Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Another Pandemic Summer

 One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”


We’ve managed through another pandemic summer, not quite as difficult as last year – when covid-19 ravaged our populations amid political tensions and an inconsistent response at various levels of government – but challenging nonetheless. We managed to engage in some of our geeky pursuits, learning about history, watching movies, trying some new games, and making a few careful day trips. And I’m happy to report the wargaming programs I’d hoped to run at the local museum finally got a tentative start. But overall it was another summer of getting by without many of the entertaining activities we’d normally enjoy during this season.

People in the northern hemisphere define summer in different ways. Some mark it by the astronomical period between the summer solstice and autumnal equinox. Others divide it into the convenient quarter-year marked by June, July, and August; along those lines Americans often start summer at the Memorial Day holiday in late May and mark its official end with the Labor Day holiday in early September. If we defined it by the onset and easing of hot, humid weather we here in Virginia would have summer begin in early May and run until sometime in late September. Perhaps as a holdover from my idyllic youth I tend to define summer by the end and beginning of the school year, since the academic schedule precludes many typical summertime activities (except on weekends). I still have fond memories of summers in high school and even college when my friends and I had more carefree time to immerse ourselves in the adventure gaming hobby. After all, summer is a time of leisure, escape, and renewal before returning to school, work, or the usual daily grind of life.

This year, like last year, we avoided certain high-risk summertime activities that kept us busy in the past: weekly trips to enjoy $1 family movies at Regal Cinemas; in-person shopping at book, game, and craft stores; attending local living history events, game conventions, or renaissance festivals; even a return to visit Virginia’s historic triangle sites of Jamestown, Yorktown, and Colonial Williamsburg we enjoyed so much in 2019. Yet we managed to find activities in the comfort of our home or in safer venues, especially earlier in the summer when it seemed the tide was ebbing in the pandemic rather than yet another wave building on a mutated variant of the virus.

We found comfort in our escapist habits to survive the summer. Weekly Skype calls with the grandparents. Friday movies in our improvised home theater, sometimes with full features, other times following geeky fare like the streaming Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, or Star Wars: Bad Batch series. Occasional game nights with both old favorites and new finds. A wargame or two as I sought to test scenario ideas and force compositions for my Civil War gaming programs. Kickstarter games arrived – many of which using solitaire rules – despite emerging problems with supply and shipping, welcome surprises to distract me from my anxieties.

Confederate battery on Henry Hill.
In the earlier part of the summer, when it seemed America was slowly emerging from the covid pandemic, my son and I tried making one day trip each week to alleviate the tedium...fully masked, taking care to maintain social distance, anointing our hands with gobs of hand sanitizer, even packing cold lunches to eat in the car or outside in picnic areas. Most were within an hour’s drive and they encouraged pandemic precautions to varying degrees (back when it seemed America was beating back the virus). We spent a day at Manassas National Battlefield Park, walking among the cannons on Henry Hill and talking about the stages of the battle. We visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps, one of our favorite museums for its immersive exhibits. Both were old haunts, but we journeyed to one we’d not seen together (though I’d gone years ago), the Virginia Civil War Museum in New Market; after looking at the museum exhibits we walked the path along which the Virginia Military Institute cadets marched in 1864, pausing at the edge of the Bushong farm orchard to gaze upon the “field of lost shoes” across which the cadets charged at a pivotal point in the Battle of New Market.

An ironclads game set up in the
Culpeper Museum's Civil War gallery.
One of my biggest disappointments from the last year lost to the pandemic – the postponement of a planned series of wargaming lectures and game days – was somewhat relieved by the renewed interest in these activities from a new director at the local museum. At the end of July I finally gave my “wargaming history” talk in the museum’s Civil War gallery to a small, socially distanced, and properly masked audience; the lecture included a brief demonstration game. In early August we hosted the first game day, with eight players (also suitably masked and mostly distanced) maneuvering Civil War ironclads clashing in a river engagement. We’ll look at future events (I have some Civil War armies to prepare...), but right now we’re all staring at a bit more unexpected uncertainty.

Alas, the emergence of the delta variant coupled with continued hesitancy among Americans to vaccinate themselves against covid-19 and the reluctance of a portion of the population to wear masks caused another wave that has sent our careful family back into our now-routine pandemic precautionary protocols.

With the start of five-day-a-week in-person school (thankfully with masks mandated by our state’s government, essential for the safety of the under-12 population that can’t get vaccinated yet) the summer ends for me. I hope this latest covid wave subsides soon so we can return to a greater degree of normalcy with a renewed sense of responsibility toward the health of our shared communities. We’ll continue finding some escape from our grim reality through the adventure gaming hobby and other geeky pursuits with the hope we can more fully return to the previously enjoyed “normal” state of our world.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”

Anton Chekhov

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