Some of the things we know now, we hardly even dreamed of before. With the lockdown over, Simon Wilson winds up his pandemic diary.
1. In praise of country life
It's colder now and the mice are coming in. You hear them in the walls, catch them in the traps. The trap brand is "Time's Up", which is both funny and scary, as if the poor little creatures are being ridiculed even as they're crushed in the jaws of death.
I've been locked down in the country and it's been good. Although also, it's not easy for everyone living here.
There's a wall of plantation pines across a small scrubby field beyond our back fence. When the sun rises it turns those trees a glowing orange, just for a few minutes. By 3pm, the sun has moved around behind them and that's that, the cold is back, it's time, if the day's work is done, for a bike ride to places where the sun still shines.
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The pines belong to a fishing lodge that used to be the posh place in town. "Jimmy Carter stayed here", that sort of thing. It tells you something that you don't hear rumours about anyone slightly younger or more recent although in the good times helicopters do come and go.
In the good times. Will they return? The lodge has been empty through the lockdown, but it stopped being the poshest place around a long time ago. The pines, which we'd heard would be chopped down this year, giving us back our view of the hills, will probably stay exactly as they are. That place will be spending every red cent it can find seducing visitors to return.
What's true for the lodge is also true for the town. It's a place with so much to offer and yet it's never seemed to know quite how to go about doing that. Close to the mountains and the lake, with a big river and gorgeous bush, this is heaven in four glorious seasons.
You can fish, swim, ski, go kayaking and river rafting, walk and ride the bush trails and on the mountains too, go hunting, do anything in nature you want, or sit under a tree and read a book.
There's work servicing all that, and in forestry, housing construction and conservation. And in combatting the drought, frankly. The Budget's new $1.1 billion fund for greening the country could be put to rich use here. The local iwi is large and strong and deeply integrated into the economic life of the place.
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But there's just not enough of it – economic life, I mean. Unemployment, especially among the young, especially among Māori, is high. The town centre, once thriving, was gutted a few years ago when the council let New World shift out and open a new big supermarket on the highway. Leaving behind all the other shops, many of which closed, and a perpetual gaggle of kids who hang out, ride bikes, sit and plan their escape to the city.
There are a thousand towns like this one, all over the country, mostly with the bones to succeed if only someone can figure out how. This town, with such gorgeous nature all around, should have a better chance than most.
But does it? Coming out of the Covid crisis, here, brings everyone back to the same future: struggling to make a plan to make it work, only now they have to do it without overseas tourists. Their absence has badly maimed the economic infrastructure of the town and the entire region.
2. Why did this happen?
In the Atlantic, writer Ed Yong outlined "the many aspects of 21st-century life that made the pandemic possible" and I haven't seen a better list anywhere: "humanity's relentless expansion into wild spaces; soaring levels of air travel; chronic underfunding of public health; a just-in-time economy that runs on fragile supply chains; health-care systems that yoke medical care to employment (that's an American problem); social networks that rapidly spread misinformation; the devaluation of expertise; the marginalisation of the elderly; and centuries of structural racism that impoverished the health of minorities and indigenous groups".
It would be good to say, at least now we know? Let's say, at least now we have no excuse not to know.
3. Checkpoints can be a sign of a functional society
Related: People got into such a tizzy about checkpoints on the roads into rural communities. In reality, they were a sign of those communities organising to look after themselves, knowing the state wasn't going to come rushing in and do it for them.
Communities that bore terrible losses in the 1918 influenza epidemic and did not want that to happen again. Communities that worked with the police to get it right. David Fisher wrote an excellent account of it all in this paper last weekend.
4. This was not the great leveller
Also related: I was lucky. I know I was. The lockdown wasn't so bad if you had a good place to lock down in, you could keep working, did not have demanding small children to look after, did not have a difficult, dysfunctional or dangerous home life, your livelihood was not about to disappear and you discovered you could cope with the fear and the pressure.
The new "more resilient" society, that great goal urgently before us, has to make people safer and better off, in our everyday lives and for when the next crisis strikes.
Better housing is the best place to start.
5. We love science now
The primacy given to the contest of scientific thinking, wow. How great that scientists have become so respected, and how great to watch and listen hard as they give us a rolling demonstration of how they work, with all the conflicts that good science entails, delivering reassurance in the midst of uncertainty, urging action when the prevailing urge is to stay calm.
The scientists have also shown us something else: the value of good communication.
In other fields, people call it "marketing" and write it off as money wasted. Actually, what's happened is that clear and open communicators have been at us with their empathy and knowledge. They've contested each other's views, constructively and in public, and the media and the political process have both played enormous roles in facilitating that.
The media, on the whole, have not just built respect for science but have also challenged the official messages, keeping everyone on their toes, all down the line.
We should be so pleased at how all that has gone. And know we have a long way to go yet.
6. Kindness is a real thing
It's the strongest thing, isn't it? Take kindness into your heart and live by it and what will ever knock you down? I know that sounds ridiculously Sunday Schoolish, and I know I could be better at it, but I think it's true.
How will we build on it? Will we become a society that prospers through caring for each other, better than we do now?
7. Wellbeing is a real thing too
Ashley Bloomfield, director-general of health, said that a "wellbeing approach" encourages medical practitioners to switch from asking, "What is the matter with you?" to asking, "What matters to you?"
There's a little something in that for Grant Robertson and for all of us.
8. The state should not get out of the way
The state is the principal organising tool for society. The job is not to eviscerate it, but to make it work better for us.
9. The economy is not an island
The economy doesn't exist separately from everything else and nor is it greater than the sum of all society's parts. It won't work well if we don't look after population health. It won't work well if the environment and our social relations aren't meshed with economic planning, either.
The pandemic has shown us this is true and given us the chance, as we have never had before, to do something about it. The Government says it wants to and has delivered a Budget with some pointers to some of the ways. We can hold them to it.
10. Just-in-time is out of time
Just-in-time supply chains are non-sensible in a time when human contact is difficult, and even more so in a time where we should be preserving resources and limiting our damaging consumption of fuel. I'm looking forward to the logistics industry announcing an end to the practice and leading a campaign to help the public understand why we can't have everything right now, same day or even tomorrow.
Just-in-time might have value in a whack-a-mole kind of way to deal with new Covid clusters, but it's no way to run a health system, an economy or a country.
11. We're good, but then there's America
We beat it. More or less, probably, you know. It's excellent. But most of the world didn't beat it and now live in a world wrecked by disease and without American leadership.
You can call it an opportunity, which it is, but it will be supremely dangerous too.
12. The future is coming and it's not pretty
If there was no pandemic, we'd be consumed with news of the worst drought in living memory. We'd be remembering the Australian bush fires of last summer and wondering what they will be like next summer. We'd be watching in horror the war in Syria, the refugee crisis in northern Africa and across the Mediterranean into Europe. We'd be wondering, with no little fear, where the rise of the far right will lead.
We'd also be arguing, sometimes productively, about how to speed up our reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in town and country.
This pandemic won't be the last, and – though it scarcely seems possible right now – pandemics are not the worst thing facing the world. We have 10 years to come to terms with the climate crisis. Not to resolve it, but to put in place the economic measures, the social changes, the environmental programmes and, yes, the science, that will allow us slowly to beat it back.
If we don't do it within the next 10 years, the IPCC tells us, the world will probably enter a new stage of runaway climate warming.
13. Horses, ducks and broad beans
Meanwhile, the horses still hang around, mooning at each other over the fence. Also, sometimes, at some secret signal, stampeding around the paddock, kicking up their heels.
The broad beans, planted at the outset, are thriving, the foliage bright green and delicious to look at, their colour promising much pleasure from the beans that will come in springtime. I am so looking forward to sitting in the sunshine, peeling freshly soaked broad beans.
But the ducks have stopped their flyovers. Twice a day they came, in great V formations, sometimes four of five waves of them, beating their way north and south, quacking and honking as if it might somehow make them go faster. Only a straggly few make the run now.
I say quacking and honking because we spent much of the entire lockdown debating whether they are ducks or geese. The evidence for ducks is that there are ducks all over the waterways and you don't see geese anywhere. The evidence for geese is that they definitely do honk.
Currently, we think they're paradise ducks. Which are actually shelducks, which mean they have some goose in them. Who knew?
14. Never enough William Blake
Grant Robertson quoted William Blake in his Budget speech this week, that "Jerusalem" bit about making a green and pleasant land. Here's another Blake quote, sent in yesterday by a reader:
"The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself."
Two hundred years ago.
15. The meaning of life
All those days of keeping ourselves busy. I feel like I'm a person who likes to sit and watch the world, preferably on the big wooden garden seat I made years ago and there it is, still perfectly functional. But somehow I have been busy.
One day I rehung the clothesline, because it blocked the view, but that only made it worse so I put it back the way it was. Moved the garden seat instead.
What do I know? Some things, I have discovered, one learns very slowly. And that's okay.