Nothing but blue skies

April 16, 2020

I woke up in a grouchy mood. Can’t leave town because of coronavirus, can’t see friends, newspaper full of bad news about the stock market, the spreading disease, the more than 100 deaths overnight across the country. My sweetie asked me at breakfast to list three things I was grateful for; I growled before I answered.

Then the dog and I went out for a run. We waved to the letter carrier. Morning sun glittered in the crystalline, still, clear sky. The blue air tasted clear as the Arctic circle. No planes buzzed. The roads are empty; it is rarely worth it to wait for a light to change. My spirits quickly brightened. We ran east into the morning sun and then down through Trinity Bellwoods Park. We waved to couples and their dogs.

Running towards home, we bumped into a young woman we know because her dog, Zeus, was for a long time a friend to our dog. Zeus died a couple of years ago. We have remained friends, though we now rarely cross paths. She is a tall woman with long black hair, and wore an a stylish black wool coat on this chilly spring morning. She works as a property manager at CityPlace near the CN Tower, and said she was walking in to work.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s so quiet. There is nobody around, no traffic. It’s lovely. We have to enjoy it and take advantage of it, because before we know it it will be back to crowds and busyness again.” She added that her sister, an optometrist, can’t work right now and is thrilled. “She was so busy before,” she reports. “She worked seven or six days a week. Now she has some time off and she is so happy.”

She really cheered me up. She is so right. Sometimes lately I have cursed our leaders for telling us to stay home. Perhaps they are over-reacting. And look at the devastation to the economy.

But look at the results from another angle: what could be more healthy or positive? The newspaper blares that “Global Economy to Slide by 3%,” in typeface reserved for the sinking of the Titanic. Three per cent actually doesn’t sound like much of a contraction. The fact that editors view this news with such alarm reminds me of how addicted we have become to continual progress. Every year we must pump more oil, cut more trees, dig more mines, clear more land, grow more crops, smelt more steel, build more cars and planes and trucks and trains.

Right around now, our planet is breathing a huge sigh of relief. A 20% to 30% decline in oil consumption because the economies of much of the world are on pause, means a drop in greenhouse gas spewing into the atmosphere. Fewer people are lining up for the drive-thru at Tim Hortons. Parents are home with their kids instead of idling on the clogged Don Valley Parkway as they curse the gridlock. How is this a bad thing?

I don’t want to sugarcoat the damage of this virus to working people around the world. I still have work, food and shelter; many people, including our daughter, have lost their jobs. The economic hardship, as always, will disproportionately impact the poorest.

My outlook right now is fueled by the audiobook I listen to as I run: The Overstory by Richard Powers. A friend who knows of my forestry studies recommended it. It’s a sweeping chronicle that knits the accounts of tree scientists and Earth First-type radical environmentalist, all linked by their common goal: to protect trees from rampant deforestation. As a forester, my hackles go up when I read Powers’ hyperbole: in Canada, rules require timber companies to regenerate every tree they harvest. Still, the larger points of the book resonate: biodiversity loss, loss of unique old-growth forest, rampant poaching of valuable trees in the Amazon, and alarming net loss of forests for rubber and palm oil plantations in the tropics. The planet sure can use a little break from this kind of breakneck progress.

The friend waved goodbye and sauntered off, continuing her joyous walk towards downtown. Coco and I, rejuvenated, loped westward. Now, I noticed everyone else also wore a smile, and I collected a dozen happy waves on the way home. A break in the ceaseless grind of bigger, faster, stronger, deeper feels this morning almost like a holiday.