Finding Collective Care in Unexpected Places
From the Nest, Issue 10
by Meredith Park and Claire Peace
Hey there, sorry I missed your call.
I’m out having an adventure right now.
Leave me a message or try me again later.
A couple years back, a friend posted on Facebook that they wanted to go hiking. I don’t recall which friend, or the date, or the location, or if we even went. What I do remember is the comment thread full of people responding with interest, and brainstorming about how to get there from downtown. Was it within SoBi range? How many bus connections would it take? Would there be a long walk from the nearest HSR stop?
Try Me Again Later (TMAL) is the result of that initial comment thread, which expressed a desire for us city folk to be able to get outside, together, accessibly. Since then, it’s grown from an idea, to a group, into a rhythm. Maybe we’ll plan a sunrise hike for the weekend, or maybe a few of us will get up a bit earlier tomorrow morning just so we can bike to a coffee shop together before heading to work.
Maybe someone is reading a book in their hammock at the park, and mentions this to the group chat just in case anyone else would care to join. It doesn’t seem to take much – somewhere between spontaneity and set plans, there’s a lot of room to connect.
The group chat alone has been one of my biggest sources of joy throughout the pandemic, as we encourage one another whether or not there’s anything specific to discuss. The collaborative energy of TMAL is the closest I’ve felt to when I was a kid, knocking on the neighbour’s door to see if anyone wanted to come out and play.
At the outset, TMAL was a lofty initiative with a summer schedule full of activities led by experienced volunteers, like mountain-biking excursions, canoe trips, and hikes along the Bruce Trail. After months of planning, team leads held a meeting where we proudly presented our “first season” of activities, with all the exciting plans we had slated for the year ahead.
The date of that meeting was February 23, 2020.
So yes, we pivoted. After COVID-19 blew up our plans, the expectations for TMAL fell, but it didn’t kill the idea at its heart. One could speculate that those lowered expectations helped us get to where we are today.
The pandemic made all of us vulnerable in different ways and suddenly, things like group chats and small outdoor gatherings were the only lifelines many of us could grab onto. Slowly but surely, TMAL began to take off, and with it, different ways of relating and encountering our rapidly changing surroundings.
As time goes on, the motivations in the group have deepened beyond just having fun outside.
The group connects using a WhatsApp group chat, which was initially created as a tool to streamline information regarding events, and ensure that anyone interested in participating could access that information. What has ended up happening, due to the isolation and restrictions of COVID-19, is that the group has actually become the community in a sense.
While it is a place to dream up new adventures, share routes and meet-up markers, it has also developed into a group of people who bond over our shared love for all things nature. If there is a particularly beautiful skyscape, or the full moon is rising, you can count on a fulsome photo dump in the chat of folks sharing their take of the sight.
This is also a place where questions get thrown out about gear, trails to try, tips, and connecting over mutual niche interests. Most recently the chat lit up over various photos of moss and fungi that members had encountered, as we collectively reacted with emojis of awe and guesses at identification: Wow! Is that Chicklet of the Woods? Hmm not sure, I think it could be Turkey Tail.
Many of us agree that the TMAL community and chat have been a diamond in the rough of this pandemic; at such an isolating time for so many, a group of strangers came together over a shared love of the outdoors, and established a community that would carry us in ways we hadn’t expected.
While outdoor activity is what we do, so much of what makes TMAL special is this idea of collective care: for nature, for our city, and for community – ours, and those we participate in beyond this one. In addition to meeting up for hikes, bike rides, or morning coffee outside, there are so many other calls to gather.
A message will be sent out that someone in the group is playing a show that night, and a number of us show up to support them, bringing other friends from our circles alongside. Someone will post in the chat that they are heading to City Hall to participate in a protest, or that they’re looking for company at the Gage Park concert in solidarity with encampment support efforts. A list of items needed by folks sleeping rough gets circulated, and a number of us get in touch to do a trip around the city collecting sleeping bags, clothing, and supplies.
TMAL was created not for a reason to escape the city, but to increase our sense of home here – with a shared understanding of and responsibility toward how it is home to others as well.
Meredith Park lives in Durand neighbourhood; you can find her fixing bikes and teaching workshops at New Hope Community Bikes, exploring the local rail trails, or at home cooking something good and listening to the jazz station
Claire Peace also lives in Durand; you can find her wandering and wondering along treelines and shorelines, alike, but you’re most likely to hear her laughing out loud, usually at her own jokes and expense; she believes in community care and she believes in Hamilton