Three years. Normally one might say a lot has changed in that time. But COVID-19 has turned all our lives upside down in the space of a month. COVID-19 has rendered a lot of what we might normally say trite.
So I will tell you this. I don’t know where this return to blogging is going to end up. It might peter out again, for some of the same reasons I fell off the blogging bandwagon the last time. Or it might keep going. It’ll depend on how much time is available — I’m a slow writer, always in search of the perfect turn of phrase, and let’s face it, easily distracted, so writing, for me, can be a far more excruciating task than just turning on the mic and shooting my mouth off. It’ll also depend on how much I have to say — a great unknown at this point. And, I suppose, it will also depend on whether anyone wants to read my ramblings. Because you may not want to hear what I have to say.
In any event, you may find my writing from now on more introspective than my past blogs.
I used to write focused pieces that got to the heart of the issue while eviscerating the guilty. Rants, in other words. And they don’t work any longer.
Strange days, indeed.
Everyone I talk to is trying to figure out this new reality of social distancing and self-isolation, where they fit into it, and with whom they’re allowed to still share physical contact. (There aren’t many in that last category, are there?)
What’s it like living in a city now? I see pictures of empty downtowns and freeways devoid of traffic, but I hear stories of parents taking the whole family shopping at Home Depot, or of people crowding into parks and public spaces like it was Canada Day and there was no virus to worry about.
Salt Springers seem to get the social distancing concept. We are doing an excellent job of staying out of one another’s way at the grocery stores, drug stores, and the few other “essential” businesses that are still open…when we’re out for a walk and we encounter another human we give each other a wide berth….occasionally someone will give you the stink-eye as if you’re a zombie they’re trying to sneak past, unnoticed, but mostly people smile and wave, or shout “hi” to one another from opposite sides of the street. There are only 11 thousand of us living on the island year-round and we’re used to having space around us, so that may be a factor. But I wonder if maybe social distancing comes rather naturally to people who live on an island. For all the connections we have to the rest of the world — ferry routes to three different destinations, scheduled float plane flights that get you to downtown Vancouver or the airport in 15 minutes — getting off of or onto Salt Spring Island is a process. You have to time your off-island errands and appointments around ferry sailings. You have to get to the terminal, wait for the ferry, board the ferry, ride the ferry, disembark and then drive or grab transit to where you’re going. It reminds you that where you live is, in fact, isolated from the rest of the world. An officially-designated Remote Community, surrounded by 3,000,000 people just across the waters.
There are no tourists here, and if there were, there would be nothing for them to do. Pretty much everything fun is closed, as I’m sure it is where you live.
Tourists, at the beginning of April? Yes. Nothing like the summer crowds, of course, but normally, yes. Spring break started when life in Canada still appeared normal-ish, on March 13 — ironically as it turned out, Friday the 13th — and on that day, families were pouring in here from the cities. By Monday the 16th, most were on their way back home.
The tourists and the people who own summer places are now being asked to stay away from Salt Spring and the other Gulf Islands until further notice. So probably until June under the most optimistic scenarios, and more likely until July or maybe later. There are good reasons for that. With our small hospital, we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with many visitors if they get seriously ill. And if our supply chains get interrupted, which happens easily and frequently even in normal times — all it takes is for the Island Dairies truck to miss the ferry and the grocery stores run out of milk — the visitors will put even more of a strain on things. (The stores are already limiting the number of items you can purchase, and this may have been the one place in all of Canada where people didn’t horde toilet paper.)
These things risk becoming self-fulfilling prophesies. Our connections to the rest of the world are already starting to break. Harbour Air, the float plane service that zips us over to Vancouver, has temporarily suspended all scheduled flights. BC Ferries is reporting ridership on its routes down as much as 80 percent and has dramatically reduced sailings. This delights the small but vocal “raise the drawbridge and stock the moat with alligators” clique of Salt Springers who even in normal times dream of banning “all those damned tourists who are ruining our island”. But the ferries also bring to the island everything that isn’t grown here or made here. A cutback in ferry service means more stuff you can’t get — a problem when it comes to the essentials.
If you’ve never been here, I cannot begin to tell you how magically, breathtakingly beautiful Salt Spring and the Gulf Islands are. I can show you pictures, but they can never fully do justice to the beauty. The other morning, I was on a rise, looking out over Ganges Harbour to the islands beyond. The sun was shining, the water was as still as glass, boats were lying at anchor and seagulls were gliding overhead. And I considered that not only is COVID-19 not attacking any other life form than our own, but it has so reduced human activity that Nature is returning to environments from which it was exiled years or decades ago. You’ve probably seen the pictures. Fish swimming in the newly clear waters of the canals of Venice. Goats overtaking a small town in Wales. A herd of deer loitering, lying lazily against the median curb of an empty city street in China. Coyotes brazenly wandering thru people’s yards in Toronto.
Once we beat this virus (he said confidently, with all the classic privileged white male bravado he could muster in these uncertain times), those scenes will again be memories as business and industry and human activity ramp up and we all get back to “normal”.
But I wonder…
The other day, the Globe and Mail ran a headline that, as I recall, read something like this:
With Passover, Easter and Ramadan celebrations at risk, some are asking, Where is God in the COVID crisis?
My mother grew up a Baptist and my father’s parents were rural Ontario Methodists. I guess that was just enough to give me an appreciation of that old time religion that I can never fully shake — just enough of an appreciation to wonder, if only for a moment, whether God — or Nature — might be busy engaging in a little Old Testament-style smiting right now.
More on that, next time…