are the top contenders, but simple fatigue has also been a factor. The huge generator that powers the remote cell tower; allowing the handful of residents to communicate, turned out to be one unexpected victim of overwork fatigue. This led my thoughts to plan for the unexpected…..

Growing up in rural Idaho and Oregon during the 1960s and 1970s instilled a skill set and knowledge base many from metropolitan areas did not experience unless they were in the scouts, did “rough” family camping, or visited family in rural areas. Life during these decades meant our families drilled into us the “what to do when” knowledge and skills. This included canning, freezing extra food, gardening and foraging, wood stoves, how to change a flat tire, tire chains, propane camp stoves, and lanterns, carrying a shovel, and so much more. Thinking through the what “ifs” was and still is second nature for some. The life experience matured into practical knowledge, and that fed confidence in handling most situations …. and the development of resiliency. Stress is always part of life, but when we have confidence in our skills to navigate challenges associated with daily events – stress is a whole lot less. Which also correlates to a robust immune system and sharper cognition.

The thoughts on resiliency then got me to thinking about simplification and redundancies….

The last decade has been about simplifying our life, clearing clutter and redundancies. Yet if we remove too much, we can find ourselves in a pickle. I am all for eliminating clutter and unnecessary items. Still, the downside can mean added expense, stress, and challenges when shortages due to availability, weather, and shutdowns happen. Here is an example:  The thought had occurred to me, we didn’t need the satellite internet, which is problematic in favor of just using cell service and jet packs. Then the cell tower generator passed out from exhaustion. And I had a class to prep for and students to communicate with….the satellite internet warts and all became the sole source of communication available within 20 plus miles. Next, the power went out, and our small generator used when camping wouldn’t start. Culprit a bad spark plug, and no way to get to a parts store due to the weather closing the highway. Fortunately, we had a second generator on hand from the 2020 forest fire season we hadn’t sold yet. There are countless examples for all of us on when redundancies saved the day, fixed a shortfall, or provided the solution to a problem. So now, I will do spring cleaning with a broader perspective on redundancies and the value of planning.

Everyone can cultivate resiliency, lower stress, and improve their health. It just requires changing one pattern, adding a measure of thought, a pinch of planning, and your resiliency in 2022 can grow.