Never in my life have I spent so much time thinking about a chainsaw chain.

It started over a month ago when, like so many other people, I decided the best way to cope with Maine’s “stay-at-home” order was to head out into the woods surrounding my yard. After years of procrastination, I started pulling up roots and pushing back on the brush, deadwood and even a few trees that have fallen in recent years and would make a welcome addition to the woodstove pile for next winter.

But I soon realized the chain on my chainsaw was dull as a butter knife and rapidly getting duller. So began a weeks-long exercise in what I’ll call the never-ending battle between want and need.

I wanted to cut that wood. But in order to do it, I needed to (a) sharpen the chain myself, (b) have someone else sharpen it for me, (c) go out and by a spare chain at a store, or (d) order one online.

The first option was a non-starter. I long ago lost the little chainsaw file I used to have and, to be honest, I stunk at the painstaking process anyway.

The second choice wasn’t great either. Farming the job out – assuming I could find someone to do it – meant face-to-face contact with another person who could be carrying the novel coronavirus. And much as I want to open up my woods a little, it’s not worth coming down with COVID-19.


Ditto for option three. My age and health status put me in a high-risk category for dying from the pandemic, so stores have been no-go zones for me since mid-March.

Finally, I chose option four. My wife logged onto her Amazon account and two weeks later – hey, patience is a virtue – the little package finally arrived in the mail.

I needed an 18-inch chain.

I received a 16-inch chain.

Standing there on the porch, I swear I could hear the tree branches chuckling at me in the wind.

I tell you my chainsaw story not to call attention to my abundance of caution, as the emergency management types like to call it. Rather, it’s because today marks a turning point in Maine’s struggle to strike a balance between what we all need to do and what we all want to do.


Gov. Janet Mills’ four-stage plan to reopen Maine’s economy does away with the previous essential-versus-non-essential business protocol and instead allows an ever-expanding variety of businesses to reopen under strict safety requirements – starting today with health care, barbers and hair salons, pet groomers, drive-in movies and religious services, auto sales and car washes, and certain outdoor recreational activities.

Assuming the pandemic continues to track downward, other sectors will be allowed to reopen over the summer – for example, restaurants, gyms and retail stores in June; bars, hotels and campgrounds in July; and everything else sometime down the road.

“While this plan presents a path forward for gradually and safely restarting our economy, it should not lure Maine people into thinking that this pandemic is almost over or that things will be back to normal soon,” Mills said in unveiling her “stay safer at home” order Tuesday. “The hard truth is that they are not; that they likely will not be for a long time; and that, with this plan, we are inventing a new normal – a different way of doing business, shopping, traveling, and enjoying the Maine outdoors in ways that keep us all safe.”

The plan, vague as it is when it comes to specific epidemiological benchmarks, is in large part a reaction to the growing clamor from the business community that the longer they are forced to stay shut, the worse their and their employees’ chances for economic survival.

But that’s only half the equation here. The other half is the customer.

Will you go the gym just because it’s open? Or not?


Will you finally buy that car by kicking the tires at the dealership? Or will you do it online and, in many cases, have the car delivered to your driveway free of charge?

When the restaurants open for in-house dining, will you make a beeline for your favorite eatery and chow down alongside other stir-crazy Mainers? Or will you continue to opt for pay-by-phone and curbside pickup?

A story in Bloomberg on Monday about Georgia’s widespread (and ill-advised) reopening included a photo of a Waffle House with a sole, masked customer paying her bill at the counter to a lone waitress, also masked. Several seats in the foreground were covered in plastic to preserve social distancing if and when more people show up.

Another longtime Waffle House customer told Bloomberg that he’s only doing takeout for the time being. If and when that changes, he said, “I think my wife and I will go in first before the kids.”

Like that makes sense – leave the kiddos at home, go pick up the food with a side of coronavirus, and expose the whole household anyway.

Still, rational or not, it’s the kind of decision that will play out every time you or I or anyone else runs headlong into that tug-of-war between need and want, between what’s necessary to keep us alive (food, clothing, shelter) and what we desire to make us content and happy (a change of scenery, human companionship, and “could I have a refill on the cornbread, please?”).


To paraphrase “Field of Dreams,” the best baseball movie of all time: If you reopen it, will they come?

My chainsaw dilemma remains unresolved. I’ve already returned the wrong-size chain and could easily log back on and order the right one. But now I’m thinking, “Would a fully masked, curbside pickup from the neighborhood hardware store really be all that perilous? Shouldn’t I be supporting the local economy rather than laying my cash at the altar of Amazon?”

Or maybe I should just forget the whole thing. Remember those roots I said I pulled up out there in the brush?

One-hundred-percent pure poison ivy.

Great. Now I want … no, I need … a new pair of work gloves.

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