Pandemic puppies and bicycle booms

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In the face of adversity, we have a choice. We can be bitter, or we can be better. Those words are my North Star

Caryn Sullivan

As the world races to fend off the third wave of the pandemic, it is easy to become overwhelmed by negative news cycles and what seems to be never ending worry and fear. There are some aspects to our current experience that seem to have been positive.

As people in our neighbourhood moved from offices to working from home, it was both fascinating and worrisome to note the number of puppies on our walking paths and park areas. Worrisome in the sense that potentially many animals could end up surrendered to our local humane society when purchased without careful thought and consideration.

Over a year later, these dogs have grown and matured and seem to have become members of families and are now recognizable to me while I am out walking as well. And they all seem well trained and behaved, another side effect of spending all of our time at home instead of somewhere far away while household pets waited anxiously for their owners to return.

Along with new creatures in our community, there is also a noticeable swell in bicycles being ridden by people of all ages. Cars parked along our streets for months without being moved have been likely violating some city bylaw. But it’s wonderful to see people use bicycles or walk to where they need to go and not to rely so much on fossil fuelled sources of transportation. Daily noise of airplane traffic seems to have diminished and one wonders what our future world will bring. A return to old behaviours that have been accelerating climate change or a more mindful path forward?

Gardening, camping, spending more time in the outdoor world. There have been good adaptations along with those that are more challenging. We have learned to continue to connect with family and friends in spite of not being able to see them face to face. Some of us are reading, making things, creating art in any form, and cooking at home, more now than ever before.

While we are likely all hopeful for an end in sight, it is reassuring to know that it has not all been negative and that we have the ability to make changes. Big ones that potentially could chart new directions in our world. We do have the opportunity to become better than we were before.

Stay healthy and safe!

Taking writing risks

And then the day came

when the risk

to remain tight

in a bud

was more painful

than the risk

it took

to blossom

Anais Nin
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Have you ever sat in front of your computer or at a desk with pen in hand hovering over a notebook? But words won’t come? No matter how badly you wish for them to appear. We all have our unique sets of deeply held beliefs about the writing process. Some of us decide that we are unable to write unless creative impulses motivate us to do so. And the words we hope will somehow instantly appear come forth well formed, sparkling and shiny, delivering just the perfect story or poem or essay.

At times, we create goals that must be achieved. Goals commonly touted to make us become successful writers range from producing according to daily word counts to writing for a specified length of time. Set timers. Free-write first. And failure to achieve these illustrious goals may inadvertently lead us away from the writer’s life into a pit of upset, shame, and frustration.

Sometimes we fall into a belief that we must have a writer’s space, a special dedicated room in order for our craft to evolve. We long for that room of one’s own in true Virginia Woolf fashion, blaming our lack of productivity on not having just the right place where our hoped for success would be defined. If only I have…becomes a rumination that stops us before we start.

And then there is flow. At times, we seek and strive to achieve a state of flow hoping that words will unfurl from our minds in an effortless, almost mystical kind of way. Flow can become a state of writer’s nirvana that we pursue relentlessly but give up and stop the practice of writing when it doesn’t happen for us.

But writing is a practice much like exercise or learning new skills where our expectations need to be firmly grounded in reality and we also need to develop comfort with the notion of taking risks. Risks to fail, risks to write poorly or to be uninspired. The very action of writing will often propel us forward and by resisting this, we can easily become stuck or mired in procrastination.

It does seem to be true that the more you write, the more it seems like you are just limbering up unused muscles. At a certain point, this practice begins to take hold and things routinely start to happen on the page. By balancing our expectations, taking the risks necessary for learning the craft, and simply sitting down to place one words in front of another, small miracles of creation begin to unfold.

No one but you even knows you are taking such risks. Celebrate every risk you take as a writer. Your creative life will appreciate it.

Stay healthy and safe!

Notes from the Drive Through Vaccination Clinic

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Vaccinations are being rolled out in our community according to criteria such as age, health care professionals, etc., and based on supply. A special opportunity arose in our city, which has had a concerning spike in variants in the past two weeks, for people in my age category to receive the first dose of a Covid – 19 vaccine at a drive through clinic. Not something that I have ever experienced before but I jumped at this as soon as I heard it being announced.

So I arrived early this morning just as the clinic was set to open and found myself driving towards long lines of cars. Typically this parking area, dull asphalt grey, is used for professional sporting events, exhibitions and a giant agricultural show. Now it has been transformed into a health care staging area! By the time I had parked, and scoped out my surroundings, I quickly realized two things. First, there were so many cars that I couldn’t actually understand how the queue was to work and second, as people parked both beside and behind me, I would not be leaving any time soon. So, with no chance to change my mind, I settled in for the journey.

A kind young woman came to my car and asked to place a card on my windshield so that they could use my arrival time to assess what the actual wait time was to receive a vaccination. Sure, I said, and what exactly is your best guess at the wait time. Five hours she said, then quickly pointed out the portable washroom facilities and wished me a great day! As I looked around me, I saw one of my new neighbours reading a book titled, The Power of Habit” and the woman in front of me opened her trunk revealing a cooler and a lawn chair.

Most people seemed to be using their cell phones and for the first hour, it was relatively quiet in our area of the gigantic parking lot. After about an hour, I was feeling stiff and somewhat uncomfortable so got out of my car to stretch and to determine how the lines would work. There didn’t seem to be any traffic moving towards the buildings that I assumed we would be driving into. I could also see that people were becoming a bit restless and some headed off to use the facilities. It occurred to me at this point that there might be long lines for those as well.

So I decided not to drink very much liquid and to wait as long as possible. I set off for a long walk and marvelled at the number of vehicles that kept coming and watched as new lines continued to form well beyond where I was. Walking back to my car, I began to gather a sense of how the traffic would flow once lines began to move. People were now mostly outside of their cars, the gentlemen beside me having abandoned his reading material and now had begun cleaning his headlights. Several people climbed into their truck beds to video the scene and to survey what was going on.

I spoke with a woman who commented that she was most grateful for this opportunity and I heartily agreed. Hard to be cranky about waiting when you were about to receive something that potentially could be life saving. The weather is fully cooperative, with soul warming sunshine and little wind. I try and read a bit and write some words but am finding myself too distracted by everything going on around me. Finally, the line beside me roars to life with cars starting and I realize we are soon to be next.

The journey continues. Albeit it is slow and meandering and I still can’t visualize where we will end up. Another hour of slow, steady driving towards a certain destination that must be within eyesight but the line of cars snakes around corners. Eventually, the building we will enter is suddenly before us and it is clear where the line finally ends. Once inside, cheerful, proficient professional nurses are administering vaccines and once completed, we are directed outside to a parked area manned by Emergency medical services personnel for the final 15 minute wait.

Five long hours seemed insignificant compared to the challenges of this entire past year. So glad, and so grateful to have had this opportunity. I will celebrate as our community continues to receive the chance to be safer and to stay healthy. Let’s hope that the next several months bring about the changes we have all been waiting for.

It doesn’t cost anything to be kind

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If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.

If you want to be happy, practice compassion

Dalai Llama

As we approach the one year anniversary since the pandemic began, the voices in our community have become louder and at times, difficult to listen to. We have all had to face our internal reactions to the impact that this virus has had on our lives. And as a general guideline, reactivity tends to come from a place of fear or a need to exert control over some aspect of our lives.

Across the globe, we are seeking hope and imagine positive outcomes with new vaccines. And at the same time we seem to be exposed to constant anger and frustration lurking at every turn about a myriad of issues. It seems that many places around the globe are coming to grips with the realization that public health guidelines will need to remain in place for some time to come. Loosening restrictions won’t occur overnight and will likely be scaled back at a snail’s pace.

We watch, we listen, and we interpret information that is constantly shifting and changing. It seems at times that the learning curve about this virus and what we need to do about it, continues to become steeper and steeper.

All the while, we need to recognize that every person has their own way of managing through this experience. If we find ourselves constantly judging the actions and behaviours of others, we are likely not paying that much attention to what we are doing. Whether we realize it or not, we are all in this together and healing comes from a place of reflection and compassion.

Many of us may be concerned about the financial, emotional, and social costs to this pandemic, but there is one critical option available to each of us. And there is no cost to it whatsoever.

And that is to internalize and practice kindness. Kindness, both in thought and actions towards others as well as to ourselves, is free and comes without strings attached. Instead, when we come to the people, events and circumstances in our lives from a place of kindness, it generates positive actions which allow us to move forward in good ways.

And wouldn’t it be much easier to navigate through this next year if there was more kindness circulating in our world. Be kind to yourself. And be kind to others.

Stay healthy and safe!

Writer’s Block and the Polar Bear Project

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I’d rather write about polar bears than people

Mary Oliver

Procrastination. That’s what led to my discovery of a fascinating citizen science program close to home. I was stumped by a writing project that up until that day had been progressing nicely. Suddenly words which normally flow, first became fleeting, and then seemed to have simply vanish. Vaporized. So I tried going for a walk. That normally helps. But nothing. In desperation, I sat in front of the television and mindlessly perused the listings when a program about the polar bears in the Canadian arctic appeared.

Intrigued, I soon learned that February 27 marked International Polar Bear Day and our national broadcasting corporation was debuting a new program about the impact of climate change in the Arctic on Canadian Polar Bear populations. Scientists have been signaling concerns about climate change and its impact on the wildlife in the arctic for years. The species that has become the most vulnerable to the devastation of climate change are the polar bears. The area surrounding the town of Churchill, Manitoba located on the Hudson’s Bay is home to one of the largest populations of Canadian Polar Bears.

Changes to Arctic sea ice as the climate on earth becomes warmer, have created dire challenges for the polar bears as they are now forced to wait for longer periods of time to get out on the sea ice to hunt seals which are their primary source of food. Typically, female bears hunt and store enough food to see them through the annual birthing process that may mean they go six months without food or water. Changes to the sea ice mean they now may be fasting as long as eight months.

It also places the humans living close by at risk as the bears venture into the town of Churchill when they seek out the sustenance they badly need and are attracted by the variety of urban smells that signal food is available. Conservation projects have been created to prevent the destruction of these majestic creatures using methods to contain and then release the bears back into the wild. Scientists researching the impact of warmer water and less sea ice are working to collect data to inform the current understanding on the impacts of climate change.

Writer’s curiosity kicks in and I begin a stumbling search on the internet to learn more about conservation in the Far North and search engine magic leads me to The Arctic Bears Project. Citizen scientists are being recruited to assist with data analysis to help answer several research questions through a web-site called Zooniverse.org Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan are seeking volunteers to help analyze data from trail cam photographs about polar bears and other Arctic animals from the Hudson Bay area.

What an amazing opportunity to not only make volunteer contributions to this research but to learn more about parts of our natural world that we will likely never visit. Who knew that having a minor bout of writer’s block would lead down such an interesting path? Check it out – there are projects from around the world on this site that need volunteer citizen scientists. I am thankful this fascinating detour was all that I needed to jumpstart my writing process. And a necessary reminder about the impacts of climate change on the natural world that surrounds us.

Stay healthy and safe!