I open the kitchen door, go down the steps, wander out on the street beside my house, and it all seems so wonderfully normal. The sun is just peeking out from the clouds, the birds are gossiping and life is as it always was.
I’ve been walking in the same neighbourhood, the same route, for many years, and I know it well. Over time, little things are bound to change. People move out, others move in, the colour of a fence changes, a garden grows and then dies back again. Sometimes big things change, like an old house being torn down to make way for a new one. Or a corner store changes hands and becomes a new kind of business. Still, there’s a nice rhythm to life in my neighbourhood that gives me comfort.
The changes that have happened over the last couple of months on my little route have been very different ones, as I am sure you’ve also experienced wherever you live.
After the state of emergency was declared in BC, my first couple of forays out into the streets were strange to be sure. There was an eerie silence on the roads, as many people stayed home, just as they were told to do. Very few cars. At first, there weren’t that many people out walking either. I’m used to seeing some of the same folks at the same time every weekday, but very few showed up for the first week or two.
As time passed, we adjusted to this strange, new reality and more people ventured out.
Getting used to the idea of physical distancing was awkward for me, as I’m sure it was for others. Somebody would be a block or so away, walking towards me on the same side of the road, and I’d have to zero in on them to see what they were going to do. Who would make the first move to the other side? After awhile, my experiences inspired me to create some rules for myself about this physical distancing thing.
First of all, I will instantly move over if the person coming towards me is pushing a stroller. I mean, it’s more of a pain for them to move off a curb than for me. Especially if they have a dog in tow and a toddler too. I will move for them.
And if they are elderly, I will also be the first to move. I mean, sometimes I have to decide if they are actually older than me. Since I am in denial about my actual age, this can be a conundrum. If they’ve got a walker and I don’t, that’s a clue. I will move for them.
And there are those I move over for who seem to have no awareness at all about anyone else in the world but themselves. It’s really about self-preservation because I’m darn tootin’ not gonna die because of them! Sometimes these people are just young. Sometimes, they are stupid. Occasionally, they are both young and stupid. Yeah, well I was that once, too. Sigh.
The number of people I now pass on a daily basis has grown considerably, depending on the time of day. That means that there’s a lot more physical negotiating going on. But most of us have adjusted, and the majority of people I meet are smiling and friendly as we do our little dance around each other. Some people even move over for me, which makes me appreciative. And suspicious.
I notice different things on every walk. Like today, there was a middle-aged fellow talking and laughing to himself. As we passed each other at a distance, I realized the smoke trailing behind him was from a doobie. I took a long whiff.
And there used to be a couple I’d see every day who were probably around my age, smiling and enjoying each other’s company as they walked. Now, they walk about a half a block apart from each other, and neither one is smiling anymore. I guess the “stuck at home with each other” syndrome has finally had its effect.
Happily, most of the changes I see these days are positive ones. So many more yards are neatly maintained and gardens have been tended to and nurtured in a way they have rarely been before. It’s beautiful out there. Decks are being repaired, houses painted inside and out. On sunny days, people sit outside their front doors and read, kids play happily in their yards. Neighbours are chatting, at a distance, of course, but maybe more so than they have in a long time.
There are literally dozens and dozens of hearts plastered in the windows of houses, self-penned thank you notes, and the Canadian heart flag cutout from our local Times Colonist paper is everywhere. I hear more birds now than I ever have, in fact, some I’m sure I haven’t heard before. A couple of weeks back, just a few blocks down the street from where I live, I noticed a chalkboard outside a home with “Dad Jokes” scribbled on it. There has been a different joke scrawled out in chalk pretty much every day, one of which you see in the picture I’ve posted here. I love the funny, sweet, and really creative changes in my neighbourhood most of all.
So for that reason, I’ve actually started walking twice a day. Oh, and also because I need to do something about the change in the size of my waistline.
Irene Jackson is a guitar teacher, musician and general writer “wanna-be” living in the beautiful city of Victoria, B.C. Her website is at irenejackson.com.