The pandemic has forced many of us to live smaller lives than we are used to. Some have embraced the opportunity to slow down, stay in one place and empty social calendars. Others, including me, have chafed at the limitations; not out of any disdain for the need to shut this virus down as quickly as possible, but because we are not so good at slowing down, staying put and limiting our social encounters to zoom or — in person — one or two people at a time.
On a bad day, and I have plenty of them, I remind myself that living these (we hope temporary) small lives is worth it. Kingston, where I live, has had remarkable success in controlling the virus. As I write this, there is one identified case in all of Kingston and Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Counties. There have been no deaths. No one in this region is on a ventilator, in ICU or even in the hospital. Most remarkably, there have been no cases at all in long-term care facilities.
On a clear day
On a good day, and I have plenty of those, too, I can see other benefits of this new, smaller way of living.
Staying home and slowing down has had an almost immediate and positive impact on the natural environment:
“The skies are clearing of pollution, wildlife is returning to newly clear waters, . . . the waters of Venice are now clear, lions lounge on roads normally frequented by safari-goers in South Africa and bears and coyotes wander around empty accommodation in Yosemite national park in California . . . a few months ago, environmentalists could only dream of such a scenario.”
This time is creating opportunities for us, should we choose to take them, to really understand the E.F. Schumacher coined phrase “small is beautiful.” As he wrote in 1973, at the height of a global energy crisis:
“We should be searching for policies to reconstruct rural culture, to open the land for gainful occupation to larger numbers of people, , , and to orientate all our actions on the land towards the threefold ideal of health, beauty and permanence.”
Time to smell the roses (or lilacs)
There is, I frequently tell myself, lots that is good about this slower, smaller life. Last week, my partner pulled me away from my desk to join him in a drive into the country north of here, where we pulled off the road and cut armloads of lilacs to bring home. For days, our house was redolent with the scent of those beautiful flowers. In recent years, even though these are my favourite spring flowers, I have relied on my partner to make this outing, having convinced myself I didn’t have the hour or so it took. Turns out I do, and the outing was as important as the lilacs themselves.
Now that I use going for a walk as a primary means of seeing people while maintaining physical distancing, I realize that I can build a full work day to include an hour outside getting some exercise. It may not be as intense as a gym workout, but it is free, involves nothing more than a decent pair of shoes and can be paired with socializing or running some errands.
Not spending hours every week travelling to and from work has given many of us more time to prepare food from scratch. My freezer is satisfyingly full of soup stock and muffins at the moment, and I just froze the first batch of rhubarb from our garden a couple of days ago.
Staying home can also mean shopping closer to home. Kingston’s pandemic signs, which for two months read “Stay Home. Stay Safe” now read “Shop Local. Stay Safe.”
Why use Amazon and put more money in the pocket of Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest person (he earns $215 million a day) while the poorly paid workers in his warehouses experience the highest workplace injury rate anywhere? We can buy everything we really need and much of what we want from local stores, even if we sometimes have to wait for a special order to come in. (Remember, we are slowing down.)
We can frequent local markets and farm stands, now that growing season is in full bloom. Asparagus, fiddleheads, radishes, spinach and salad greens are all readily available. Eggs and meat can be found close by without a lot of effort. We can eat food, knowing how it was grown or raised, while putting money in the pockets of our neighbours rather than strangers somewhere far away. We also reduce the production of carbon emissions, because that chicken or (soon) strawberry did not come to us on a jet plane.
Even alcohol – something many of us have been consuming in heretofore unheard of quantities – can be found locally. Kingston boasts a number of craft beer operations, and just a short drive way in Prince Edward County, countless wineries and even a distillery can be found.
This week’s cocktail
Kinsip Distillery in the County produces gin, vodka, rum, cassis and several kinds of bitters, using local ingredients. I placed an order earlier this week, with free home delivery, so I could try out my pandemic version of a Dark and Stormy.
Here’s how I made what I am calling a Small is Beautiful cocktail:
For two cocktails, place 2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger, 12 mint leaves and 2 ounces simple syrup in a small pitcher and muddle until mint leaves are bruised and aromatic. Add 2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice, 4 ounces each good quality rum and ginger lemonade concentrate (recipe below). Shake with ice, then strain into cocktail glasses. Add sparkling water to taste.
To make ginger lemonade, combine 1 cup grated fresh ginger, 1 cup sugar, 2 tsp. whole cloves and 4 sticks cinnamon in large bowl. Pour 6 cups boiling water over mixture and stir well. Cover and let sit for at least an hour (I try to leave it overnight). Strain and discard ginger and spices. Mix liquid with 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice and ½ cup freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice (you can vary the proportions of these juices to suit your taste). Store in the refrigerator and mix with flat or sparkling water, white wine or beer or add to cocktails or sangria.)
Slow down and enjoy!