Letter to the Editor: Kick the COVID-19 blues by connecting with spring

Westboro resident Constance Downes tests maple syrup on a sunny day in March 2019 as her husband, Max Finkelstein, takes a photo. Photo courtesy of Max Finkelstein.

Submitted by Max Finkelstein

What time is it? It’s Coronavirus time. Definitely not the best of times, but hopefully not the worst of times. These are serious times, for sure. My heart goes out to those struggling with loss of income, with worry about aging loved ones and the inability to visit them in extended care facilities and hospitals, and the list goes on and on. But in this time of self-isolation, social distancing and flattening the curve, it’s not all gloom and doom. It’s also a time where new adventures and new opportunities await.

While you are self-isolating in your home, stress and boredom will inevitably kick in. Look out the window: It’s spring time out there. Outside, there is a world unfolding which can be discovered in glorious self-isolation. Sun, wind on your face and wildlife are sure cures for the Covid 19 blues. 

Think of this time as an opportunity to connect to spring. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

For a wonderful journey to spring, check out the waterfalls in the Ottawa area. The rivers are running high, and the falls are at their most spectacular.  In the city, drive or cycle to Rideau Falls in New Edinburgh, where the Rideau drops over a sheer rock face into the Ottawa River. Rideau means “curtain” in French — the story is that Samuel de Champlain named these falls back in 1610, as they looked like a sheer white curtain of water.

A few kilometres upstream, Hogs Back Falls in Vincent Massey Park is a long-time favorite place for a spring outing, and a few extreme paddling friends (do not try this!). These falls were created during the construction of the Rideau Canal. Continuing up the Rideau, each lock station has its associated waterfall — some natural, others created during canal construction. All are havens of peace and beauty. 

Our next river to the west is the Mississippi. Each town on this gem of a waterway, along the 50 km stretch from Carleton Place to Galetta, has spectacular waterfalls or rapids. The falls at Blakeney are my personal favorite. There are walking trails and pedestrian bridges over small side-channels where you can find beauty and peace and escape, if only for a few moments, from the COVID-19 blues. The rapids under the Five-Span Bridge at Pakenham are by far the most photographed on our Mississippi River. 

Don’t forget to bring a picnic lunch, your camera and binoculars. Waterfowl and wading birds congregate below the fast-moving water. This is spring in action!

Speaking of action, bird migration is starting. Local hot spots include Mud Lake in Britannia. In a few weeks, the first warblers of spring will arrive, their brightly coloured feathers decorating trees like flickering, fluttering Christmas ornaments will surely brighten your day. Along the shore, resplendent wood ducks are pairing up. Our three local species of heron — Great Blue, Black Crowned Night Heron and the elusive Green Heron — stalk frogs and minnows. In late April, the first warm sunny days will bring the turtles out to bask on logs in the sun. 

For a more northern experience, visit Mer Bleue Bog just east of Ottawa, where a boardwalk leads you through a landscape more familiar to areas near James Bay. 

And don’t forget about our local woodland. Hampton Park is my personal favorite. It has two hundred year-old maple and beech trees, some of the oldest in Ottawa. The woodland is also home to the crow-sized Pileated Woodpecker (along with smaller woodpecker species), Merlins (a small falcon) and Cooper’s Hawks. 

If you want to stay closer to home, a delicious way to connect to spring is to make your own maple syrup. Head down to your local hardware store and purchase a few buckets and taps. Find a good-sized maple tree (more than 30 cm in diameter), drill a hole about 5-7 cm deep, gently hammer in the tap, and watch the sap flow. Make sure you taste the sap right from the tree. It’s cold, crisp and slightly sweet. If you don’t have a sugar maple in your yard, Norway, silver, red or Manitoba maples all make a fine sweet syrup. Make sure you boil it down outside or you will get a sticky gooey mess on your kitchen ceiling. You can use an induction burner, or even your gas barbeque. This is a great way to involve your family in the coming of spring, and the payoff is tasty —  pancakes, maple butter tarts, pudding chômeur. Yummm!

For what it is worth, this is how our family is coping with these difficult times. Watching, tasting, touching and smelling springtime. Self-isolation and social distancing is easy outdoors. We are so fortunate to live in a city where it is so easy to find inspiration through nature, to connect to the season, and to make these difficult times also ones of fulfillment, adventure and discovery.

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