It’s a bit daunting to write a column on the last day of the year – particularly a year such as 2020 has been. I have been thinking of various metaphors like seeing “2020” the sort-of clear-eyed vision that this year has imposed upon all of us for better or worse. It has been a year full of reflection long before the year’s end. The pandemic has exposed us all personally as well as economically and made us re-evaluate our priorities. That has certainly been true in the marine world – not that fish and shellfish are worrying about when they might get the vaccine, but that commercial fishing activity has slowed down due to high costs and reduced markets.

Recreational fishing, however, has ramped up, along with many other outdoor activities, as people hunger to get outside where they can both enjoy nature and also enjoy being with other people safely. People have learned how and where to fish and also about the fish, their habitat, and what they eat. For those who don’t enjoy fishing, there has also been a broader increase in outdoor exploration – finding a new trail, a new park, or just a pretty spot to park and read a book. All of this can only be a positive thing for our marine resources – an increased awareness and understanding of what we have so close by. In Midcoast Maine, we don’t have to travel far to feel like we are “getting away” by visiting the coast.

I imagine most Mainers would say that they have spent more time outdoors in 2020, whether along the coast or not. Time outdoors is particularly beneficial during the darkest days of the year. It’s cold, it’s dark, and we are all feeling more isolated than ever – especially around the holidays. The wonderful ceremonies around the solstice are done more individually than collectively, and those cozy hygge parties in warm interior spaces have been foregone. But, instead we are taking walks with family along the coast or building an outdoor fire around which to gather.

So, much has been different in 2020, but I also was chastened to look back at my last column from 2019 and remember that it was about light – how it penetrates the water, travels through water, and provides the necessary “food” for the basis of the food chain that exists under the water. I wrote about the bizarre creatures that live beneath the photic zone (where photosynthesis occurs) down in the dark depths. They have odd glowing parts and giant eyeballs. These adaptations make them a little strange looking, but they are able to survive in otherwise very challenging situations. There is a morsel of education in there for us humans trying to live in the darkness, whether literal or figurative, of this pandemic in winter along the coast in Maine.

We are also at the beginning of the growing light. The sun sets after 4pm rather than before, and each day we are a little closer to the sun. This year, the solstice occurred with several other astronomical events, making it seem extra fantastic and perhaps meaningful. The planets Jupiter and Saturn were at the closest they have been in the past 400 years. Their proximity at the time of the solstice made them look nearly like a single star – much like the one the Three Kings followed to Bethlehem. Then, there were the Ursid meteor showers too, streaking lights in the night sky. There’s some magic there for certain.

All that brightness brings a sense of hopefulness for 2021. The light is growing, the vaccine is out there, and a new year is beginning. May it be full of coastal adventures and a continued growing appreciation for what we have so close at hand.

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