“Valley Views” column by Margaret Miller
Six months ago, many of us were cruising along as usual. Busy with work or school, with social, volunteer or retirement activities. Spring was just around the corner, snow retreating from the valley and the daylight hours increasing. It was a time of activity and promise.
Then a novel virus cast a threatening shadow over it all. Quickly, we changed the way we thought and the way we did things. Doors closed and buildings emptied. In downtown Creston, face masks, hand sanitizer, and plexiglass began to appear, and some grocery store items disappeared. Separation and social isolation became the order of the day. We were distressed and cut off, pandemic novices with our ears on the news.
Weeks rolled by. Spring blossomed into summer and gardens and fields in the valley thrived. Snow disappeared from the mountain tops and the waters of Kootenay Lake warmed. And many of us began to adjust to the new normal. The word ‘virtual’ peppered our speech. We juggled at-home kids and jobs or scrambled for new ways to make ends meet. And our wonderful essential service workers plugged away.
Time passed and we discovered new ways to amuse ourselves. Many headed outdoors, visiting local creeks, the river and lake and counting themselves fortunate to live close to wide-open spaces. Some pulled out tents or hiking shoes and ventured into the backcountry. Others purchased bicycles and kayaks and found the freedom and health benefits of pedalling and paddling. We learned to cope and be patient. We were doing our best.
Now fall is on the horizon and the pandemic continues. Nighttime temperatures are dipping, and the tired brush is yellowing. Haystacks fill local barns and cornfields and fruit trees entice hungry bears. Downtown, most businesses are open again. Face masks don’t get a second glance and hand sanitizer is a common sight. The distancing is still difficult, the “Fewer faces, bigger spaces” routine. But we are no longer novices. We know the drill and the importance of staying vigilant.
Last week, schools opened after months of closure. Our kids are back to face-to-face learning. Back with their peers and playmates and teachers who care. With proper safety measures and support for busy staff, that’s a good thing. Some families have opted for distance education this fall, and that’s fine too. One size, one style never fits all, especially during a world health crisis.
“Are you heading back to high school?” I asked one grade 12 student recently. “Yep. Only two subjects and teachers for the first 10 weeks, then two more after that. I like the idea,” he explained. A friend told me she was keen to see her son return to elementary school. “He loves the activities and the kid conversations,” she said. I imagine they’ll have lots to talk about this term.
And while students are back at their lessons, either in class or on-line, the rest of us can carry on with our own learning. Learning to slow down or cope with a little less. Learning to check in on friends. Learning that a winter in the valley, rather than south of the border, can be good. Learning to appreciate local delights. Lunch with a friend in a quieter café. A film evening at Baillie-Grohman winery. A coffee in a sunny courtyard. A library of books. Yoga class with just six others. An audience of 50 at the Tivoli Theatre.
William Shakespeare, history tells us, coped with pandemics in his life. In 1564, the year of his birth, one-quarter of his hometown was wiped out by the Black Death. Years later, when he worked as a London playwright, the plague returned. Theatres closed, actors and audiences retreated indoors. Like many today, famous Will was forced to work from home.
But the word master wasn’t fazed. Rather than languish in unproductive despair, Will picked up his quill, rolled up his literary sleeves and produced two of his greatest works – the plays King Lear and Macbeth. Of course, most of us are not drawn to composing poetic theatrical works and 2020 is not 1606, but Will’s achievement is a fine lesson for the pandemic weary among us.