Press 2 for No

Canada: Where The Sun Also Rises

So much can happen in a week. You can go from worrying about a winter hat to sunbathing in your underwear (thanks to record-breaking November temperatures), from running to answer your phone to turning it off, from sipping a fine red Portuguese wine purchased for someone special at duty free (who turns out to be you) to eyeing the dregs of a bottle of Canadian “vodcow.” (Yes, you guessed it, Canadians are now distilling spirits from cow’s milk.)

For those who suffer from jet lag, they say it takes a day for every hour of time difference to adjust. Today, I’m sad to report, I’ve adjusted. I woke up at 8:15 instead of 5:15, and missed the sunrise – the first I’ve missed since my arrival at this cottage quarantine. My red lawn chair sat desolate on the dock while a flock of geese, as regular as a commuter train, squawked their way towards the sun.

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The birch that didn’t make it

Such spectacles have become part of my daily entertainment. I also follow the antics of two red squirrels as they chase one another up and down the birch trees, or hop from pine bough to pine bough. They’ve become rather fond of sneaking up on me in my lawn chair, the rodent-like sound of their scurrying along the wooden planks of the dock always giving me a start. Sometimes, as I stand beneath the birches doing the dishes, I feel their beady little eyes watching me, and then there they are, mere centimetres from my head.

Every morning I call the Government of Canada COVID-19 line to report my symptoms, or lack thereof. Do you have a fever? asks a kind-sounding female voice. A cough? Are you having difficulty breathing? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no. Every morning, I press 2.

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Hauling water at the cottage in 1958

Every day I split wood. I haul buckets of water from the lake to the cottage – at least 20 from sun up to sun down – to flush the toilet, to wash clothes, to do the dishes.

I walk up and down and up and down the tree-lined path leading to the main road, standing at the crest of the hill for a moment, looking in both directions. Sometimes I stand beyond the borders of my quarantine, in the middle of the road, feeling like a nervous deer. If I hear a vehicle coming, I turn back towards the cottage, quickening my pace. If they are closer than I’d gauged, I run.

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Saturday night entertainment

At around 4:30 p.m., I sit on the dock again, getting ready for the sunset. I wait for a long, skinny mink to swim, ever so quietly, through a bed of reeds and along the shore. When all the pink has faded, and a dull, neutral tone washes over the hills, I begin to panic. What am I going to do now? Listen to the radio? Read? Watch the fire burn?

What am I going to do for the next seven days? What am I doing here? Why have I been wearing the same clothes for three days? Why did I leave Galicia and my tostada con tomate breakfast? The lemon tree? I see Stanley and Stella, staring up at me with their sad eyes. Angie, where are you going? they ask. Are you coming back?

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Angie? Is that you?

So much can happen in a week. You can find yourself in the quintessential Canadian forest where the scent of freshwater and leaf mulch pierces your very being, awakening your wild northern heart. And then you remember that thing waiting for you next week when all the drama of travel and quarantining is over – your life. Dentist appointments and eye checks. Finding a job during a pandemic, getting a divorce during a pandemic, visiting a father in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s (during a pandemic).

Last week I caught a glimpse of this life as I took a taxi from the airport to the mechanic where my faithful Saturn Ion awaited my journey north. “There’s my house,” I said to the taxi driver as we drove past, hoping we wouldn’t see my ex walking down the street, or, even worse, his girlfriend.

“Are you okay?” he asked when I became silent for the first time in our 40-minute drive. He took ten dollars off my fare, offering to transfer my giant grey suitcase to the trunk of my car. Then he stood there, unsure of what to do next. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll be okay.”

Finding my swing again…

And I am okay. For last night’s entertainment, I waited until the sky was completely dark and returned to the dock. I lay down. At first I was scared the squirrels would come and play in my hair. Then I worried about bears. Then I worried about the imaginary psycho killer I call Frank.

Finally, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I stopped worrying. The sky felt bigger at night, dome-like. I felt smaller. As I focused on one cluster of stars, it became two clusters, then three. Soon the entire sky scintillated and sparkled. The reflections of galaxies and solar systems, of countless other worlds, lapped at the dock.