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In Maine’s all-too-brief summer season, we measure the passage of time by events. Memorial Day. High school graduation. Concerts and plays. Pride events, both big and small. State fairs, and festivals celebrating lobster, clams, whoopie pies, potato blossoms and strawberries.
For 2020, almost all of the above have been canceled, in every city, town and unorganized territory from Lubec to Lewiston, for June and July and even into August, as efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus continue.
While most towns and cities haven’t yet made the call, it seems pretty certain that even Independence Day events also will be canceled, or at least significantly downsized. And both the Portland Sea Dogs and the Boston Red Sox seasons are on indefinite hiatus. Even with Gov. Janet Mills’ new guidelines about reopening the state, for all intents and purposes, most of the summer is a wash.
A summer without fireworks on the Fourth of July? No baseball at Hadlock Field or Fenway Park? It’s too sad to contemplate, and yet, it’s most likely going to be the reality this year.
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While most people understand that these measures are being undertaken in order to ensure that the lowest number of people possible get sick from the virus or potentially die, everyone is processing the loss of normalcy in a different way. Some have accepted it, some are angry about it, and some are in denial.
Zach Schmesser, executive director of economic and cultural development organization at Our Town Belfast, works with people from all sorts of businesses and organizations in Waldo County to plan events as big as the Maine Celtic Celebration, or as small as book signings or yoga workshops. As one by one, each event gets canceled, Schmesser says he’s seeing people cope with things in different ways.
“It’s kind of like the different stages of grief. Some people have realized the full impact of it, and some people are still in denial,” he said. “Regardless, this summer is going to be totally different from any other summer we’ve ever had. I think once you understand that so much of this is totally out of your control, you can start to take control of what else in your life you can take charge of.”
Like Schmesser, Kerrie Tripp, executive director of the Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau, has witnessed nearly an entire summer’s worth of events vanish, from trade shows at the Cross Insurance Center to concerts at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion.
“Some people just feel defeated. They want to do something to bring Mainers together, and give back to the community, but it seems like it’s almost too difficult to try to even think about planning something,” said Tripp. “The flip side to that is that right now, we can innovate. We can try really fun, new things. We can experiment. We’ve never really had an opportunity like this to see how we can do things differently.”
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With hotels and other lodging shut down until June, and visitors from out of state being asked to quarantine for 14 days until at least July, Maine is almost certain to lose out on millions of tourist dollars this summer. While that sort of economic impact is going to be close to impossible to mitigate, Mainers themselves have a chance to help businesses that depend on money from tourists to survive.
“I think this summer, what we all need to do is use this as a chance to explore our own state,” said Tripp. “How many people have lived their whole lives in Maine and have never been to The County? I’ve never been to Gulf Hagas, but I’m going to change that this summer. One of my jobs is to help people change their mindset about their own state. This is a golden opportunity for everybody to go to that place they’ve never been.”
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Whether it’s buying lobster from a local fisherman, purchasing handmade goods from a Maine artisan, or taking a road trip to a far flung town to eat at a new restaurant or try a new brewery, buying Maine is something Tripp believes can at least help people weather the storm.
“I don’t think this alone is going to save the tourist season, but I do think it might help people at least survive,” she said. “Maine is one big small town. We are all neighbors, and we need to behave like that — and do it with our dollars.”
One thing that does seem not only possible, but also safe, is intimate gatherings in backyards and at camps. As the summer progresses, these things may become more and more commonplace — not to mention the fact that people have already adopted things like long walks and bike rides into their regular schedules.
“The other day I saw a bunch of kids I’d never seen before going by on their bikes, and I thought, ‘How great is it that people are finding new ways to spend their time,” said Schmesser. “People are getting into gardening. They’re trying new hobbies. They’re adapting to the way things are now.”
If everything goes as planned and the restrictions on larger gatherings are lifted in July, there’s a chance that folks can still have the family reunions and weddings they’ve been planning for later on in the summer. Maybe not a 200-person blowout, but did you really need to invite your third cousin and her husband and four kids from Arkansas?
Still, it remains to be seen what will be salvageable and what won’t be. There are lots of factors at play — from numbers of new infections and deaths at both the state and national level, to how well everyone continues to follow rules about masks, hand washing and general responsible behavior.
And if you find yourself feeling increasingly lost when it comes to measuring the passage of time without those seasonal yard posts to guide you, try turning to nature. The cycles of growth have nothing to do with when festival A or concert B are traditionally scheduled. The sun rises and sets, regardless of what date the calendar says. The tides go in and out, whether we’re viewing it from the outdoor deck of a popular restaurant, jammed with other people, or from a quiet corner of the coast — just you, and a couple of people you love, enjoying all the things we’re lucky enough to have right in our backyard.