The Sound of Desolation
The sunsets were absolutely amazing here, everyone said it even those that weren’t tourists. Oh, to have tourists again! It had been two long years since the world stopped coming to Powell River. All the local restaurants had closed their doors in response so people in town started co-ops, some grew fruits and vegetables, some had farms where they raised animals for butchering. A town on the ocean with an abundance of lakes as well would always be able to fish, harvest shellfish and seaweed but the locals know they have to be careful not to overdo it, preservation was key.
She stood up from the log she’d been sitting on and stretched. She let her mind roll back to when it all started. It was the global pandemic, everyone remembers when that hit the news, folks started wearing masks and washing or sanitizing their hands every ten minutes. At first toilet paper flew off the shelves in grocery stores it was madness, the worst thing about it all was watching as humans attacked each other over their ‘personal rights’ not to submit to the vaccine or other protective measures. Reflecting on 2019 wasn’t easy anymore so much had happened in the last couple years that she found blocking memories was easier on her mental health.
In a town like hers, situated on the west coast of British Columbia people had always had a unique way of looking at life. It had been a mill town for decades and the plant had been in the process of changing to meet modern needs when the virus took so many people down. The mill, the town, and the whole damn country.
People had always moved here from somewhere else, mostly when they wanted to escape the city life. House prices were lower, the woods and lakes were lures for the outdoorsy types, bike trails and kayak tours were always available. So, before things went into the crapper it was actually a heaven. Previously only accessible via ferries or flights, oh yeah, you used to be able to drive down the Sechelt Peninsula but eventually you’d have to get on a boat, two of them to get to Vancouver. Even though the price of the trip had been climbing for decades and the road could make even the toughest stomach heave at spots, people could still get here. For those with a few more dollars and less time on their hands there was an airline that made the trip a few times a day Sunday to Saturday. That was in the old days too. The sky was as silent as the sea.
Truthfully, it wasn’t odd at first for a lot of citizens. In the winter and early spring, it was mainly just us. Even before the pandemic hit, we weren’t used to a lot of strangers in the stores or restaurants. If there was a visiting sports team you might see a group of them in a café or walking to the arena from the hotel, but they’d be gone the next day. It’s funny how much humans take for granted. She picked up her full bag of clams, walked up the grassy slope from the beach back to her bike. Every family had at least one bicycle, there were no cars or trucks on the road now, no buses even as there was no way to get fuel up the coast. So, if people did still have vehicles from the time ‘before’ they’d be parked in their front yard, the headlights seeming to look more like forlorn eyes every month.
She pedaled the two miles back home and waved at a few people she knew out walking. On her corner was a fruit stand so she stopped and traded some of her clams for a couple of pears and apples. After talking to the vendor for a few minutes about tides and Saturday’s collection of people’s seeds for a crop of marijuana that was going into the center of town, she walked her bike the next few yards to her house. The town had its own power plant and so folks had electricity for essentials. She and her husband had natural gas in the house from before, and because they couldn’t get delivery of natural gas up here, they’d had to install a few modifications so they wouldn’t freeze in the winter and be able to cook all year round. There were a lot of changes to their lives since this insanity began, they didn’t realize any more than their friends and neighbours had how primitive their lives would get. Items that you take for granted such as the aforementioned toilet paper. She’d read a lot throughout her life so some of the ideas and concepts put into place were from novels set in the USA back in the 1700’s. Learning how to make paper, washing cloths after they’d been used in the washroom, leaving her modesty and vanity at the door. She could be a pioneer woman but for someone born in the sixties, it wasn’t her strong point.
Listening to the news is just too depressing, you’re forced to hear that no one else in the province or the rest of the country was cut off. There were certain towns and cities that had essentially been forgotten by the politicians in terms of getting fresh water and medical aid. People knew about them though, shook their head in disgust at the leaders and all that. Powell River had been trapped in some kind of space-time continuum or something. Nothing came in and nothing went out. No transport, no people, no resources. There had been a few determined fellows and women at first, they put their boats in the water and were going to motor over to Vancouver Island to get help, to raise awareness or something at the Parliament in the capital city. They were never heard from again.
Before this whole state of affairs happened, she had a sister. She’s still out there somewhere, her and her kids and their families in the lower mainland. They haven’t been able talk in two years. It was just after their mother and brother died in the same summer. Since then, no contact. There is electricity here as mentioned and a local radio station puts out information bulletins and some music a couple times a week, but since 2019 there’s no internet connection. There’s no phone service either, House wired or cell phones. We know some guys from the block three over that decided they were going to check on the cell phone towers up on the mountain. We all had so much hope for them.
A town in trouble is almost always a town divided. There’s always someone or some group that decides they don’t like the way things are being run. The folks on the other side of the proverbial coin are just trying to get through life. The second group might not like their new reality, but they figure out a way to survive and maybe thrive. These are the folks that started the co-op, organized runners to spread any news when the radio station was off air. There wasn’t much paper around for posters, (we were saving it to make a big sign down on the beach the first time a ship was close enough to read it).
The first group were the complainers. You know the type, ‘we want our rights, we want to leave town, give us gasoline or give us death, that last one always makes us laugh. They were far from helpful, didn’t contribute much at all to the co-op program but wanted more of everything. This situation was starting to resemble a William Golding novel, and you know what happened to the boys on the island, don’t you?
‘To Whomever finds this, we don’t know when the world or at least our little corner of it is going to right itself again. We acknowledge that it’s wearing us out, tearing us apart, while yanking us together if only in apprehension. If anyone outside of our community gets this bottle and reads the note inside, please find a way to help us. You can tell by the words things are getting desperate, it was a slow decline into desolation, but we’ve hit bottom now. People are disappearing as noted, families are divided, food is running short, and the crop won’t help everybody who’s ailing. I can’t write anymore it’s up to you now.’ Please….M
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