How Does Community Building Look Different During the Pandemic?

What new skill, or routine did you acquire during the lockdown? We’re one year into the world entering ‘unprecedented times’, and I’m curious if you gardened, or stocked up on puzzles. And what did you binge watch?

I had a short-lived foray into taxidermy. My rationale was to not waste the dead squirrels that seemed to pop up yearly on my property each spring. I thought maybe I could be that ‘Weird Taxidermy Lady’ on the crescent. But, I couldn’t. Kuddos to those who have the stomach for such things.

Also, I am no baker. I did not stock up on flour and supplies, or grow starter yeast, or however that works. Though I did make a good hobby of eating baked goods during the lockdown. Kuddos to me for having the stomach for such things.

I did by a spin bike and moved my gym workouts to my home—to counteract the baked goods eating.

But the greatest new routine I adopted out of the pandemic was community walks with the dog to meet my neighbours.

It should be noted, that I did not set out to meet anyone. I was happy to walk my pup, get some fresh air and head home without interaction, to keep myself and everyone else safe. But I realized that with restrictions on gatherings and so many options for socializing now out of the question that daily interactions with my neighbours seemed to become a part of my ‘new normal’ routine.

There was A who stopped me while I was weeding the side yard to thank me for keeping my Little Free Library open and stocked throughout the shutdowns. And R who traded tips on hobby shed amenities with me and toured me around his backyard to share ideas on how I could get more privacy using natural landscaping And L and M, and their toddler E who blew bubbles in the front yard that floated past my front window.

And the stand out of all of them was J.

J walked his two small dogs around the neighbourhood. He would then drop them off at his home and pick up another dog to walk for a neighbour down the street who had a bad knee. I am sure that J had been doing this routine for quite a while, but pre-pandemic he had not really become a fixture of my daily routine.

Walks with my pup, Coal became a lifeline for me to break the monotony of my day. As mentioned, I had no interest in baking, or crafty hobbies. Coal was also insistent on exploring outside of his own yard. Because J was responsible for walking multiple pups, he was often out and about and Coal and I would cross paths with him near daily.

J shared that his two dogs were rescues. The girls were toothless because they had been kept in crates most of their youth and tried to gnaw through the bars to escape. He also shared that prior to rescuing those two, he and his wife B had seven pugs. “If you can imagine,” he would say, “Seven pugs in the bed at night, snoring and farting.”

He was enamoured with Coal. He would refer to him as ‘Nat King Cole’ after the jazz musician, and he laughed at Coal’s enthusiastic puppy energy.

I walked Coal past J’s house one day. Of course, it was the house on the block with the most beautiful yard, and flocks of songbirds in the trees. And that’s when I met J’s wife B.

J was doing some yard work and when he saw us walk by he ran in to get B to show her the “Dog I’ve been telling you about! Nat King Cole!”

B came out to fawn over my puppy and also shared with me the story of her previous brood of pugs.

We had nothing in common, myself and this retired couple, but the block we lived on and our love for small dogs. The couple became a highlight of my daily walks around the neighbourhood.

I recently read an article in The Atlantic by Amanda Mull, titled The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship (There’s a reason you miss the people you didn’t even know that well). The article mentions that lockdowns have prevented interactions with friends, but has also prevented casual interactions with acquaintances such as coworkers, or the barista who has your coffee ordered memorized, interactions the author refers to as “weak ties”. She says, “You might not consider all of your weak ties friends, at least in the common use of the word, but they’re often people with whom you’re friendly. Most people are familiar with the idea of an inner circle; we also have an outer circle, vital to our social health in its own ways.”

She continues on to say that “The psychological effects of losing all but our closest ties can be profound. Peripheral connections tether us to the world at large; without them, people sink into the compounding sameness of closed networks. Regular interaction with people outside our inner circle [just makes us feel more like part of a community, or part of something bigger]. People on the peripheries of our lives introduce us to new ideas, new information, new opportunities, and other new people.”

And I know realize that’s what J was providing to me, and perhaps what I was providing to him.

After lockdown ended and as restrictions eased, Coal and I continued our tours of the neighbourhood. It was often the only way I could get working from home done, an unspoken barter where he would nap for a few hours after a walk and I could focus on some work. J and I and the dogs would meet sporadically and exchange pleasantries in spurts.

One afternoon in the fall, J and I crossed paths with the doggos and seemed to be heading in the same direction. I asked him what route he usually goes and he informed me of his favourite spots. And then we just started to walk in the same direction.

Coal and his rescue pups walked along the path sniffing trees and each other. I learned that J was a retired high school English teacher who enjoyed baseball. J regularly writes letters to his grandson in B.C. He also told me his knowledge of all the neighbourhood dogs in the area as we passed by their yards.

We haven’t had an opportunity to walk together again. Coal is a fair weather walker, and so am I to be honest. But I do plan to connect with J and B more in the spring. I see J still make his laps around Bowness when the weather is mild. My routine is a bit different lately so we don’t cross paths as often.

But connecting with my neighbours has made me realize that community building in a microcosm on your block is possible despite age gaps and different interests. It’s also made me wonder how you are continuing to build community in Bowness. We would love if you would share with the BCA how the pandemic has changed community for you. If you’d like a chat, or you have ideas on how we can continue to build and strengthen connections in Bowness, give us a call, send us some emails, write us some letters, or stop us if you see us on your neighbourhood walks.

Jessica Clark, BCA Communications Coordinator

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