Thanks to COVID-19, we’re living in conditions that are almost unprecedented for many of us. Large swathes of the globe are living under the types of restrictions that many countries haven’t seen since the Second World War.
Students of history might be seeing additional parallels between the current pandemic and conditions during World War II. They might be calling to mind right now Winston Churchill’s famous line from a speech he delivered to the UK House of Commons in June of 1940, shortly after he became Prime Minister:
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”
Amid the news reports of hoarding and panic-buying, there are also some uplifting examples of people rising to the occasion and showing care and kindness to others.
Allow me to share with you some accounts of what may be some people’s “finest hour”:
Sometimes the sweetest things take the most effort to produce, don’t they?
Take, for instance, maple syrup, one of Canada’s iconic products. We often use it atop pancakes or waffles, or in desserts (see below). This delicious liquid starts out as sap collected from sugar maple trees.
Right now it’s maple syrup season in Eastern Canada: as the weather warms, the sap in the trees starts flowing freely. Holes are drilled into the trunks of the maples, and buckets or tubing collects the dripping sap, which is then transported to a central location.
And then it’s ready to be bottled, right? No! Actually, the process has only just begun.
Finally! At long last we’re starting to see signs of spring here in Toronto.
There’s still a bit of snow on the ground, but the tiny snowdrops in my garden are already shyly blooming. The tulips are just starting to poke the tips of their leaves above the ground like a periscope, as if checking to see whether it’s safe to emerge.
“The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.” (Song of Solomon 2:12 NLT)
After a long winter, it makes my heart sing to see the beginnings of spring.
But do the flowers and trees themselves sing? And if they do, what is their song telling us?
The other day I went for walk at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Even though the trees were bare of leaves and there was snow on ground, it was still a place of great beauty.
I noticed something strange, however, about the other visitors to the park. I must have passed at least a dozen other people as I walked the winding trail down the ravine to the river, but they were all standing stock-still.
Had I wandered onto a set for some science-fiction movie, in which aliens freeze people in place in advance of taking over the planet? Or had all these people been suddenly afflicted with a disease that left them immobilized?
No, the reason they were standing as motionless as statues was because they were all staring down at their smartphones.
If you live in a cold climate, have you ever woken up to discover that there had been an ice storm overnight? You look outside to find the bare branches of the trees are encased in a thick layer of ice.
The effect can be absolutely stunning. The branches glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. People rush outside to take photos of the ice-covered trees.
But the beauty masks a danger: those bare branches are at risk. They were never meant to carry the weight of so much ice. The branches may break off, and the tree can be left devastated.
Do you ever feel like you’re carrying too much “weight”?
What’s your astrological sign? Are you a Libra or a Leo? Do you read your horoscope daily and make life decisions based on that advice?
Or maybe you follow Chinese astrology, which is based on the year in which you were born rather than the month. The Chinese are about to celebrate the Lunar New Year, heralding the beginning of the Year of the Rat.
Both of these systems teach that the time cycle in which you were born determines your personality, and to some extent the course of your life. But this might leave you with a sense of being powerless, at the mercy of impersonal forces beyond your control.
Isn’t there something better to help you navigate your way through life?
Did you know that some people make a hobby out of “reading” the forest in winter? By that I mean identifying trees despite their being bare of leaves this time of year.
This can be quite challenging, because frankly, many species of trees look almost identical to each other without their leaves. How do these nature lovers do it? How do they “fill in the blanks” and distinguish one species of tree from another in winter?
Last week, the Scots celebrated “Hogmanay,” or New Year’s Eve. A particularly delicious treat often consumed there on this holiday is shortbread, which is a Scottish invention. It’s not really a bread, but rather a buttery, rich, crumbly type of cookie (recipe below).
But why is it called “short” bread? Is it vertically challenged? Well, yes, it’s quite a flat cookie, but in this case the word “short” means something different.