As I write this, the branches of the Douglas fir trees in the park across the way are flailing and the chill wind is noticeably sucking heat out of the 1970s building I’m working in. It’s above zero at mid-day, but the mornings start off with heavy frosts on roofs, windshields, and lawns.
The calendar indicates spring is upon us, but today, it feels weeks away.
This too shall pass. After winter, spring.
At least spring has been steadily creeping up on us. Birds have been gathering dried grass and twigs for nests. First leaves have lit up the Indian plum shrubs. The sun shines hot, even if the wind blows cold, with summer in the light and winter in the shade.
The days are lengthening. Blossom by blossom the spring has been unfolding, with snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, and blooming quince and cherry trees.
Many of these signs are daylight and temperature dependent. They arrive with some consistency every year, with leeway of a week or three or four, as inevitable as the planet circles the sun. Yes, hold on — life will get warmer.
Other local signs of spring are less sure this year. The bass-note cruise-ship hoots and toots will be missing from Victoria’s springtime soundscape. Due to concerns about COVID-19, Transport Canada has banned boats and cruise ships carrying more than 500 people from docking at Canadian ports until July.
The 290 ship-visit season had been set to begin in Victoria April 3, with the arrival of the Grand Princess.
Almost 115 cruise-ship arrivals will not take place this spring — and almost 300,000 passengers they would have brought to the city won’t be visiting.
That’s not what Victoria city council had in mind last year when it passed a motion to limit the number of cruise ships allowed to dock in the city each year until the industry takes significant steps to be greener. It’s not what council had in mind in January when it passed a motion to possibly increase cruise ship waste-dumping fees in the region.
Yet the result will be the same. In James Bay this year, signs of spring will not include diesel exhaust from ships in port running their generators to power their facilities, the sound of those engines rumbling day and night, nor the usual cruise-related traffic.
And while the days grow longer and warmer and the cherry blossoms peak, then wane, local businesses and people who rely on tourism will feel a deep, lingering winter chill this year. The cancelled cruise visits alone could mean at least $50 million less economic activity in the region.
Government directives to postpone non-essential international travel, bans on non-Canadians entering the country from overseas, restrictions on where international flights can land, cancellation of large events and public gatherings, increased social distancing and self-isolation — these and other changes to how we go about our lives will delay the gearing up of activity and industry we normally see at this time of year.
An economic Lent is advancing, and a financial winter, with its hardscrabble, hunker-down discontent, is extending its reach into April, May and June.
No Times Colonist 10K run, provincials hockey, Capital City Comic Con, or performances will occur until further notice. The University of Victoria has cancelled many classes, with some courses switching to delivery methods that don’t involve in-person gatherings. Brick-and-mortar schools are closed indefinitely. Bars and pubs are shuttered, and restaurants are advised to apply the government’s social distancing directives.
It’s a crisis. But this too will pass. A month ago, health officials were hoping to eliminate the COVID-19 virus, much as happened after the 2003 SARS epidemic. Now, they’re seeking to slow its spread and delay its peak until after flu and cold season — all to relieve pressure on the health-care system, give health authorities time to prepare and give scientists time to develop a workable vaccine or find anti-viral medications that slow the virus’s advance.
They’ve accepted that the virus will eventually establish itself throughout populations around the world, much as influenza and cold viruses have.
We will adapt, one way or another.
No winter and no pandemic lasts forever. Spring — however we define it and by whatever signs we characterize — will come. What it will look like is another question.