Life in Covidian times 

What to do when you have to keep calm and not quite carry on

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RENATE SWERHUN - At peace Is a calm moment in nature just the ticket for our new Covidian world? Yes, it's a black-capped chickadee, and Whistler naturalist Kristina Swerhun is feeding it in a special nature area in Ontario where chickadee feeding is allowed.
  • Photo by Renate Swerhun
  • At peace Is a calm moment in nature just the ticket for our new Covidian world? Yes, it's a black-capped chickadee, and Whistler naturalist Kristina Swerhun is feeding it in a special nature area in Ontario where chickadee feeding is allowed.

Ironically, the term "quarantine" came to us from our dear, now-beleaguered friends in Italy.

The Italian quarantina, meaning "40 days," is from the Italian quaranta for the number 40, and refers to the biblical narrative of the temptation of Christ—the 40 days when Jesus fasted in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil. Ergo the 40 days of Lent.

In the 17th century, "quarantine" was first used to describe a time of precaution to keep travellers away from others so they wouldn't spread disease, especially if they came from certain places.

Although there are some specific contexts for using "quarantine" in these Covidian times, iterations of "isolation" are the popular lingo. But quarantine it remains in my mind. After all, it feels like an odd sort of quarantine when we're walking about in familiar places, avoiding each other like the plague—ahem. (Note: To the oblivious ones who refuse to stay home when we still have the choice to, or can't give me a two-metre berth on the path: Smarten up or you're going to get us all into a mandatory lockdown, and that will be something, indeed. See here for more.)

And so it is that we're all in some sort of quarantine right now, with 40 days in the wilderness having a certain resonance.

So how's everybody doing?

I contacted nearly 70 friends and colleagues in Sea to Sky before I wrote this column asking just that, and for their tips for sustenance—both real and metaphoric—to keep the Covidian blues at bay.

As usual for Whistler and its extended family, if I can use the term loosely, the warmth and wit and breadth of stories and suggestions were outstanding. So here they are, at least the start of them.

I know there's a pandemic infovalanche out there (that's "information avalanche;" sorry, I keep making up words with all this time on my hands), and that we're all good at sourcing good, reliable info at sites like the RMOW, Tourism Whistler, and right here at Pique.

But I also know we're hungry for personal stories from friends and neighbours so we can feel like we're holding each other's metaphoric, dried-out hands as we pull together. So stand by, troopers, for more lovely tips and tales to come in the coming weeks. Like what Simone McIsaac and her good crew at Rootdown Organic Farm in Pemberton Valley are doing differently—and reassuringly the same, like starting those precious little seedlings in their heated greenhouses. Or what farmers' markets are facing across B.C.

In the meantime, Whistlerites near and far are taking the time to do things they've put off for ages: Mending pants they've meant to repair for weeks. Figuring out jigsaw puzzles. Pulling out old recipes. (Simone learned to make South Indian masala dosa 10-plus years ago, but it wasn't until last week that she actually took the time to make it. "It was delicious.")

We've got locals like Pauline Wiebe and "Max the G.D. Maxwell" relying on tried and true methods they've used for years to whip up nourishing dishes for next to nothing, starting with freezing things most people just toss out. Those chicken bones and vegetable peelings and parmesan rinds? They can be the start of something beautiful. More on that later, too.

I love Simone's thoughtful observation: "It seems like these times have great potential to move us in different ways." And we are.

We're planking our carbon emissions as we stop all that bizarrely taken-for-granted travel. (Another nod to our poor friends in Italy: bizarro is Italian for "angry.")

We've got people like Marika Richoz, Joan and Marcel's lovely daughter, who grew up way up on the ridge there in Alpine Meadows, "Cooking with COVID" online—one-on-one cooking classes to help people figure out how to cook with limited ingredients, get more creative and improvise with their recipes.

We're donating those Nesters points we've been accumulating to our very grateful local food banks, like Pauline does. Or we're simply taking time and "making do," as my nan and grandad used to say on the prairies.

We're also feeling unusually grateful to the many, many people we usually take for granted who are working their butts off, being creative and taking things in stride to keep things as good as they can be right now. The folks in our grocery stores, our hospitals and care centres, our pharmacies, communications streams, post offices, waste disposal services, and police stations and fire halls. The list goes on. We thank you.

One other last bright spot of sustenance we can all be so grateful for is something very special right in our own backyards—Mother Nature.

"Just being in nature is like meditation, it keeps you in the present," says Kristina Swerhun, one of Whistler's finest naturalists who's done so much volunteering with Whistler Naturalists that Canada's Governor General awarded her a Sovereign Medal in 2017.

"Whistlerites are out in nature all the time, but so much of the time, they're not paying attention to it, and that's very different. They've got their earbuds in, and they're running or just screaming down the trail, and you don't get as many of nature's huge benefits as when you actually pay attention to it."

It's a matter of "being," instead of "doing." So just sit. And watch. Listen to those birds singing sweetly. Smell the wind in the trees. It will calm you.

And when you want a tasty treat, or something delicious to share with your neighbours (remember to wash your hands first, and use a clean bag when you hang them on the door handle), try this easy-peasy family recipe from Kristina's mom, Renate, who hails from Germany. Enjoy!

Renate's Pecan Butter Balls

  • 2 cups finely chopped pecans
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Icing sugar

Chop pecans in blender; combine with flour, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. Mix with fork or hands until well blended. Shape in 1-inch balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 325 F for 20 minutes, until browned. Let cool slightly, and roll in icing sugar.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who just came in after sitting outside, and watching the trees grow. And, yes, she made up "Covidian."

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