Ordinarily at this time of year my colleagues and I would be headed west to Brandon, for the annual Manitoba Ag Days at the Keystone Centre.
The first time I ever attended — being a transplanted Saskatchewanian — was more than 20 years ago, as a young reporter under the tutelage of my editors and more senior colleagues.
The show has long been one of the major events of the winter meeting season and for many marks the start of the agricultural year.
This year would have marked the 44th year since its humble beginnings as a weed fair, but alas, like countless public events the world over, it has been put on hold due to the ongoing pandemic.
It joins a slate of other agriculture events throughout the Prairies — and world — in a limbo-like holding pattern awaiting the resumption of normal human activities.
As our Alexis Stockford reports, the Ag Days organizers are still doing the Innovation Showcase awards (sponsored by Glacier FarmMedia). But they’re awaiting a return to normal next year, rather than moving the rest of the show online.
It’s clearly going to be a much different start to the year, featuring a lot more solitude for all of us.
And while most have borne the boredom, loneliness and isolation stoically, there are clear signs of wear beginning to show. And if you’re among those feeling that way, rest assured you’re not alone.
A good friend of mine works at the Level IV virology lab in Winnipeg, where they seek cures for COVID and the like. It would be an understatement to say she understands the science behind exactly why public health authorities have taken some of the hard decisions to force business closures and prevent even private gatherings outside one’s households.
But, as she pointed out during a recent text conversation, understanding doesn’t translate to liking it.
Like the rest of us, she’s suffering cabin fever and longing for the days when you could just casually make plans to see a friend. Or bump into someone at the store and chat in the aisles for a few minutes. Normal human social interaction, in other words.
But as she also pointed out, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some bright spots beginning to appear.
Chief among these bright spots are vaccines, set to roll out over the coming months, with the prime minister promising that all Canadians who want them should have access to them by fall.
These are our surest and fastest route to seeing our society return to more normal conditions, and there are already signs that this normalization will occur.
The Manitoba 150 committee, for example, has set a firm date for its pandemic-postponed provincial birthday party at the end of the coming summer.
Of course, it’s now a question of getting from here to there. The one place we can be is outside and on that front, it would seem that we’re getting a hand from Mother Nature.
Ordinarily, we’d all be holed up inside our houses right about now, avoiding frigid temperatures. But this year, for the first three weeks of January, both experience and forecasts suggest temperatures will remain well above seasonal norms.
That’s translated into a boom of open-air rinks, busy (albeit social-distanced) public parks and other outdoor activities.
While nothing can totally eliminate risk, there’s a solid body of evidence that suggests these activities are low risk for COVID transmission. They’re also an excellent vaccine against that other silent pandemic of mental health challenges.
We all want life to get back to normal. We’ve all missed our friends and families, especially over the just-past festive season.
That’s translated into an uncounted toll on all of our mental health, no doubt even amongst the best adjusted of us. Humans are social beings and even self-enforced isolation has worn on us all.
In these days it’s important to take steps to minimize these effects. It doesn’t have to be anything formal. Pick up the phone and call a friend or family member you haven’t been able to see. It’s not the same as seeing them face to face, of course, but it’s a start.
As warmer weather returns this spring, the burden will ease. Many medical professionals expect to see a natural suppression of case numbers as ‘flu season’ ends. And we’ll all be able to get out more and we’ll all be busier.
Combined with an immunization program that will be gaining real steam as the winter wears on, the worst of the restrictions we all face will likely be eased.
In the meantime, we all need to be patient, vigilant, and take precautions to protect ourselves and others. This whole thing has been a gruelling marathon, but the finish line is in sight.
By this time next year, let’s hope Manitoba’s agriculture sector will once again be gathering in Brandon.
As Queen Elizabeth noted, “We’ll meet again.”