During the first six months of 2021 many people were trying to make sense of the events we were experiencing. Restrictions to our daily lives and endless press conferences from governments all over the world flooded our television screens. I started to put together a series of ‘Letters from Europe’ designed to offer views and experiences from my friends and colleagues in France, Italy, Greece and Austria. I thought it would also be useful to offer a first hand view from the United States and my esteemed friend and colleague Sandra Hutchinson kindly agreed.
At my request, writer Sandra Hutchinson kindly shares her experiences of lockdown and the global pandemic from Glens Falls, a small city in New York State, on the banks of the River Hudson………..
….I’m writing from Glens Falls, a small city in northern New York State, in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Glens Falls was founded by enterprising settlers in the 18th century who built sawmills on the banks of the Hudson River, which passes through our city as it winds its way from its source deep in the northern forest, to New York Harbor, 200 miles south. Our sawmills were gradually replaced by paper mills and other industries that generated wealth among various families, whose philanthropy resulted in our having cultural offerings surprisingly robust for a city our size. Our Hyde Collection Art Museum, for example, includes both European and American masterpieces in its collection.
Glens Falls has also benefited from tourism as the gateway to the Adirondacks, now a six million acre park that combines State-owned “forever wild” lands with privately owned property. We are only about eight miles south of the southern tip of Lake George, “the Queen of American Lakes.” In 1791, Thomas Jefferson wrote, while traveling the lake with James Madison, “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw…” We are fortunate to have a boat on the lake, and during the strict lockdowns last summer, we could still take our boat out. Our lake time was absolutely key to preserving our mental health.
Pivotal battles of the French & Indian War, as well as the American Revolution, also occurred locally, providing rich fodder for storytelling. Some may recall the famous scene from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, when Hawkeye, a scout for the British, hides with his charges, the daughters of the commander of Fort William Henry on Lake George, in a cave on an island in a river. Cooper imagined that to have happened right here, and a huge painting depicting this scene, of “Cooper’s Cave,” hangs in the lobby of our downtown hotel.
In 1980, after returning to his hometown after college, law school and various journalism stints, my husband founded a weekly community newspaper in Glens Falls. Against all odds, The Chronicle survived and grew, in circulation, advertising revenue and staff. For nearly 40 years, not a single employee had been let go for lack of work.
In March, 2020, however, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo required that all “nonessential” businesses shut down due to the pandemic, we were facing the abyss in terms of advertising, which is virtually our entire revenue stream. Over the course of two days, we had to terminate seven full time employees and eight part time. Another full time employee suddenly resigned. Not only were we looking at our advertising revenue drying up, but hundreds of outlets where our paper was distributed were suddenly closed. Fortunately, as “media,” we were permitted to continue to operate.
As I write this, in early May, 2021, things are finally starting to open up. We have high regional vaccination rates and low rates of ongoing infection. In our county of around 64,000 people, we’ve had 68 deaths attributed to COVID. Fifty of those individuals resided in either a nursing home or assisted living facility before passing away. Today I read that 60% of US adults have had at least one shot.
The vaccines became available in January in New York State, but the supply was very limited and only available at several State-run vaccination sites. The closest was an hour’s drive south, in Albany. The next closest site was 110 miles north, in Plattsburgh, near the Canadian border. When my husband and I became vaccine-eligible, I began repeatedly searching the New York State web site to find appointments, but always found “nothing available.” When finally I found appointments that had just opened up in Plattsburgh, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. We received our first shots on February 10, and our second on March 3. Two weeks after that, we were deemed “fully vaccinated.”
Now, incredibly, the vaccines that were so difficult to obtain are readily available locally to anyone over the age of 16, at pharmacies, county public health clinics and a State-run walk-in vaccination site in an empty former Sears department store.
Each of my two sons, both in their twenties, came home during the height of the pandemic last summer, in part, because they felt it would be safer at home, and they could work remotely. One flew in from Washington, DC, and the other from Los Angeles. Each quarantined in our finished basement. I would prepare meals and leave the plates on the top step of the basement stairs. It was simultaneously funny and disconcerting. We celebrated when they each received negative COVID tests and each son spent months living with us. One has now actually moved back to Glens Falls permanently.
My husband and I did not travel anywhere once the pandemic hit, until April, 2021, after we were fully vaccinated, and we rented a house for a weekend in our neighboring state of Vermont. Prior to then, we were prohibited from visiting Vermont (even though the border is only about 20 miles east) because of the high rates of infection in New York State. For my British friends, this is like living in Cumbria and being told you can’t go into Northumberland!
As media, we receive daily email updates from our County government on how many new cases are identified, and how many “recoveries” documented. We also get daily emails from our local hospital, letting us know how may COVID patients they have in-house, and how many are in intensive care. When we see the numbers in the intensive care unit decline, sadly, all too often it has been because that patient has passed away.
It is hard to parse all the information on infections, recoveries and hospitalizations and put it into context. Our governor, who has come under intense criticism for not being transparent about the true number of COVID deaths of nursing home patients, often issues orders and proclamations about what entities can operate and under what conditions. It is extremely difficult to understand what the rules are on any given day, for any category, whether it’s restaurants, offices, stores, gatherings, etc.
In terms of travel, while I dream of making a trip to the UK or to Europe, I doubt whether that is realistic given the surges, variants, and unavailability of vaccines in so many places. It has been a long, strange road for all of us, but we are enormously grateful for our health and the fact that we did not lose our livelihood. Ironically, the pandemic has brought our family closer, since both our adult sons returned home for months. That, indeed, has been our silver lining.
I’d like to thank Sandra most sincerely for her contribution to this article. It has been so useful for me to understand other people’s pandemic experiences across Europe and also in North America. Over the months I’ve heard from friends in Greece and Majorca, Italy and France, Austria and the British Isles. Even my friend Francesca based in Jersey, Channel Islands gave me her account of events. Another friend in Sicily kindly contributed to one of my articles. To all these wonderful contributors I am profoundly grateful.
Whilst I personally have suffered a complete collapse of my travel business since January, 2020 that’s 18 months with no business whatsoever, I too can see light at the end of the tunnel. The bright, green tender shoots of a new dawn are clearly visible. I’ll be leading a ‘ladies only’ group to Sicily in October of this year. Then in April, 2022 I’ll be leading another small group to Trieste and Venice. I’m hoping that travel will restart in a more respectful and appreciative manner. I’d like to emulate the ethos of the ‘slow food’ organisation which concentrates on quality, patience and authenticity. In my opinion we should do the same in the travel world, offering guests in depth journeys to Italy, where quality, support for local businesses and respect for the towns and cities that we visit is paramount to our travellers footprint. We should aim to contribute more than we take away.
As we move forward into our ‘Brave New World’ let’s tread gently and carefully, treating our hosts and fellow travellers with respect and compassion. For me this would be the rose that we have been offered as the thorns of the pandemic fade from view.
My Letters from Europe were compiled and edited in the early months of 2021. They were necessary to help me to understand and appreciate other people’s points of view in the times of Covid-19:
- Letter from Europe #1 March 2021
- Letter from Europe #2 April 2021
- Letter from Europe #3 April 2021
- Travelling in Europe – October 2020
For more on Glens Falls – Sandra’s home town: www.glensfalls.com/about/glens-falls/
- Sandra Hutchinson is a journalist and a blogger. Sandra’s Town & Country: https://sandrahutchinson.com/
- In Sandra’s Town & Country pages you will find a range of articles about Upstate New York, travels overseas and even a stay at my Alma Mater, Oxford University. Sandra writes about the British countryside and some of my favourite places including the North York Moors and even Macclesfield (once famed for its silk weaving industries). I strongly recommend a dip into her blog.
- Sandra and I started our blogs at similar times (around 2015/2016). Our writing style has much in common.
- Writing is all about noticing, observing and describing, with an arsenal of words and descriptive phrases we are never alone and absolutely never lost for words….
Thanks for reading – the next article is about a wonderful lady I’ve known since the 1970s, now enjoying her tenth decade on Earth, her wisdom and erudition shine through….
Chester, England – August, 2021