Toronto as we know it thrives on interiors. From vast museums or art galleries, to restaurants recommended in passing, to hormone-clouded university bars, this city is built from the inside out.
The social reign of these exciting interiors, however, has drawn to a close for the time being with no foreseeable end in sight. Some family-owned restaurants have unfortunately gone out of business and boarded up their doors, bars are dry, and concert halls are more bare than they’ve ever been.
This is all in good conscience, of course, as COVID-19 case numbers are rising steadily in our once-bustling city. For the safety of all, we’ve been urged to remain inside, so we retreat to our homes — interiors which pale in comparison to those we’ve left behind.
Enter: the outdoors. Amidst the restrictions the pandemic brought with it, exteriors are still an appealing option, providing a fresh outlook and alternative to our lithe, anemic social lives. With the free time that has seemingly fallen in our laps, going outdoors to curb the fidgety cabin fever that overtakes us is — quite literally — a breath of fresh air.
Surely enough, even in the strictest of lockdowns, you can find frazzled parents trailing giddy, exuberant children, older adults — who admittedly go outside far more frequently than I do — enjoying calm, leisurely strolls on park trails, and even university students taking outdoor breaks away from marathon study sessions and computer screens.
During a time when socializing is nearly illegal, spending time in parks seems strangely seditious, liberating those who feel shackled in the confines of their homes. Being outside is almost a statement, and as we’ve learned in the past year, even social statements can be made from two metres apart.
As the new school year began and the weather worsened, I resisted going outside, convincing myself that I was ‘too busy’ for a quick walk with my mom and sister. Trying to get my sister downstairs and into weather-appropriate clothing was an event in and of itself. The three of us were rarely on the same page when searching the house for masks and hand sanitizer to accompany us.
Still, we’d make the trek around our neighbourhood, sometimes skipping down the sidewalk or stopping to try and catch snowflakes on our tongues. Though it was only for an hour at most, it was in those moments that the world felt eerily calm despite the chaos that encompasses this little patch of history. This calm was found through something as simple as taking a walk outside. In this strange, inconsistent time, the outdoors provide a little solace, its constance never faltering.
Although our lives are experiencing abrupt disruption, it seems as though nobody has told the animals. Whether it’s due to the fact that people are outdoors less or the fact that I’m more observant now, I’ve noticed a plethora of animals in neighbourhoods and on trails. Rabbits poke their noses out of their hidden spots. Songbirds whistle a little louder. Squirrels steal our decomposing Halloween jack-o’-lanterns, and skunks prompt us to run to the other side of the street in fear of an unfortunately smelly fate.
These common woodland creatures have always been long-term residents of the city, but it’s only now that I’ve noticed them with the frequency that I have this year. All the parts of nature we once passed by without a second thought seem bolded now, as interactions with the outdoor world are almost replacing social ones. In the spring, dandelions suddenly begged to be blown out, and as the winter seasons crept up, you simply couldn’t ignore the screaming winds.
After long days where back-to-back Zoom calls make you feel like a Black Mirror character, the mental refreshment garnered by a walk in the sunshine is unmatched. Watching nature carry on while the world around it billows in chaos is almost a prompt — a reminder to try and do the same, and to make the most of the exteriors.