Covid Life

Last year, this time, I’d have been writing about the first day of spring.  This year, I’m on my fifth day of isolation.  Last weekend I had my granddaughters here and I sat with them at their house on Monday.  As the pandemic situation became more clear, I decided to go into self-isolation, primarily because I wouldn’t want a health-care worker to have to decide who gets the ventilator – me and a younger person.  My version of isolation does include walks along the lake each day.  I have also been to the drug store to pick up some medication (and a bag of cat food I saw there.)

So far, it hasn’t been bad.  My social life is not face to face but it’s still active. Several hours a day are spent having coffee over voice or video, and responding to messages on facebook, whatsapp, facetime, and plain old text and email. I’ve been gratified to see how all of these media are filled with good wishes for those who are keeping the rest of us safe. And I get regular comforting messages from the supermarkets I use, assuring me I’ll always be able to eat (and buy toilet paper.)

My regular yoga instructor has posted classes on youtube.  I have found a grocery delivery that has the odd kind of kefir I like.  My cats are just going to have to learn to eat the cat food I can get.  I am finally reducing the size of my book pile.  I’m being more faithful in journalling.

I may not feel so upbeat in a month but, for now, this isn’t too bad!

Leap Years With TPW

Well it’s a leap year so our intrepid TPW’ers honoured February 29 by our weekly winter walk in the cemetery. Around 20 us gathered in the nasty cold but fortunately the sun helped us warm up along with the exercise, conversation and lack of wind in the cemetery. For many of us this is our 4th leap year – what a lovely thought after such a difficult week on so many fronts.

February also saw another Family Day.  A day to reflect on the meaning of ‘family’ and its role in our lives and well-being.  In our current environment, the definition of family is fluid.  By any definition, TPW is a large, extended family always there to share, debate, even challenge –  but always support – and comfort. That support often feels like a large and warm blanket (heated of course….) and  as individuals we can wrap ourselves in that blanket at times of need.  The comfort arrives easily and timely – whether we are dealing with injury, illness, loss or grief – or just trying to manage and keep smiling as we navigate our complicated lives.   Let’s not forget that despite the cold, wind, icy roads and just getting out of bed on those mornings where our bodies and minds scream to just stay in bed, we mostly don’t. Our sense and pleasure of community pushes us out the door (how many layers??) and reinforces our privileged role as members of this unique family.  And like most families, we are blessed with rituals, shared meals, old and new memories and much laughter and joy – especially in the everyday pleasures of daily life – and walking.

Here’s to the next leap year!

A reminder of our annual business meeting next Saturday, March 7 after our walk.  Please see email from DD for details and to RSVP.

 

Family Day in Ontario

There is no federally established Family Day. This holiday was first observed in Alberta in 1990.   Family Day was meant to reflect the values of family and home that were important to the pioneers who founded Alberta, and to give workers the opportunity to spend more time with their families.  Twenty-seven years later, it was introduced in Saskatchewan.

On October 12, 2007, Dalton McGuinty established Family Day on the third Monday in February, to be first observed on February 18, 2008. Its creation raised Ontario’s number of statutory holidays to nine per year.  It was met with mixed reaction.  Business claimed the cost was prohibitive.  Jack Layton said, “Families are working harder each year, and one study showed that the average working family in Canada is working 250 hours longer each and every year. That’s why families are feeling really stressed and they need time together.”  He called for a national holiday but that has never happened.

On May 28, 2012, the BC government announced that Family Day would be observed on the second Monday in February each year, starting February 11, 2013New Brunswick joined in 2018.  Manitoba celebrates Louis Riel Day in February since 2008; Prince Edward Island celebrates Islander Day since 2010.  Since 2015 Nova Scotia Heritage Day has celebrated a different heritage event in February each year.

All of which means that, while all the stores will be closed, your mail will be delivered.

REMINDER: On March 7 we are meeting (after walking) for our “annual meeting.”  There will be food!  See the events section of the website for details.  Don’t forget to note your calendar and start collecting gear to be swapped and donated.

Mobile Therapy

Do you ever notice how conversation often turns to death and dying while we walk on Saturdays in the winter? Could it have something to do with walking in a cemetery?

I recently learned about a death and dying museum which is in the works, and also about regular gatherings at so called death cafes where people go to discuss things they don’t usually talk about with family or friends. The topics range from death doulas, assisted dying, the stresses of having a terminally ill parent or family member, to funerals and the effect of burial on the environment.

Over the years, while walking with friends, I have been party to or heard conversations on all of these topics and more. Our conversations have made me feel accepted, relieved, and even happy afterwards. I would venture to say that TPW has acted as a kind of mobile group therapy session for many of us. Who knew that walking in a cemetery would have so many rewards!

New Year’s Resolution

Every year I make the same resolution – to continue to walk 12 kilometres every Saturday throughout the winter.  I haven’t quite made it in any year but will continue to try.  This weekend I had a commitment to care for my granddaughters for the weekend from early Saturday afternoon till Sunday afternoon.  So I wasn’t able to commit the time for another loop on Saturday morning.  After breakfast it was my intention to add another few kilometres by walking to the market to pick up groceries on my way home.  But I was thwarted by the weather.  As we ate breakfast, I noticed a lot of snow flying sideways by the window.  Stepping outside, I slipped on the doorsill.  I realized that the sleek streets, the wind and the epic snowfall would make the walk too challenging.  So another week of only 6 kilometres.  Next week!

The Breakfast Ritual

I read this week that food plays an important role in keeping people healthy.  You raise your eyebrow and say, “You needed to read that?”  But actually the article was about mental health.  Sharing meals, especially ritual meals, is an important part of maintaining our identity as we age.   Saturday morning breakfast has become that kind of ritual for me.

The ritual involves the first people to arrive at the restaurant after our walk trying to figure out how many places we will need.  They call out the names of those they know will be coming and, with the help of the restaurant staff, pull tables together.  No-one is to sit alone.  Then, as people arrive, they move along the bench to include latecomers. Coffee is served and orders are placed, some eating the same thing every week, others studying the menu for novelty.  There is sharing of hash browns and bacon.  The food is the background to wide-ranging conversations – political (what has he done this week?), sociological (new social norms we are noticing), practical (where to find a good plumber) and stories of life’s adventures, big and small.  We don’t stay long; we are busy people.  We rise from the table, refreshed in body and spirit.  We have renewed our bond.

This Saturday we had a large crowd of 20 walkers, probably because of the dry, not terribly cold, weather.  Over a dozen of us joined “our” table after the walk.  One of our talented members produced boxes of home-made baking and chocolates to share.  She’s been doing this every year for a long time.  Imagine beautiful truffles with a shiny coat of dark chocolate or white chocolate with limoncello or petit shortbread pinwheels. Another spectacular ritual!

Brave or Bonkers?

The weather could not have been more miserable when seven TPW members arrived at the cemetery. Freezing glop was falling on our supposedly waterproof coats, pants and shoes, as we struck out to walk the 6.3 km. The two most intrepid walkers set off quickly, only to disappear from view. We sincerely hope they did not become breakfast for the soggy coyote the rest of us encountered as we shared our sorrows and recent tragedies with the apposite weather.

The other five turned around at the tunnel and headed through the icy puddles to hot drinks and breakfast. We generously shared our dripping clothes and squelching shoe noises with the restaurant staff, who treated us with remarkable kindness. Only one server slipped in a melting TPW pool, but since he wasn’t carrying anything edible, we forgave him.

As you can see from the attached photo, the bonds of friendship and the shared smiles broke through the gloom. And the long hot showers when we got home were not half bad either.

Freaky Weather!

On Wednesday, our temperatures were only a degree warmer than Alert Bay!  We continued to have heavy snow and record lows until Saturday.  Our walkers arrived in full winter gear in the middle of November.  None of us could remember winter arriving so early with the accompanying ice underfoot.

Travellers to Toronto were told on tourist websites that, “with travel bargains aplenty, crisp yet mild weather, and fewer crowds, November is a great month to visit Toronto.”  I hope they have layers!

On Sunday, Toronto temperatures are forecast to recover to near or just above freezing on Sunday afternoon with sunny skies, which will make for more pleasant conditions for the Santa Claus parade.

I look forward to a short reprieve before winter sets in for good!

Heroic Rescue

What do heroes look like? To one mid-sized black dog, they look like women of a certain age – TPW to the rescue!

This week as we walked up a short hill in Mt. Pleasant cemetery, several of us noticed a sleek, beautiful golden-coloured coyote loping between the gravestones. He appeared to be in the same area where we had seen deer the week before. Maybe he was looking for breakfast?

As we turned a corner (always turning to the right, of course) we saw two or three more coyotes running in formation. They were a blur of motion. But wait, what was that streak of black among the pack? It was a dog who looked as if he were trying to make some new friends – until he realized that the new friends were not very friendly at all.

Quickly, the TPW walkers who saw what was happening, realized the danger to the dog. Our brave friends ran, called, and got hold of the dog. Then a certain heroic walker (initials DD) made herself “look big” and roared at the coyotes until they disappeared. The dog was in love. He had no intention of leaving his new-found REAL friends. Unlike coyotes, TPW folks do not eat dogs for breakfast.

Ever resourceful, the walkers found the dog’s owners and returned him to his foster family. He is a rescue dog from Texas who has only been in Canada a week. Lucky dog to be rescued twice: Smart TPW folks who always travel in packs!

 

Encounters with Animals in Mount Pleasant Cemetery 

We weren’t early enough this past Saturday to see the larger animals that we often encounter in the cemetery, but we quite frequently see coyotes, and often deer in the park. The end of the cemetery park tapers off into a ravine, and being fairly sheltered, the ravine hosts packs of coyotes and herds of deer, as well as skulks of foxes, swarms of muskrats, and colonies of some of the smaller predators.

Coyotes and deer are keystone species, which are animals that play a unique role in how ecosystems function. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be entirely different, or cease to exist, so they are therefore very important in the larger scheme of things.

White-tailed deer are considered a keystone species because they are important herbivores in their ecosystem, and they are prey for other species, although not often coyotes. Eating plants benefits the ecosystem by controlling the physical and biological habitat. As both herbivore and prey, white-tailed deer are important, and our forests and farmlands would be completely different if they weren’t around.

Coyotes are also a keystone species, in that they control various populations of other creatures by hunting them for food. Squirrels, in particular, are a favourite prey of coyotes, and the squirrel population in the cemetery is kept reasonably small by the coyotes, making it easier for smaller creatures who fill the same niche as squirrels, such as chipmunks and voles (both essential to the ecosystem) in check. Coyotes are also the apex predator species of the cemetery ecosystem.

All this to say, that ecosystems are fragile, and Mount Pleasant Cemetery is an important urban ecosystem for Toronto. The presence of deer, coyotes, foxes, squirrels, chipmunks and many birds, sometimes surprises us, and often makes our walks more interesting because of these sightings.