Welcome to the fall?

I have always loved the fall: the crisp weather, the end to the humidity of summer, the return to routines and, perhaps above all, the fall colours that we are so fortunate to enjoy in this part of the world.

But in 2020, as we move into the sixth month of pandemic living, I dread the arrival of autumn. Even as I railed against the restrictions we all faced in March, I often thought how fortunate it was that COVID-19 struck in the late winter, when we had spring and summer to look forward to. (Surely, I thought, all of this would be well sorted before the days got shorter and colder. What a fool I was.) We may have shivered and wrapped ourselves in blankets in those initial forays into pandemic socializing, but we knew the warmth that we needed so badly lay ahead.

By the time summer arrived, we were used to our new way of living. Wearing masks became de rigueur, we accepted (more or less) that we would not be going to movies, plays or live music anytime soon, tackled at least some of the books on our “must read” lists, bought more lawn chairs and hand sanitizer and worked on our barbecuing repertoire.

Those lazy, hazy crazy days of summer

As summer unfolded, the numbers of new infections stabilized, public health restrictions relaxed somewhat, and we could venture to the occasional movie, have a professional manicure, eat out from time to time, visit aged parents in long-term care facilities, live a bit like the world was not going crazy all around us.

To those of us protected from the worst impacts of the pandemic because of our race and class – especially those of us with no small children at home — it seemed that we might be able to make it through this terrible time without undue hardship.

In the spirit of Aesop’s Grasshopper, and I am sure I was not alone, I “preferred to dance, sing and play at [my] leisure, not minding that these wonderful days [would] soon be over, that cold and rainy days [would] soon be near.” In what I now realize was a demented spirit of optimism, I convinced myself that, by fall, I would be back on the road with work and hosting frequent dinner parties, inside, when I was at home.

Reality check

However, by mid-August, the inevitability of fall and winter was apparent even to the worst grasshopper among us. What would back to school look like for elementary and secondary students? How would universities and colleges operate? Just how much longer could we work from home? And what about our social lives?

As October begins, we may not be dealing with a worst case scenario, but the immediate future (even if we don’t think about the U.S. election) seems more than grim enough. Infection numbers in Kingston, across the province and across the country are on the rise. Social interactions we took for granted over the summer no longer feel safe. Long-term care facilities are, once again, tightening up visiting protocols. The government has lowered the number of people allowed to gather inside to 10, which put the end to my hope for an indoor harvest feast for our family of 12 later this month (but, stay tuned, we may have come up with a creative plan!). No vaccine is in sight.

Finding ways to cope

Winter may be on its way, but it is not here yet. While we won’t be returning to old routines, we can enjoy what remains of the Outdoor Times before we must succumb to the Indoor Times. The fall colours are peaking this weekend so, wherever you live in Ontario, you can take a walk or a drive and be inspired by the colours around you.

Farmers’ markets and farm stands across the province are rich in squashes, cabbages, tomatoes and other local produce. Even in the pandemic, pick your own apple orchards are in full swing.

The much-loved Ontario Festival of Small Halls concert series, which brings big-name Canadian musicians to small venues in small communities, is offering concerts with limited seating to comply with physical distancing protocols. I have missed live music more than almost anything else during the pandemic and can hardly wait to see The Abrams in Seeley’s Bay in mid-October.

Last but not least, it’s time for cold weather cocktails. Here is my first offering for the fall, with more to follow in upcoming weeks. I call it Fall Hope:

For two people, heat 12 ounces fresh apple cider with 1 – 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 whole star anise, a few gratings nutmeg and 6 crushed cardamom pods for 15 minutes. While cider is mulling, warm two mugs by filling them with hot water. When you are ready to assemble your drink, dump water out of mugs. Measure 2 ounces of your favourite rum and 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice into each mug, then pour in cider through a sieve. Discard the spices and stir cocktail well.

Head to your porch, balcony or yard, wrap yourself in a blanket and inhale both the cocktail and the fresh air.

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