The View from the Porch – Fall Edition
The view from my front porch has changed.
Our leaf canopy has already begun to shift from shades of green to yellows and reds. My dear wife, Carla, has removed her flowerpots, exchanging colorful summer blooms for seasonal pumpkins.
Our porch lights are coming on earlier and staying on later. The solar-powered walkway lights do not receive enough sunlight to power through the nights.
We enjoy a wonderful fall season in eastern Washington. The weather can be relatively mild, at least through mid-October. Skies have been clear and blue for the most part and the air quality finally free of smoke and dust.
The biggest change in my porch view: Neighborhood kids are back.
For most of 2020, school was held remotely and given the serious pandemic concerns, most kids stayed indoors even after studies were done.
During this last summer, I didn’t see much of the neighborhood kids, either. They were at the lake, or attending summer school, or summer camp, or vacationing with their families. The neighborhood can be quiet in the summer.
That changed with the coming of fall. This year, local kids are back in class. That means some time each weekday afternoon, they make their way home from school, running, laughing, rough housing. The neighborhood is noisy again.
Of all the changes that come with fall, the return of the kids is the most welcome.
Most of us entered spring hopeful, believing we would enjoy something of a return to normal. Carla and I traveled by air in June to see our kids and grandkids for the first time in nearly two years. And we felt safe for the most part.
Not back to normal yet
But as summer progressed, it was clear there would be no return to normal just yet. The COVID pandemic has been resurgent since early summer, fueled in no small part by a significant percentage of the population that has accepted the most ludicrous conspiracy theories and misinformation about the virus, about the vaccines, and about such simple preventive measures as masking and social distancing.
Last week, the total U.S. COVID death toll surpassed 700,000, meaning something on the order of one out of every 500 Americans has been killed by the virus. We are still experiencing nearly 2,000 deaths each day and U.S. hospitals are unimaginably stressed by unprecedented patient loads even as the current surge begins to wane. The CDC reports the overwhelming percentage of dead during the current wave – 97% – were unvaccinated.
Notwithstanding any overall infection declines, Washington state health officials report hospitals are beginning to see the virus attack school-age children in unprecedented numbers. According to The Seattle Times, “as of last week, (the state Department of Health) had counted about 57,800 cases among kids 11 and younger, and about 68,300 cases among those 12 to 19. Of those, about 870 have been hospitalized. Thirteen have died.”
The numbers are so alarming officials fear there may be a return to remote learning in the districts most at risk.
Will they be sent back home?
So, it is entirely possible that the school kids I see coming home on these mild fall afternoons will be back in their homes, isolated, before we hit the holidays. That makes me sad – and angry.
I have been told that I should moderate my anger when writing about those who refuse vaccinations or fight mask mandates, often in the most uncivil of ways. Some who read my columns on this site say I should be more respectful – respectful of their rights, their religions, their fears. I have come to reject that notion.
Indisputable science, cash incentives, threats to employment, simple pragmatic reason, all have failed to budge the most hard-core antivaxx, anti-mask holdouts, putting all of us at greater risk, but particularly children. Righteous anger is about all we have left.
Syndicated columnist, Leonard Pitts, in one of his most powerful columns, wrote of his own anger last week, saying “good riddance” to those who would rather quit their jobs than accept a COVID vaccination.
Pitts wrote, “…on behalf of the rest of us, the ones who miss concerts, restaurants and other people’s faces, the ones who are sick and tired of living in pandemic times, here’s a word of response to you quitters: Goodbye. And here’s two more: Good riddance.”
That is anger I can support.
In our society there may be no value more universal than that which we place on the well-being of our children. In some alternative reality, it may be acceptable for adults to reject medical treatment or preventive measures for themselves. But children now are at risk and parents who fight mask mandates, who reject social distancing, who refuse to vaccinate eligible children, are fundamentally unfit.
Oppose abortion because you want to protect the unborn? Then support vaccinations to protect the children already here. Support family values? Then it is time to support public health measures to protect our families’ most vulnerable. Worship a merciful god? Then show some mercy to his children.
While the weather allows, I will continue to watch the neighborhood from my porch, will continue to enjoy the sights and sounds of happy kids as they come home from school. And I will continue to hope those responsible for their well-being make good decisions.
Failure to do so constitutes a violation of society’s most important value.
As for me, I fear the view from my porch may more closely resemble spring 2020 than autumn 2021. I can think of no greater loss than the silencing of happy kid voices once again.
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Steven A. Smith is clinical associate professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho having retired from full time teaching at the end of May 2020. His columns reflect his progressive political views. Smith was raised in a Jewish home and is culturally Jewish. However, he considers himself an atheist, which is reflected in his writing. Smith is former editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. As editor, Smith supervised all news and editorial operations on all platforms until his resignation in October 2008. Prior to joining The Spokesman-Review, Smith was editor for two years at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, and was for five years editor and vice president of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Newspaper Management Center Advanced Executive Program and a mid-career development program at Duke University. He holds an M.A. in communication from The Ohio State University where he was a Kiplinger Fellow, and a B.S. in journalism from the University of Oregon. Smith currently serves on the SpokaneFāVS Board of Trustees.