The pandemic offers unexpectedly rich opportunities to discover living, working and socializing close to home. Here’s one seasoned traveller’s story of urban cocooning… and considering a permanent move to a quieter, small-town way of living.
By Diane Selkirk
There was a week in mid-April, when the cherry trees lining my street had reached peak blossom, when I realized that for the first time in years I’d paid careful attention to the arrival of spring. In the weeks that followed, I watched my neighbourhood gardens, noting how each flower that pushed up through the dirt brought us closer to summer.
Experts have been telling us that one of the pandemic’s silver linings has been more time to slow down and, in my case, literally smell the roses. The gifts of the earth are even more remarkable to me because, until a couple of years ago, my family of three (plus our cat, Charlie) was meandering around the world on a sailboat. As we made our way from country to country, I had time to bake bread, do crafts, write long letters and read books. Because I’m a longtime travel writer, I’m always been a master of working on the go, and on the spot–whatever spot I’m in. On this voyage, once I got over the guilt of not always feeling productive and busy, I relished having time each day simply to watch nature, chat with a grocery store clerk or cook a complex recipe.
WORK TO LIVE, NOT LIVE TO WORK
This ability to live in a more measured and simplified way was one of the things I most wanted to bring home with us when we returned to Vancouver. One of the things I realized during our sailing trip was that being “too busy” is almost seen as a badge of honour in our culture. We embrace the kind of lifestyle where having to schedule a visit with a friend weeks or months in advance was “normal.”
I didn’t want a life like this anymore.
Reality kicked in though, and my days sped up. Our daughter moved away for school. I travelled a lot for work. My husband spent longer hours at the office. When we were free, our friends were busy. Life in the city had rapidly turned into the kind of existence where I didn’t feel like I could catch my breath. Even though our days were filled with good things–work, theatre, dinners, sports, meetings–they were just so full again.
But as new empty-nesters, my husband and I eventually began thinking about escaping the city. We knew how wonderful a quieter life can feel, and thought one might be possible somewhere like one of the Gulf Islands. We hoped that in a small community it would be easier to live more slowly and deliberately, while working from home and at a reasonable visiting and commuting distance, and we began looking into that kind of a lifestyle change.
A FORCED BREAK
Then March came. First, my husband joined me working from home. Then our daughter had to return from her school in Southern Africa. My travel stopped and our days began to stretch: it was as though a life without commuting, meetings, social events and other obligations was a few hours longer each day.
Despite my fears for friends and family, and the worry I felt for the world, those new hours felt like a gift. There was time to start a garden, make jam, sew masks and write letters. Despite our little condo feeling like it was bursting at the seems with three people trying to work remotely (often in different time zones), we relished the opportunity to have bonus time together. We cooked leisurely dinners, went for long walks and bike rides and made regular use of our neighbourhood’s Little Libraries. I caught up on movies, books and sleep.
As the restrictions started to open up, our life began to expand. Evening walks through our community began to include socially distanced visits with neighbours and the occasional take-out picnic. My writer’s group began a physically distanced park meeting, where our catch-ups went well-beyond the work we were each doing and for the first time delved more deeply into how each of our lives was going.
As the weeks return more and more to normalcy, I feel like the moment may come where I’ll want to hit the pause button and again slow things down. I like having time each day that belongs to me. Maybe we’ll put our plan to move to a smaller town back into high gear if and when our daughter goes back overseas to school. For now though, there’s still time left in each day to do nothing. When I call friends, more often than not, they still have time to chat. When I look ahead to the weekends, we have time to camp, or hike, or sail. Each day, as I walk through my neighbourhood, I’m still aware of the seasons. The leaves have turned russet and red as I write this. Some have fallen from the trees. The flowers from summer are gone and the cherry blossoms nothing more than a bittersweet memory: a reminder of the world before the pandemic, but also a message about all the beauty I miss when I live too quickly.