One’s perspective can change by the day or by the minute and the nature of the view is all in the perspective. Today I am trying to get my ahead above the Omicron parapet; two days ago I had never heard of Omicron – the latest COVID-19 variant – and I was definitely the happier for it. In fact, I was thinking excitedly about where in the world we might be able to go come February 2022 with MIQ no longer required for New Zealanders returning home. And four days ago I was definitely very happy because we were camping in the back country (yes again) and the views were superb.
We took advantage of an excellent weather window to head up the East Matukituki River and then very much uphill to the top of Dragonfly Peak at 2165m. We camped at 1600m elevation, on tussock amidst patches of snow and there wasn’t a breath of wind. We went to sleep and awoke with stunning views of Mt Aspiring and all was good, except for what our feet and legs thought of the 1700m descent from Dragonfly Peak back down into the Matukituki valley. My legs are still commenting on the trip today; it is a lot easier to bend over to pick something up than to squat down.
On the night we camped, I looked up at the climb to Dragonfly Peak above us, and wondered if I could get up it – COVID-19 was well outside my brain at that point. The snow tussock looked steep and potentially slippery and there was a lot of snow; we had instep crampons and walking poles. They are a first line of defence for walking on snow, slopes but nowhere near sufficient if there are difficult conditions. I managed to persuade myself to just take the climb step by step. If I could go up, I would be able to go back down (this isn’t actually always true), and if I wasn’t happy, retreat was what I would do. Step-by-step we went up and none of it seemed too difficult in those small increments. We got our new perspective on the landscape and were ready to return to the lowlands after the freedom of the high country.
My other alternative perspective this week was at the Sherwood Hotel open mic in Queenstown. The previous open mic hadn’t felt like a success. Some people in the front row started laughing hysterically in one of my songs and continued laughing hysterically all the way through. I couldn’t focus so glared at them without much effect. I probably made them laugh more. This meant I wasn’t particularly looking forward to another open mic at the Sherwood, but it is hard to have a rationale for creating songs if you aren’t going to sing them to anyone, so I went. Before the session started I had a chat with Claire and Paul who organise the open mics. They make a living playing folktronica music in and around Queenstown – making a living playing music is quite an impressive feat, particularly in such an expensive place. In addition, they add to the music community by activities which include organising these open mics.
Last open mic there was also the very weird occurrence of someone preaching to the audience. I asked Paul about it and he said that was a first in 5 years of them running open mics. ‘And what can you do?’, he pointed out. ‘It’s a free world, they can say their thing. When Jehovah’s Witnesses come round, Claire hates it, but I invite them in. Because these sorts of people, who need religion, I feel sorry for them – they are lacking something. So I invite them in for a chat and some music, if they are that way inclined. If they go on about God too much I ask them to leave. But often they seem quite happy to hang out in a place with lots of musical instruments and a slack-line.’ Now there’s a nice perspective (reminding me of my parents having a cup of tea with their burglar, long ago).
Somehow, Pauls’ perspective shifted mine. When I went to sing, and some people in the front row were laughing about something, I could use that energy to smile with them while singing, rather than try to resist it. I didn’t feel bothered by it at all. The open mic audience was pretty intense, as was the previous one, but the energy in the room felt a lot more positive than negative. By the end of the evening, when we got to do a 3rd song, I managed to get a reasonable number of people singing along to Knitting Zombies.
The perspective I know I need to have on Omicron right now is, hold mental fire and see what transpires. There are widespread international reactions , many of them coming from a pretty negative place to start off with. Countries are stopping flights to and from South Africa, to try and prevent spread of Omicron as the new variant of concern. We are accustomed to locking down, so that is what we do. Stock prices have tumbled and the price of oil fell as the world reacted reflexively, literally overnight. Scientifically, the number of mutations in Omicron are a good reason for the degree of concern being expressed. In particular, the number of mutations in the spike protein are concerning given this is the chemical on which we are basing our immune responses as designed into vaccines. In other words, a different spike protein might allow the virus to better evade our immune systems.
Howver, whether travel bans make sense is dubious given that we know Omicron has already made its way to Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel. It has probably already gone further too. Over the next weeks to months we will learn about Omicron’s ability to spread, make people sick or kill them, and evade our vaccines. It took 6 months from Delta being identified in India (December 2020 – is there something about Decembers?) until it swept the world in the 3rd quarter of 2021; we will learn about Omicron sooner than that. In fact, already Pfizer and Biontech are looking at whether their vaccines may need adjusting; they consider they can ship improved vaccines where necessary in about 100 days.
Omicron is the next variant of COVID-19, but it won’t be the last, nor the last significant threat to humans that most of us have to face in our lifetimes. So, somehow, we need to figure out how to gain and maintain perspective that allows us to enjoy our lives day to day without continual reflexive reactions in the face of the media/information onslaught. Whatever lies around the corner, we might as well enjoy every step of our journey up to the intersection.