There are farm stands all over the Island selling pumpkins and squash, corn cobs and hay bales, turnips and zucchini. Some of these are eaten, most become decorative so as not to interfere with Burger Love (seriously: https://peiburgerlove.ca/); at least there’s no Porktoberfest this year.
Some of the huge orange pumpkins are no doubt being kept and will be carved for Halloween, the next festival in the run-up to Christmas, but many are being used now. As you drive around you see them sitting on many doorsteps, and often there is a display of corn stalks, large green zucchini and yellow squash as well, all artfully arranged on a hay bale and offset by a pot of red or orange chrysanthemums, or a planter of multicoloured kale. A colourful cornucopia of all that this land can offer us.
No wonder my First Nation friends call it the “You’re Welcome” weekend.
In the USA they celebrate Thanksgiving in November. After the election.
Our main meal tends to be a big roast turkey, with a breaded sage and onion stuffing at one end and sausage meat at the other, served with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted squash, carrots, gravy, etc., as side dishes. On the Island there is a certain pride at stake as well, as it is acceptable to murmur (not brag!) that “I grew all these myself, you know.” Unfortunately, we can’t have any guests this year, so I’ll mention it to you instead!
A week or so ago, in my first blog for six months, I managed to avoid focusing on the two items which have dominated our news cycles recently. I tried to encapsulate some of the things that have been going on as well as the global pandemic, but which might have been lost in the noise of COVID19. Indeed, of the 25 stories that I mentioned, only 3 related to the coronavirus, and only one referred to the US election.
I’ve since heard from a few of you who’ve agreed that it’s been a dismal year, or a totally f**ked up one as someone phrased it, and I’ve heard from others who’ve told me in no uncertain terms that my litany of woes wasn’t really helping! I agree – but as I asked in my ‘End Time Blues’ blog of last December, before this all started, “Does one simply turn off all the newsfeeds and pretend nothing is happening?”
Perhaps we should. In Canada, we have been very fortunate when compared to many other countries. We have not experienced the tragedies that have occurred in Italy, Spain, the UK, or other parts of Europe. We have not been exposed to the chaos and carnage of Mexico, Brazil, India, or the United States. So, in many ways, living in Canada is to live in a small little bubble in the world.
Within Canada, the Maritime provinces are in their own little bubble as well. Most of the Canadian cases are in the larger and more urbanized provinces of Quebec and Ontario, with significant numbers also in Alberta and British Columbia. Here on the east coast our numbers have been a lot lower, with fewer than 2000 cases and less than 100 deaths across all four provinces.
And within the Maritimes, our little Island seems to be in its own bubble as well, with 59 reported cases that have all recovered, and no hospitalizations or deaths at all.
So, if I turn off the news and ignore what has been happening in the world these past six months, here are some of my experiences from living in a bubble in a bubble in a bubble, as cocooned from reality as one might possibly be without pharmaceutical assistance.
The first couple of months of COVID were challenging here, as they were everywhere. The Island pretty much closed itself off from the world. The ferry service was cancelled, as were most flights, and a checkpoint was established on the Confederation bridge. A few ‘essential workers’ were still allowed in, plus Islanders who had been stuck somewhere else and were coming home, but that was it. Seasonal residents and tourists were banned. ‘Foreign’ number plates (from Ontario or Quebec, for example!) were identified and reported. Restaurants and bars were closed, as were many shops and service providers. We were allowed to travel pretty freely on the Island, but there wasn’t anywhere to go. My working life stopped – it’s hard to be an international consultant when there are no planes flying. I did manage to teach a course for the University of Saskatchewan, but instead of having a couple of weeks in Saskatoon, which the late great Leonard Cohen described as the ‘Paris of the Prairies’, I had to pivot online.
Slowly things started to ease up a little and by the beginning of July, the Atlantic bubble was established. At the same time live music returned to the Island, with small concerts being organized. These were limited to 50 people, seated at socially distant tables, and were nerve-wracking for all concerned. For the audience, we weren’t sure quite how things were going to work. For the musicians, some hadn’t been on a stage since February and were learning their craft all over again. But it was good to get out, good to support people who needed it, good to be part of an audience. We have a lot of fabulous musicians here on the Island, and with the Atlantic Bubble we even managed to attract a couple from Nova Scotia. So that was all good.
And as we moved into July, we were blessed with an incredible summer, with 99 days where the temperature exceeded 20 degrees Celsius. It was supposed to be 100 days but on the last day the ‘official’ thermometer at the airport stopped at 19.6, so we can’t claim it. Even though my car told me it was 21 degrees outside.
I spent the summer in my garden, planting flowers and growing food. Victoria and I grew lots of things from seed and most of them transplanted well. I have nearly finished landscaping the pond, and that has now attracted a dozen frogs from two distinct species. Five of my goldfish survived the winter, to my amazement, and were a joyful sight in the early spring. Then they disappeared. I found a couple of dozen corn husks lying around and figured they had been brought down by racoons, who often wash their food before eating it. Perhaps they had then scooped out my fish as well. After a couple of weeks, I went back to the pet shop and bought seven new goldfish. They seemed to acclimatise pretty well. Then one day there were twelve goldfish in the pond, five big ones and seven little ones.
This was a bit of a shock, as the pond is only about 4 feet deep. I have no idea where the missing five had been for three weeks. But I know what they were doing.
In mid-summer, the seven new goldfish were now medium sized, and all 12 would swim around, in and out of the lily pads, all very dramatic. Then I saw some minnows. Half a dozen or so, very small black fish. I was flummoxed. The pond is a self-contained unit, with no stream or creek connecting it to anywhere else. Where could minnows have come from, I wondered.
Victoria told me, authoritatively, that ducks often transported small minnows from one water source to another. She described in detail how the duck, swimming around in pond or stream A, would not realize that a minnow had got caught up in its leg feathers. The bird would then fly to pond or stream B, where it would paddle around, and the minnow would get shaken off into the new body of water. This of course made perfect sense to me and in the absence of any other information, became the accepted origin story.
The next day there were 20 or so minnows, the day after another 20. There are now over a 100 of them, and they have not only grown but many have also changed colour. There are gold ones and white ones and multihued ones … they look wonderful, darting through the shallows at the edge of the pond. Not minnows, but baby goldfish. Duck-assisted travellers indeed. Victoria still laughs that I believed her.
I’m not sure how many of my minnows will survive the winter, being stuck under the ice for two or three months. Some are getting to the size of my little finger now, so they might have a chance, but it seems like there have been three hatchings (is that what one calls it, when fish eggs become fish?) because there are three distinctly different sizes of minnow. It will be fun to see what the spring looks like – but if there are a lot then that might be problematic. The pond is rain-filled only, and I don’t know how many fish it can support.
I might have to get one of those long-handled nets and try to catch some. I could put a selection of old jam jars in the back tray of my truck, some empty and some filled with water (and a goldfish), then charge small children $1 to throw a ping pong ball and see if they can land it in a jar with a fish. $2 for three balls. That should be an interesting way to spend a Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market and would no doubt make me really popular with parents!
Of course, this summer was enhanced mightily by the football (soccer) news from England. As some of you know, I am a born and bred Leeds United supporter. Indeed, one of the last things I was able to do, pre-pandemic, was go to Elland Road with my brothers and watch Leeds win. Little did we know it would be the last game in front of spectators for that year, and even for this year so far. Everything got put on hold for over three months, and when the league restarted in early July, we continued to win games, and the Championship, and were promoted to the Premier League. Where we belong. So now, as the winter nights start to draw in, and the cold winds blow, I am warmed by the knowledge that nearly every weekend there will be a Leeds game on TV, and I’ll be Marching On Together with other like-minded souls. Ah bliss.
So that was the summer of 2020. I spent a lot of time in my garden, growing stuff that we have frozen and pickled and canned in the hope that if (or when) things go sideways again, at least we’ll have something to eat. Leeds United won the Championship and got promoted back where they belong. I got to go to a half-dozen or so concerts and thoroughly enjoyed being in one of the few places in the world with live music. I took advantage of the Atlantic Bubble and managed a weekend in Nova Scotia, visiting friends in Cape Breton.
I didn’t learn to speak French properly, or to play the guitar, or to develop any other new skill. I didn’t have to cope with losing family or friends to COVID. I didn’t get restricted to my house except for an hour a day of exercise or limited to a 3-mile radius except for shopping. I didn’t run out of toilet paper or yeast. I just carried on, as one does.
That said, I did lose some good friends. I chafed at not being able to grieve properly, at not being able to provide support to their surviving partners or children, at not being able to attend a funeral or a wake. If 2020 is the year of COVID, it seems like 2021 will be the year of memorial services and celebrations of life.
So, on that note, in closing I would like to use this space to remember five particular people who were lost this year. Richard Rusk, a renowned architect who was my daughter Kate’s father-in-law and who provided much needed help (and comic relief) when we tried to show the wedding guests how to open a lobster; John MacLeod, a good friend and mentor, who for many years was a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and who introduced me to the statistical concept of ‘optical significance’; Roni Godwin, the much-loved wife of another friend, Debbie, who taught with me in the Dene community of Black Lake, northern Saskatchewan; Uncle David, my father’s youngest brother and the last of that generation, who used to go shark fishing off Cornwall. All will be missed.
As will be Dr. Steve Wilde, one of my best and longest-standing friends, whom I met on our first day of teachers’ college, in 1971. He was from London, I was from ‘up North’. He was a rabid Tottenham Hotspur fan, which I could never understand, and he played a mean guitar. Over the years we have been a regular part of each others lives, celebrating momentous occasions together. He carried me home from my 21st birthday party, I dragged him out of many ill-advised arguments. With some other friends we were hippie travellers in an old Volkswagen camper across Europe and the Middle-East, on the “Katmandu for Christmas” route, having all the adventures you might imagine five 20-somethings would have at such a time and in such a place.
In India he was struck by the life conditions of the people he met and came back from that trip determined to retrain as a medical doctor, which he did. He visited me in Papua New Guinea, exploring the villages of the Sepik River by canoe and crashing my new truck on a mountain highway, something I never let him forget. I could find his house in England without a map, as he could many of mine in Canada, and rare was the year in the last 49 that didn’t include an evening of food and drink and conversation, not only reminiscing but considering the current issues of the day, before finishing with a wee dram and a song or two from Tom Paxton or Leonard Cohen. My deepest condolences to his wife, Anne, and to his sons Adam and Tim.
Steve, this one’s for you. COYS.