Peter Kuitenbrouwer is a journalist and forestry consultant.
The other morning at sunrise, I looked out the window and saw a couple who live across the street pull a badminton net into the middle of our road. They then used a tape measure to mark out the boundaries of the court. The husband served to his wife, and the game was on – not just as an idle volley of the birdie, but a fierce competition for points.
“There’s no wind early in the morning,” they explained to me, when I went out to watch their game. As for the net, “$50 at Canadian Tire.” It helps that, with most people working from home and summer camps closed, there is scant traffic.
I like our Toronto neighbourhood during this COVID-19 pandemic. The sense of community has never been stronger. Another couple has taken to walking the sidewalks in strong strides with great purpose. They wear T-shirts, shorts and matching ball caps. They have a circuit; they pass our house several times in an hour before breakfast. My wife and I call them “the power couple.” For months, when gyms were closed, two young women rolled out their mats in our park and fired up a laptop to lead them on their workout routine.
The world is quiet right now. How quiet? We now have some idea: The equipment that researchers use to detect earthquakes can also rate less dramatic events, such as the “seismic noise” we humans make in our cities. In July, Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, and 65 other researchers, including William Minarik from McGill University, co-authored a paper in Science magazine titled Global Quieting of High-Frequency Seismic Noise Due to COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdown Measures.
As the world shut down to battle the virus, Dr. Lecocq’s group found the “length and quiescence of this period represents the longest and most coherent global seismic noise reduction in recorded history.” The University of Auckland, who helped in the study, calls this peaceful period the “anthropause.”
The anthropause is great news for kids who want to learn to ride a bike on our street. Cars are rare.
I often work in the backyard near our WiFi modem. Parents walk by with their offspring. Our dog barks when other dogs pass. Laughter trickles over the fence. It helps that the aroma of sugar, milk and toffee wafts from the chocolate factory across the way. An invasive renovation of a house nearby, leaf blowers and transport trucks filled with cocoa butter sometimes blemish the serenity.
The coronavirus has upended routines. Typically, during the summer, I would hop on my bike and fight traffic on my way to an office near Union Station – and not really think about my street until after work. Now, I am here all the time with everyone else. We get to know one another a little bit.
Micro-performances in front yards break up the quiet. A young couple moved into a house across the way, and the man dragged his table saw onto the front lawn. Every afternoon for weeks they toiled there, building the perfect front porch. The scent of cut pine filled the air.
Another day, as I worked inside, the power went off. My wife and I went out the front door. All the neighbours appeared on their porches and we exchanged the news – everyone had been inside on their devices. The power returned, and people disappeared.
In the evening, our neighbours shut their laptops and go outside. In a phenomenon repeated across Canada, almost every family on our block has acquired a puppy. There’s a stretch of lawn and trees in front of a police station down the street that we call “Police Park.” There, every night, locals assemble for an hours-long romp we call the Puppy Party – Mac, Ruby and Pepper, the youngsters, meet older dogs such as Coco and Flint and Oscar, the big floppy Newfoundland.
COVID-19 has taken the lives of thousands of victims across Canada. Front-line workers have died from the virus. Unemployment has skyrocketed. Parents juggle kids and jobs at home. (My wife and I got lucky, since our kids are older. Our son graduated high school in a virtual ceremony that, despite the students being apart, had its sweet moments, too.) For most, this pandemic has brought challenges. Still, it feels okay to celebrate the anthropause.
The coronavirus has separated parents from their co-workers and kids from their classmates. The generations now spend more time among one another. Dave McGinn noted in The Globe and Mail last month that this pandemic has had the effect of returning us to the summers of the 1980s, when kids played with the other kids in their neighbourhood. That’s nice.
One evening I took the dog to the park. Couples worked, at a reasonable physical distance, to erect a volleyball net and mark out the perimeter in flagging tape. Their kids played in a wooded thicket, blissfully free, for a few minutes, from the hawk-like parental eye. As the net rose, women began a friendly argument about whose team an Australian dad on our block would join. He is tall and sculpted like a model from GQ. He just laughed. Everyone is on stage right now, and some enjoy the attention.
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