So long summer, you passed too soon.
It’s true that you failed to deliver on sleepover camps, festivals and trips home, offering instead risky flights, border checkpoints to the east, turmoil to the south. There was no refuge from the heat in air-conditioned movie theatres, no usual collection of noisy blockbusters to distract us from our current plight.
But compared with spring, when we pinned all our hopes on your arrival, you were golden. Despite dire predictions, the patios and parks opened, the COVID-19 cases fell. You taught us to appreciate a plastic pool in the backyard, gave us sunny afternoons to train our pandemic puppies and squeezed in a chipper K-Pop Song of the Summer for dancing in our bubbles.
You were a respite in rotten times, offering up small pleasures to people – caregivers, restaurant owners, hospital workers, suddenly unemployed Canadians, families crammed into stuffy apartments – who fought to find joy amid the stress. In the cold to come, we may remember these months best as a brief pause in a grim year.
“The summer was not a total write-off,” says Kym Hopper, a retired government worker in Calgary, volunteering a lukewarm assessment of the season that many Canadians would no doubt share. “There has been some positive out of it, but it’s been hard.”
Ms. Hopper couldn’t take her scheduled trip to visit her 88-year-old mother, who lives alone near Kentville, N.S., and she and her husband, Greg Dolphin, decided not to make their usual RV trip to British Columbia after they heard about the vandalism that was happening to vehicles with Alberta licence plates. Instead, they went on day trips – those “one of these days we’re going to go” trips, she calls them – to rural towns outside Calgary, and old haunts of her husband’s. Like many Canadians, she discovered parts of her own community for the first time.
This was the summer to dream of the day when far-reaching trips are possible again, not take one. Canadians have a big appetite for international travel, says Marion Joppe, a professor in the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management at Guelph University, but families have been taking more day trips this summer, or travelling virtually. Museums stepped up with interactive online visits, and people could even tour the Faroe Islands on a video-game platform. According to data collected by Destination Canada, a tourism-promoting Crown corporation, many Canadians also spent their summer days dreaming with their stomachs – searches for international restaurants rose, a trend that Prof. Joppe links to more time spent cooking.
Life, she suggests, seemed simpler, a walk outdoors more special, a low-key backyard BBQ was an event. “Our lifestyle had to change,” she says. For her personally, “It reaffirmed what was most important and that you don’t need a whole lot of stuff to have a good life.”
In Edmonton, without activities to pull her in other directions, Amy Kaler learned to name the plants growing along trails in the river valley, occasionally encountering coyotes on her regular walks. It was a way to be among people safely, she says. “On a more abstract level, all the time spent outside gave me a different sense of place.”
A sociologist at the University of Alberta who is now collecting art and writing from Canadians in a project called Stories of the Pandemic, she also saw firsthand how the current state was inspiring self-refection and sparking imagination. People have sent sketches and paintings, poems and prose to capture their experiences. “We have seen a lot of creative production from people who don’t identify themselves as artists,” she says.
At the same time, just as the pandemic has not been experienced equally, neither was this summer. Was a backyard ever so treasured? Air-conditioning so coveted? Killing time on a forced staycation may be frustrating; losing your job, worrying about finding rent money is devastating.
“I am very sad about the summer I ended up with,” says Sam Tidd, a choir director in Calgary who took part in virtual brunches with their parents half the country away. They saw less of their friends, who were reluctant to take a city bus to visit. Campgrounds were overbooked with other families, and their attempt at pitching a tent in the backyard lasted a single night. It just wasn’t the same. “There was too much light and too much traffic.” They lost the companionship of their choir, which had to stop meeting, and, then a couple weeks ago, their job entirely. Their new border collie puppy, Parker, was a distraction, but now they need a new place to live, where the rent is doable. One plus: “My garden has never looked prettier.”
On the whole it was hard to make up for the loneliness. “There is nothing that can replace knocking on someone’s door and having a cup of tea.” Still, if summer made more acute “a sense of loss for the small things that make life easier,” it also brought new appreciation for human connection, and a reprieve from the panic of the spring.
So what are the takeaways from this bittersweet summer? Will we remember to value a neighbourly cup of tea when life eventually goes back to normal? Perhaps one thing Canadians learned is that even when life is more confined and uncertain, we can make the best of it. “We are incredibly resilient,” Prof. Joppe says. “We adapt to crazy situations. We may not like it, but we adapt.”
That will be something to remember as the days shorten, the snow approaches and a surge in COVID-19 cases threaten. Prof. Kaler, for one, is already making plans to invest in a good snowsuit.
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