I must say, this has been one of the finest winters I’ve enjoyed in many, many years. There hasn’t been any freezing rain (sometimes called ice storms) which causes widespread power outages, and treacherous conditions travelling. There has been no major thaws, which makes for a messy outdoor environment. And then dangerous conditions when everything refreezes. We have had plenty of snow, and the daytime temperatures have continuously been below freezing.
Though I remember my childhood winters were much colder and with far more snow, this winter has been closer to the winter’s I experienced as a child in such a long time. Growing up on a farm, we never really travelled much anywhere. Life was a much slower pace back then. We stayed home, and made the most of the winter. When not doing our farm chores my siblings and I had so much fun going tobogganing, building snowmen, and (particularly for my older brother and myself) shooting hockey pucks around.
For the past 30 or so years, my wife and I have lived and raised our family in a small village called Hillsdale. It has more than doubled in size since we moved here, and it currently has a population (as of 2019) of 1,033 people. With some new housing developments approved for this village, the population is expected to mushroom to an estimated 4,485 people over the next few years.
As the local population continues to grow, so does the traffic volume. With no cycling infrastructure, and no public transportation available, our village is 100% dependent on the private automobile to get to our places of employment or grocery stores. I’m actually one of the very few people that live and work in the same community. Though there are now a few more people working from home with this pandemic. In addition, there are a few thousand commuters, other travelers and transport trucks a day that drive through Hillsdale on Provincial Highway 93 to get to their physical places of work, homes, shopping, delivery etc. This is where I have my crosswalk duties. Though some driver’s are conscientious as they travel through Hillsdale, speeding is often a factor for a certain percentage of the drivers. Driver’s trying to get to their destination on time will often travel through our little village dangerously fast. This leaves village residents feeling vulnerable and unsafe when they attempt to walk or cycle around the village. As a result our signage was changed from “Hillsdale Welcomes You” to “Hillsdale. Please Slow Down”.
Changing over the signs was a nice gesture, but I honestly haven’t seen any difference in people’s driving habits with the new signage wording. The other day as I was walking by the Hillsdale border sign during our winter lockdown, it struck me that the sign really could actually have two meanings. The new signage was originally meant to remind drivers to literally slow down their vehicles and go the speed limit. Which is extremely important. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mentions that aggressive driving played a role in 56 percent of fatal crashes, with excessive speed being the No. 1 factor. There is a definite connection between aggressive driving, and an aggressive, over committed, full speed lifestyle. But as we have gone into our lockdowns and stay at home orders, the sign could also be encouraging us to slow down our lives. An article by Beezy Marsh, titled “Are You Living Life too Fast?“, quotes a survey that mentioned that “More than half of the respondents in the survey admitted to passing through traffic lights on red, while 58 per cent were that busy, they use their car for even very short journeys rather than walk.” As challenging as this pandemic lockdown has been for many families here in Ontario, looking around my little village it is refreshing to see there are many families trying to make the most of it.
Last March, when the 1st lockdown took place, other than that bizarre toilet paper buying frenzy, it was nice that jigsaw puzzles and board games were in high demand. If you wanted children’s playground equipment or a bicycle, they were also hard to obtain items. A lot of people were wanting themselves and their families to get outside for fresh air and exercise. As a lifelong gardener, last year I actually was unsuccessful in obtaining my garden seeds and bedding plants for my garden. Everybody and their uncle seemed to have gotten the gardening bug during COVID-19. Which actually was nice to see. I did however manage to get enough garden planted for myself, by using seeds I had saved from my garden in 2019. And also using old leftover seeds from previous years. I am glad people are getting back to their roots with gardening. Because in reality, I have observed there is a worrying disconnect in our fast paced modern world where so much of our crops are processed into “unplant” like substances called convenience foods, that people are losing the connection between the foods we eat and the plants that provide them. For the inability to recognize all the benefits that plants provide for us both physically and psychologically there became a term called “Plant Blindness“. It was coined in 1998 by American botanists and biology educators Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee. In our fast paced world, humans increasingly are failing to recognize that we need plants for survival. Becoming so disconnected from the natural plant world will only exacerbate the rate of specie loss and climate change.
During 2020, those who were requiring preserving jars for their fresh garden produce found them next to impossible to obtain. There has been shortages in baking ingredients such as flour and yeast. With Ontarian’s sheltering in place in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19 in their communities, there has becoming a home baking fervour in many homes. This is very refreshing to see. People are getting back to basics. During the lockdown, people are making great choices to try and get off this busy, stress filled, grab-and-go bandwagon by cooking more from scratch to eat healthier.
This winter, as infection rates, hospitalizations, those on ventilators and COVID-19 related deaths have spiked from a second wave, once again Ontario went into another lockdown. This is Canadian winter, but I have been wonderfully surprised how many people are out walking to get some fresh air and exercise. Less traffic on the roads during lockdowns definitely has made it much more pleasant for walking. My wife and I have lived in this village for 30 years. and we used to joke that the winters here are hibernation season. You would never see people out walking on the streets until spring. But that has changed with this pandemic. There are so many people out for a daily walk. In the cold Canadian winter. This is so wonderful to witness.
But it has gone beyond that. I have seen more snowmen on front lawns than I have ever seen in my 30 years in Hillsdale. As families shelter in place, they got gotten very creative of making the best of all that a Canadian winter has to offer. Hills on people’s properties have been converted into toboggan runs and luge tracks. There are a lot of homes that have converted a backyard or front yard into an outdoor skating/hockey rink. This brings back so many memories of skating ponds where I learned to skate and play hockey in my childhood days, and brings me such joy. Families are not just surviving the Stay at Home lockdown. They are thriving. They are making memories that will last a lifetime.
In order to mentally cope with once again losing both jobs during lockdown, I have been walking and running a lot of miles this year. It has been really wonderful meeting people on my walks and runs and having a socially distanced chat with many during my outings. Sometimes I am asked how far a distance I cover in a day. I do try to downplay my answer, but often mention I am involved in a yearlong challenge called “A Great Canadian Running Challenge”. This virtual is such a great incentive to get people moving and to change lives.
The amazing thing is that this virtual challenge, founded by runner and French immersion teacher Jeannette Boudreau, is that it was launched long before COVID-19 when virtual runs became an actual thing. A Great Canadian Running Challenge got its beginning in 2018 with 98 participants from coast to coast. This year, in 2021, there are over 3,100 participants coast-to-coast actively tracking their distances. There is no cost to enter the challenge, though if you would like a medal upon completion of 1,000 kilometers in 2021, there is a nominal fee. Supporting the Terry Fox Foundation through this challenge is greatly appreciated. Jeannette has a long-term goal is to raise $1 million for The Terry Fox Foundation over 10 years. Quoted directly from the “About Page”, Jeanette’s goal for A Great Canadian Running Challenge “Is to build a safe, positive environment for people to come together for the good of their health and life journey. I love to inspire and motivate people! I genuinely believe that when we connect with people striving for the same goals, miracles happen. We become a community by building relationships and making connections. Bringing people together from our beautiful country makes our group strong and motivated!”
I do feel Jeannette’s goal is definitely being fulfilled. There is so much positivity on the group’s Facebook page, with participants constantly encouraging one another. There is so much inspiration. Participants are achieving far more than I could ever hope and dream to. Front line workers coming home exhausted from working 12 hour shifts, and unwinding with a run. There are many parents who have been asked to work from home, while at the same the kids suddenly are doing virtual school at home. Somewhere in there they squeeze in a few miles for a run or walk. Some of the distance with the kids. There are participants recovering from knee replacement, hip replacement or back surgery. Yet still out running or walking daily distances. Or those fighting chronic physical conditions such as fibromyalgia or multiple sclerosis, they are getting out the door to daily pound out the kilometers. These are the true inspirations that I have so much awe and respect for.
I have appreciated the virtual running and the online friendships that come from them. It has been great for me during these times of lockdowns. But I really do miss meeting up and running with others. In all of 2020, I got one run in with another person. Last fall when restrictions loosened a bit, a Twitter follower named William Steele contacted me. I had never met him in person before. He lives several hours away in Caledonia, but was in my area. We had a wonderful long run together in Copeland Forest.
With talk of a third wave of COVID-19, I am not sure if I will be running any “real” races in 2021. The one thing that is very likely to happen is the Monarch Ultra. Unlike real races which have large gatherings of people, the Monarch Ultra is a relay, with only 2 runners per stage. Because of COVID-19 (and border closings), the relay will not be travelling to Mexico this year. In 2021 the relay is 21 days, and will be held in Ontario, Canada. It starts on September 19th at Peterborough and ends 1,800 kilometers later on October 9th, in Barrie. Distances are either 30 or 50 kilometers. There are only 84 spots available in the 21-day relay run. Registration for the Monarch Ultra Relay Run opens on Monday, March 1st, 2021 on Race Roster. To get on the waiting list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I am so excited to be penciled in as a runner the final day of October 9th. It is right on my home turf.
Once again, I am extremely excited and honoured to be an ambassador for this amazing environmental relay. Relative to the environment, last fall a new clock was unveiled on the Metronome, in Union Square in New York City. It is called the Climate Clock, which displays the time we have left before we burn all the carbon that will push the planet over the key 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. Results are based from data obtained from obtained from the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). You can check the clock online, and currently the clock shows that the 1.5°C threshold will be breached in 6 years, 319 days and 20 hours. The Washington Post describes the clock as “How long does the world have left to act before an irreversible climate emergency alters human existence as we know it?”
If there is anything good that has come out of this pandemic, is that we have discovered that we have it within ourselves to manage with a simpler lifestyle. For the benefit of our planet and future generations we have to slow down our fast paced lifestyles. We have to live simpler lives. The great news about the Climate Change clock is that it is not at zero. We still have a window of time to take action and make necessary changes. The clock is not static, it is not like a statue in a park. It is constantly changing. Though we have lost valuable time since the clock was unveiled, as we all do our part and emissions drop, more time can actually be added to the Climate Clock.
A major part of the Monarch Ultra is our advocacy. Our project provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the Monarch butterfly and pollinators and their significance to biodiversity and food security. It is engaging with our communities to do their part to fight climate change and build a more sustainable world that is integral to the survival of the human species. This is a dynamic message, and one that we hope people will respond to. So it becomes a catalyst for action. This year we are raising funds for Camp Kawartha, a leader in outdoor & environmental education and stewardship. As an accredited, not-for-profit organization offering a broad range of innovative year-round outdoor and environmental programming, Camp Kawartha trains educators and provides workshops on sustainability. They work with the whole community to foster earth stewardship through every age. Any contribution towards this amazing organization would be deeply appreciated. Here is my fundraising link.
Want to grow a garden or pollinator garden in 2021? Here is a list of on-line seed catalogues in Canada. While you are at it, here is a resource (taken off the Monarch Ultra website) on using nature-friendly products and avoiding pesticides. Want to learn some creative ways to engage your kids with ecofriendly activities at home? Here is a great resource. You can add your voice to many environmental petitions that serve as a tool to hold governments and corporations accountable. Here is one I am involved with a lot. As we have been sheltering in place in our family bubbles during this pandemic, we have reduced our travelling, which is a major portion of our carbon footprint. Before I became privileged to become Hillsdale’s school crossing guard, part of my duties at my previous job at Busch Systems was Creative Writer. This article I wrote, called “The Carbon Footprint of Travelling” provides a lot of food for thought. Lastly, the website Footprint Calculator is a great resource to determine what our individual ecological footprint is.
This pandemic has been very challenging for everyone. It has forced us to alter our lifestyles from what we have become accustomed to. But when we all slow down, adjust our lifestyles, we actually are taking less away from the environment. We make a positive difference. Another lockdown? Another stay-at-home order with our family bubble only? That’s okay. Let’s make 2021 our best year yet. When we all slow down, live simpler, reduce our stress, eat healthier from scratch and walk and exercise more, we become a healthier society living on a more sustainable planet. That is a winning situation. We got this! 🦋🌎
Every day we are bombarded in the news about the negative impact this pandemic has been on our society. Both financially and with our mental health. I have personally been hammered in both those areas, but on the flip side there has been wonderful positives. Has there been any positive things for you that has come out of the pandemic? Has there been any changes of priority in the way we spend our time and money, or the way we treat our health or the environment that you want to continue once things do “return to normal”. Thank for reading. 😀🙏