The Dangerous Allure of ‘Normal’ This Pandemic Summer

A fishing trip is a reminder of the impulses that stop us from protecting ourselves.By Julia O’MalleyMs. O’Malley is a journalist.Aug. 20, 2020Credit…Anuj ShresthaANCHORAGE — I arrived at fish camp to find a sofa on the beach with a fire beside it, crackling inside a washing machine drum. A few hours before, I’d taken my first…

The Dangerous Allure of ‘Normal’ This Pandemic Summer

A fishing trip is a reminder of the impulses that stop us from protecting ourselves.By Julia O’MalleyMs. O’Malley is a journalist.Aug. 20, 2020Credit…Anuj ShresthaANCHORAGE — I arrived at fish camp to find a sofa on the beach with a fire beside it, crackling inside a washing machine drum. A few hours before, I’d taken my first flight since the pandemic began — humming low in a small plane from here, to the small town of Kenai, to the mouth of the Kasilof River.My boyfriend, Jack, fishes that river every year. I came to join him. Like many Alaskans in the summertime, we were after salmon to fill our freezer. Jack’s friend, Kelly, ran the operation, stringing nets into the water to snare the salmon as they muscle in from the ocean on the tide. A group of his friends rotated through to help haul nets and cut fish, all of us taking home fillets for our labor. Most of the time at fish camp, though, we didn’t work. We watched the nets soak and waited on the tide.That day, as Tom Waits bellowed from a little speaker, a couple of Kelly’s friends, who were also helping at camp, took a seat across the fire from me. Wasn’t long till we were in one of those conversations between people on opposite sides of America’s political chasm. Antifa. How transgender athletes are taking over women’s sports. The injustice of affirmative action.Usually I appreciate how Alaska makes me sort out liking — or even loving — people with different politics. But I knew we’d eventually talk about the virus. I wasn’t sure I could take it.After an effective shutdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Alaska reopened its businesses in May. By the time I got to Kenai, in June, people were hosting barbecues and returning to church. Cases had started increasing in the area, and would soon rise quickly in Anchorage, too.Compared with states like Texas and Arizona, Alaska had too few case
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