Wednesday, April 7, 2021

How a year changes everything…and nothing

This week while living in a motel and training we were stopped by an elderly couple and told that we “were lucky for being homeless because it freed us.”  Never in my life did I think that those words would be uttered by anyone…or to me. 

In planning to set back out onto the Great Trail in 2021, I find things to be very hard to get my mind around.  In the past year so much has changed – in our world, in our society, in our daily routines, and in our lives.  Yet compared to April 2020, nothing seems to have changed at all.

A year ago we were all met with a crisis.  We didn’t know what it was, what it would do, or how to deal with it.   As a society and a nation we made a bargain – if we all stayed inside, if we wore our masks, and if we abided by the public rules and did well, then together we could make things better again.  People gave up their plans, went to school remotely, cancelled anniversary and wedding celebrations, lost their jobs, closed their businesses, and had to allow their loved ones to pass away, alone all to maintain the social contract.  Despite the challenges and losses that arose throughout 2020, I think everyone was willing to make the sacrifices.  When it has come to what is best for the whole of society and the public good, Canadians have always been willing to pay the price.  It was what was necessary.

However, after a year of limbo, with preventative measures not stopping the crisis, and new variants arising, we are again in a place of uncertainty, facing more unknowns, and being asked to lockdown again – but this time we are all exhausted, demoralized, and isolated.  After 12 months of tough sacrifices, we have not reached the expected safety, and we are left with the same questions, and still clear answers.  When does it all end?  Where do we go to next?  When does life return to normal?  What will that look like? Unnervingly, the answers to each of these inquiries are the same – no one knows.

If it was not for nature, its call to me, and its appeal to so many people in this past year, I am not sure we could have gotten through.  It took a global crisis of incomparable proportions, but a dramatically rising number of people are again reconnecting to nature, walking on trails, and bird watching.  As a result, more and more people are grateful for the fact that even though they can’t get out into nature on camping trips, canoe voyages, or on vacations with friends and family, that nature literally comes to our backyard feeders for us to enjoy. 

For 5 months now I have lived in the same chair, looking at the same computer, at the same table, and beside the same window.  It has long since stopped being a relaxing break and transformed into a demoralizing, frustrating, and isolating experience. Since leaving the Great Trail in October of 2020 we have worked remotely, presented remotely, and remained isolated.  While I never thought I would say it, there is only so much David Attenborough, Harry Potter and Star Trek that one can watch without getting tired of them too. (Though not Attenborough’s voice, that I can still lovingly listen to!)  


So now, almost half a year later, beyond completing a recent work contract, I feel like I have done nothing.  I have been less productive over the last few months than I ever have been in my life.  The most activity and excitement I get these days is starting a new puzzle or reading a new book.   

Yet despite this lack of activity I feel mentally exhausted, like I have undertaken some great athletic feat instead of just sitting.  Most days now I wake up and don’t know (and don’t care) what time it is, what day it is, or what month it is.  I feel burnt-out and depressed. Months of prolonged stress and anxiety coupled with monotony, isolation, and loneliness have taken their toll.  I don’t feel engaged with anything, and know I am less connected than ever before.  What scares me is that I know that I am one of the lucky ones – I have only had to go through home isolation for 5 months.

There is a great frustration in having endured so much while doing so little and not moving anywhere.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I am fortunate, because my frustration is not the result of losing a job, the stress of losing a house, or the grief of losing a loved one.  I know that given the options open to me, that I am very lucky and very privileged at this point.  And yet I am frustrated by the ongoing and nonsensical circumstances of the moment.   What we are all going through is something that no one seems able to wrap their head around. 

12 months later and we are in the exact same spot

Despite having given up so much and endured a tough year, here we are in 2021 set to repeat the same cycle.  Covid.  Lockdown.  Delay. Wait. Hope.  Repeat. 

For the two of us, we also are back in a similar cycle.  We are again homeless, we are again ready to head back out onto the Great Trail, and our plans have again been disrupted by Covid.  In April of 2020 we were delayed for more than a month by the first wave of Covid lockdowns, and now in 2021 we are being asked to delay and shift our plans once again in accord with the third wave of Covid lockdowns.   

Even if we continue, there are due to be compromises.  In 2019 as we set out onto the Great Trail we talked with people, stayed in their houses, and went to house parties on the East Coast, hiked with friends and nature  groups, and we participated in the lives and the culture of each community we trekked through.   By contrast, in 2020 we generally hiked alone.  Although we were unexpectedly offered help and stayed in a few wonderful people’s cottages, we were able to give remote presentations, and we briefly met a few amazing people – all of it was necessarily distanced.   


Although we deeply appreciated everyone who hosted us, the cottages were mostly empty, and the contact was limited.   As a result, despite the help and generosity, on our trek in 2020 there was so much less connection there.  The experience of hiking across Ontario and Manitoba was wonderful, yet something was very much lacking.  At this moment, 2021  - a year which should culminate in us reaching the Pacific Ocean - looks like it could be very much the same.  

Running on quicksand

These days everything and everyone seems to exist in a realm of constant uncertainty and being tossed between anxiety, isolation, loss and depression.    So many of us are caught between craving time in nature and time with our loved ones, while also striving to be socially responsible for the protection of others. However, a year in I’m not sure how much many of us have left.  

With every new morning, each new news cast and social media update, and with all the warnings and confusing regulations, I am left each day feeling less and less certain.  We are constantly struggling against something which is unfamiliar that you cannot see, cannot debate, and seemingly cannot avoid. 

I am exhausted, like I have run a long distance race and have nothing left because for an entire year the expectations and the goal has kept moving.  It is as though we are all in a race whose finish line we have yet to reach and which seems to constantly change – from hour to hour, from news report to news report, and from press release to press release.  The constant reassurances that with a little more time, a little more sacrifice, and a little more patience we will know more tomorrow are wearing thin.   Like so many others, I feel as though I am standing on quicksand and sinking, with no help in sight.

Mentally I know that I have hit a wall.  I am tired of the constant stress and the endless uncertainty. It is not merely a simple tiredness that has settled in.  It is a bone weary exhaustion, and fatigue of the uncertainty, the lockdowns, and the disconnect from all that makes us who we are. We all want some sense of normalcy again, we want and now desperately need to restore our connection to one another, to our families and friends, and to the outdoors.  

The truth is that we don’t know what will happen next, be asked of us next, or how long this situation will endure.

And yet we all must continue on, in our own way, step by step.  As I am, in the words of John Muir, now one of those who are “…tired, nerve shaken and over civilized….,” and who is again homeless, it means that there is only one solution.  It’s time to go, and reconnect with nature and wander in the wilderness.


  1. Thinking of you both and hoping you're walking again soon.

  2. Thank you. You have expressed so much of what I am feeling right now.


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