When I saw a picture of hundreds of Queen’s students gathered on Kingston’s waterfront on the first day of the new stay at home order, I gave serious consideration to conceding defeat on looking for hope in favour of fully embracing despair.
With more than 70% of COVID-19 and variant cases tracing back to the Queen’s community, I think my outrage is justified. At first, I tried to figure out what combination of privilege, entitlement and feelings of immortality would lead people to engage in such – let’s be honest – stupid and self-centred behaviour. I got nowhere with that question, so moved on to wondering why my daughter and I were struggling to decide whether we could possibly go for a walk together under the new rules, when other people in our city are behaving like this.
Much as I am disappointed in the students for their individual choices, my real rage is directed at the university itself which, since before this academic year began, has shown the institutional equivalent to the individual arrogance demonstrated by some of its students. Insisting it could monitor its own community, it has consistently failed to do that by not prohibiting the party culture that Queen’s is known for and by not holding students who violate public health protocols accountable through the university’s non-academic discipline process.
Queen’s and its students make up an important part of the Kingston community, but the present situation is straining the town-gown relationship. Those of us who live here have, twice now, lost our access to much of the downtown waterfront because of student parties and gatherings there. Some of us go to the outskirts of town to do our grocery shopping so we can keep a distance from students who shop in the stores closer to where we live. Even when we could have gone to restaurants and bars, we often didn’t, out of the same concern.
As this academic year winds down and many of these students prepare to head home, I hope for two things: that their parents will help them understand their responsibilities as members of a civil society and that Queen’s will plan properly for the next academic year, so those of us who live here all the time can return to enjoying our city in a way that is safe.
A sea of scilla
Once my initial surge of anger passed, I realized that, lakeside hordes of students and another stay at home order aside, I could still find cause for hope.
Not everyone shares my fondness for the scilla that are one of the early floral signs of spring in these parts – one friend spends countless hours in April and May trying to eliminate every one of them from her flower beds, where they choke out other plants – but the sight of these bright blue flowers brings me joy every year. On my walk this morning, I spotted a wave of them rippling their way through the sunlight across a lawn in my neighbourhood, and my anger of the evening before quickly evaporated.
We can now leave our urn of daffodils and tulips outside overnight, the rhubarb has begun to push its way through the dirt in the garden, and the longer hours of daylight mean I can start my morning walk a little bit earlier every day.
We have some cold days and nights yet to come – and no doubt some frost – so it’s too early to do much in the garden other than cleaning up the beds in anticipation of planting to come. Nonetheless, the weather this week had me hauling out my sandals and tucking away my warmest sweaters and socks. Yesterday’s warmth, even in the early evening, was enough for me to sit outside with a tequila and lime while my partner barbecued our salmon dinner.
Just kidding around
It’s hard to stay angry when in the company of baby animals. After my weekly walk with my son a few days before we were told to stay at home, we went into his barn to check on the most recent batch of goat kids, to find two that had been just born and were still trying to sort out how to make their gangly and knock-kneed legs work. A vigorous rub by my son to warm them up and remove all the bits of after-birth had them able to struggle to their feet and find their way to their mother to nurse. We both laughed out loud as they collapsed a few times, legs splayed out in all directions, before they managed to stay reasonably steady in an upright position.
Our little cat is thrilled to be able to sit in the sun and warmth of open windows so she can supervise the activity of the grackles that inhabit our cedar hedge at this time of the year.
The gloominess brought on by the present stay at home order is hard to overcome, but I will be inspired by her never-ending hopefulness, that, although she is an indoor cat with no front claws (not our doing), surely, this is the day that she will be able to catch one of those birds and show it who is boss. If she can hope, so can I.