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Middle of the Woods, Canada

“Where are you? Are you hiding behind a tree again?”

“Don’t worry, I gave him an orange t-shirt on purpose. We should be able to spot him easily.”

“Let’s think of the kids as flags, then. With the green forest in the background and his yellow t-shirt, Mark is the Brazilian flag—no, Mark, not poison ivy, just leaves, stop being so paranoid. Yours is… Ireland?”

I have yet to build a fixed ten-people social circle as allowed by the provincial health authority but I have an informal sanity network. Most of the members are juggling mandatory work from home and parenting while trying to move forward with plans and life in the midst of uncertainty. Sounds familiar? With or without kids, I bet it does.

Seriously, fuck COVID-19.

My friend called me on Saturday, desperate to get out of the house with her kids, especially the younger one. “I had the week from hell. Seriously, I’m going to scream.”

“Same here,” I replied. “I’m completely swamped with work now, which would be great if things were… you know, normal. Instead, I’ve just wasted an hour queuing at the supermarket and Mark is annoying because he’s bored. He keeps on asking me to go to another playground, so I told him to ask Feng… who told him to ask me BECAUSE WE DON’T KNOW ANY OTHER FUCKING PLAYGROUND! Sorry.”

Lockdown was fun for a while for Mark—no school, so much tablet, so much TV, sleeping late and following us everywhere. The novelty ran out in May. Now, at seven years old, he wants to look for a job because he just “needs to do something.”

I like do do fun things too. It’s just that life is busy but very, very boring right now since options are very limited.

“Let’s do something on Sunday.”

“Museum?”

“Closed. Group activities are still banned and all indoor facilities are closed in Ontario. Not sure about Quebec…”

“Same. Experimental Farm?”

“We can walk through but it’s fucking boring since there’s nothing going on and the museum is—”

“—closed. Right. Gatineau Park?”

“Sure, if you know where you’re going. I haven’t been in years.”

“Going to the park” in France means hanging out in a block-sized public green area in the middle of the city where there are invariably “keep out!” signs on the lawn, a dirty sandbox and plenty of benches for bored parents who can drink coffee and smoke cigarettes while watching kids. Local fauna includes pigeons, poodles and drug dealers.

Any place in Canada with “park” in the name is typically hundreds of square kilometres of true wilderness. Expect kilometres-long trails, no cellphone network, lakes, waterfalls and fauna you’d rather not come face to face with (bears, snakes and wolves, anyone?).

We made plans for the following day, then I hung up and laughed. This is when you know you’ve become Canadian—when two thirty-somethings born-abroad city girls don’t see anything wrong with taking two young kids through the woods on an unmarked trail for a few hours. No map, not a soul around for a several kilometre-long uphill and downhill loop—the kind of place where serial killers bury their victim, basically.

Gatineau Park, just four kilometres from downtown Ottawa, is huge—it covers 361 square kilometres with 183 kilometres of hiking trails.

We headed to Mackenzie King Estate, the former summer home of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the tenth Prime Minister of Canada. Then we covered ourselves with bug spray and off we went. It was 27°C with a humidex of 35°C and chances of severe thunderstorms, basically your typical Ottawa summer day.

Three hours later, after Mark complained about bugs about a million times and after her kid ran and fell about twenty times, we made it back to the car.

This is Canada for you—a huge place with few people, a country that got social distancing right long before COVID.

Mackenzie King Estate, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Mackenzie King Estate, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Mackenzie King Estate, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Mackenzie King Estate, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Mackenzie King Estate, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Mackenzie King Estate, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lauriault Trail, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lake Mulvihill, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lake Mulvihill, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lake Mulvihill, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lake Mulvihill, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lake Mulvihill, Gatineau Park, June 2020
Lake Mulvihill, Gatineau Park, June 2020

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