The Pandemic Invites Us to Simplicity and Solidarity

By Karri Munn-Venn

I’ve just arrived home from a lively morning at the local farmers’ market, where well-spaced tables overflowed with vegetables, baked goods, and fresh eggs. It has been four months since we left the city, and it feels good to be part of the community here. I know—or at least recognize—more people now, and I feel fortunate to listen to those who have been here for generations talk amongst themselves.

The list of tasks that need doing around the house is endless, to say nothing of the farm projects that need finishing. Today, though, I’ve decided I’m having none of it. I take a few minutes to re-stake the temporary fencing, let the sheep out of their paddock onto a fresh area of grass, pull up a chair, and take it all in. I’m new here, and the sheep are newer. We’re still getting to know one another and figuring out life on the farm.

It is quite remarkable how drastically our lives have changed recently—and not only because we’ve relocated from central Ottawa to rural west Québec. When we found our place, the coronavirus was a far-away news story. By the time we came home, we were a few months into a global pandemic that had altered everything.

Though we’ve all been in the same storm these many months, we certainly haven’t been in the same boat. Early shelter-in-place directives were applied unevenly. As those of us who were able to work from home settled in, medical professionals and long-term care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery personnel, and many other essential service workers did their jobs to keep society and the economy functioning. Many who faced layoffs have also been at home but with the added strain of economic insecurity—or devastation. Meanwhile, others have faced isolation, depression, homelessness, or violence as a result of the pandemic.

There is no universal experience of this unusual time. For some, it has been tremendously hard and for others just a little bumpy. I’ve been very fortunate, and I know that this good fortune is wrapped up in my privilege. My experience of the pandemic has been filled with blessings, not least of which has been getting to know my kids and spouse in new ways as we navigated a change of lifestyle. I’m deeply grateful for this time, these experiences, and the lessons along the way.

Without commutes, extra-curricular activities, or community events, those able to safely shelter at home suddenly had time on our hands. It was fascinating to observe how we used it. After the requisite deep clean—we were all home all the time—we instinctively returned to simpler, more traditional ways of doing things. I was surprised but drawn in and jumped on the sourdough bandwagon before the end of March despite being neck-deep in moving boxes.

With the welcome warmth of spring, many people planted new gardens and expanded long-established plots. Seeds for the most popular vegetable varieties became hard to find. Hatcheries too were running out of laying hens as the backyard chicken coop became the next big thing. Though playgrounds remained off-limits as we headed into summer, trails, parks, and urban walkways offered a welcome change of scenery and a breath of fresh air. Then, on the cool, damp days of the early fall, many of us went back inside to make jams and jellies, pickles, and tomato sauce.

Of course, those on the front lines of the pandemic—nurses, retail workers, and others—carried on. Small businesses in non-essential sectors, including restaurants, endeavoured to join them, making accommodations to limit contact and extend the outdoor dining season. At the same time, educators looked to forest schools and outdoor education programs for guidance on how to create classrooms outside.

Certainly, a lack of options contributed to these homesteading tendencies. So too did a desire to keep people out of enclosed spaces. But I think something deeper was going on. Feeling constrained, we went “back to basics,” to a slower, more intentional, and more engaged way of being. In a period of uncertainty and anxiety we sought comfort, and we knew deep down that the activities that would soothe our fearful hearts were old ways that connected us to our food, to the Earth, and to one another.

I have great admiration for Indigenous Peoples’ connection to the land. There is profound wisdom in the breadth of the phrase “all my relations,” as it includes not only grandmothers and newborn babies, but budding maples, flitting starlings, and glistening streams. It is so important that we honour the significance of these connections as the grounding of efforts to heal from the generational trauma caused by colonialism and ongoing institutional racism.

I have experienced the created world’s power to nurture, to teach, and to heal. So Indigenous wisdom about the interconnectedness of all things resonates deeply for me. When I hear Elders speak of the harm they feel when wildlife habitats are damaged, or they lose access to their ancestral lands, my heart aches. I feel deeply that such brokenness impacts all of us, Indigenous or not. As non-Indigenous people, though, we’ve long lacked this essential collective understanding and connection.

In workshops I facilitate about climate change, I invite people to think about a place where they feel deeply connected to nature. And everyone has that place. Sometimes, people have to reach back to their childhood to find it, but it is there. And maybe after this summer of mandatory staycations, these places are a little closer, and the memories fresher.

It is curious and profoundly revealing to me that a culture that so prided itself on busyness and bustling has so intuitively returned to more grounded (and grounding) activities. I described this earlier as going “back,” but of course we don’t do these things the way our grandparents did. Sourdough starters, jam recipes, and farm animals are found by putting a call out on Facebook. Vegetable gardens and chicken coops are installed in urban backyards with guidance from YouTube instructional videos and tips shared on Instagram.

It’s not that what was once done exclusively in person is now done online. But when physical distance is a major priority, we’re finding and creating community in new ways because we know in our being that community matters.

As we move forward, I think we would do well to lean into what this pandemic period has reminded us. There is nurturing in kneading bread, in breaking it, and in sharing it. There is wonder and warmth in the uncurling of a fresh new leaf as it emerges from a tiny seed—and nourishment from the fruits and vegetables that follow. There is gratitude in finding nesting boxes filled with fresh eggs day after day. There is love in the kiss of a warm breeze and the sparkle of the night sky. There is joy in experiencing all of this with the people you love and respect most. And, there is peace in sharing.

The brokenness of our societal structures and our economic systems mean that for many this is a time of tremendous hardship, insecurity, and loss. We need to continue to come together to work to right these wrongs. There is strength in standing in unity to support policies and programs that serve the common good. It is especially important that those of us with privilege, time, and resources seek to be in solidarity with equity-seeking groups. Through initiatives like the one that resulted in the Six Principles for a Just Recovery, For the Love of Creation, and Dignity for All, we can reimagine a better future for our neighbours, our children, and all our relations.

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