So long, 2020. In the words of the Sanford-Townsend Band (a one-hit wonder from the 1970s—a mostly confusing time in history that I call “my era” and one that Tony professes not to remember), don’t let the screen door hit you on your way out.
Or, to paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long strange year it’s been.
I don’t think I really need 1970s rock bands to remind anyone that 2020 was, in general, a Very Bad Year.
People couldn’t hug their friends, visit their grandchildren, go to live performances, sing in church, or eat in restaurants.
Everything was canceled.
Worst of all, millions of people got sick with COVID-19, and, in the U.S. alone, hundreds of thousands died.
In so many ways, it was a Very Bad Year.
But, at least here in my little world, not every single thing about 2020 was terrible. In fact, I can think of a few actual benefits I derived from a year in which, due to circumstances completely beyond my control, I was forced to do what I’ve been telling people for years was one of my life goals: to never leave Oxford County.
When I was growing up in Connecticut, tortured by the knowledge that I was, at heart and soul, a displaced Mainer, I was so enamored of the idea of moving to Oxford County to live that I announced I was changing my middle name to Oxford. (I was also enamored of Little Women, declaring at the same time that I was changing my first name to Beth, and I spent most of fourth and fifth grade signing all of my school papers, correspondence, and such, “Beth Oxford Wight.”)
Yes, of course I’m very glad we made that trip to North Carolina to play with our granddaughter in February before the pandemic hit! And I enjoyed my visit to Cumberland County for a birthday celebration in early March with three dear college friends, an evening on which we talked about life and love, politics and our past, retirement and remodeling—everything except the one subject that would, within a week, become almost the sole topic of conversation at every gathering (if we could have actually had gatherings).
But since my birthday I’ve left Oxford County exactly three times, and I’m pretty much okay with that, because it turns out that Oxford County really does have everything I need.
It has my home, which has always been my refuge. Although I know many people will say they have suffered greatly from “cabin fever” during the pandemic, that hasn’t been the case for me. I get outside for a walk or hike nearly every day, I’m fortunate to still be able to go to work, but I’m always very happy to return home to my sanctuary.
Just three miles away from home, Oxford County has our family camp, the place I call the center of my universe, because it is.
Thanks to a lack of “Things To Do” last summer—no weekend festivals, no public events at work, no out-of-town shopping, and, best of all, no pesky in-person meetings, I got to spend more time at camp than I have in years. Although we missed our usual camp visits with my siblings and other friends and family, we added Donna to our COVID pod and she drove up from Portsmouth every other weekend from Memorial Day until mid-September to isolate at camp, do projects with me, and enjoy our very favorite “activity”—doing absolutely nothing on the deck or dock.
A couple of decades ago, I used to think a trip to Lewiston/Auburn, or even Portland, every week or two was a necessity in order to obtain groceries and other essentials. Then, for a number of years, a weekly 45-mile round-trip to the Oxford Hannaford and Walmart, which usually takes me at least four hours, seemed inevitable, as did the convenient fast-food lunch that often accompanied it. I had, long before the pandemic, reduced that to once or twice a month, but since the beginning of March, I’ve been to Walmart just once and Hannaford twice.
Everything I need in the way of food has come from our local grocery store (which probably does have an official name, but which is variously called “Bethel Shop’n’Save,” “The IGA,” or “The Foodliner,” depending on how long you’ve lived here), or from farmers’ markets, farm stands, and other local food vendors.
A trip to get groceries now takes me well under an hour. I’ve become addicted to perfect bagels from DiCocoa’s and delicious takeout from Le Mu Eats, and I just realized that I haven’t eaten fast food in over ten months. (Ice cream cones definitely don’t count.)
And Oxford County has endless opportunities to get outside and play, in all seasons. In 2020 I hiked, walked, ran, and snowshoed a total of 1,272.8 miles. On top of that, I swam, paddleboarded, canoed, kayaked, and biked. I embraced the mantra “no bad weather, just bad gear” and I’m sure I breathed more fresh air in 2020 (a lot of it hot, cold, wet, or snowy) than I ever have before.
Now that I’ve wrapped up another year without breaking my insane streak of consecutive days of exercise (3,194, as of today) and spent several hours digging into the data I recorded in my mileage log, with my FitBit, and on Facebook, I’ve discovered that, of my 127 hikes in 2020, 124 of them were right here in good old Oxford County. (One was in Raleigh, NC, pre-pandemic, and two—one in Franconia, NH and one in Kennebec County—account for two-thirds of my trips outside the county since the beginning of March).
In fact, it turns out that 96 of my hikes—a full 75%—were in either Greenwood (where I live) or Woodstock (where our camp is). If I plotted them on a map, they’d probably fall within a five- or six-mile radius of where I sit right now.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ve done 124 different hikes in Oxford County—I tend to return to my favorites again and again—but staying close to home, plus my recent discovery of the PeakBagger app for my phone (great maps!), did allow me to make some rewarding new discoveries (as well as some scratchy, buggy bushwhacks I don’t intend to repeat ever again in this lifetime) right here in my hometown(s).
I hiked Buck’s Ledge 30 times, Peaked Mountain in Maggie’s Nature Park 23 times, and Lapham Ledge 18 times. I also made my first-ever ascents of Elwell Mountain, Bald Bluff, Uncle Tom Mountain, Patch Mountain, Tibbetts Mountain, and Hedgehog Hill (all right here in Greenwood) as well as Square Dock Mountain in Albany, Blueberry Mountain in Stoneham, and Doten, Thompson, Hutchinson, and Irish Hills in Hartford.
Although I did complete my first 4,000-foot peak in over 40 years (Old Speck) last fall, for the most part, I guess you could say that I enthusiastically embraced the AMC’s directive to “hike low and local” during the pandemic.
Will, who has spent some time studying lists of local mountains and hills on the PeakBagger app, tells me that there are at least 500 named peaks in Oxford County. I think that should be enough to keep me hiking close to home for a good long time.