In my small triangle of Ontario, we have been awarded a new colour code in the continuum of pandemic restrictions. Our compliant behaviour and ascetic lifestyle have earned us privileges. Masked and sanitized, keeping our hockey stick distances, we have been granted two services critical to my well being. We may now avail ourselves of the pleasures of ski hills and hair salons.

Folding back into our ski community has been fun and chaotic. Our car is now a ski locker, boot locker, change room and snack bar. There is a high risk of arriving at the hill missing a helmet, goggles, neck gator, or even one ski boot. We quickly develop revised checklists predeparture.

Having suited up, tightened our boots and snapped into our bindings, we clamour over to the growing cluster of shapes on the flat at the top of the ski run. New ski jackets, faces cloaked in googles and masks, I struggle to identify the winter zombies. The voices are critical to determining familiarity. The excited chatter and shifting groupings are testaments to our social deprivation. The white snow, etched with tracks invites me to the edge of the slope. The bright orange netting along each side of the hill a reminder to monitor my speed and finish my turns. I want to ski to where the snowy horizon meets the blue sky. The pitch draws me like a magnet. I break away from the crowd and point my skis down the hill. I yearn for a mask with a wide smile on it.

My long overdue hair colour and cut is a precious appointment in my calendar. I arrive with a helmet flattened, unwashed mass of uneven curls. I am embarrassed to admit to the DYI bangs and hair trim. The chemical scents of the salon are muted by the mask. The mammoth jar of sanitizer on a stool at the door a reminder not to relax. Too much.

Unlike the snippets of conversations — bullets of information uttered on the ski hill, the conversation in the salon is a gentle undulating circle. I tuck into an empty chair around the dark wooden table strewn with last years fashion and hairstyle magazines. Sheila, the new assistant, tucks a towel into my turtle neck and fastens the black cloak around my neck. To my right Lisa is neatly folding hair strands into squares of foil; painting the strands of hair with a viscous coating of hair dye. I’m next. I join in the discussion about the re-opening of the ski hills. The arrival of the red and grey zone interlopers. We all agree that allowing access to winter sports in our region will put our low Covid counts at risk. And then there’s the variant . . .

Another woman enters the unfolding scene. She has arrived with a large cardboard box stamped with pictures of Dole bananas on it. I watched her pull up in front of the salon and wrestle it from the back seat of her car  — wondering what it was. She sets it on a bench inside the front door, flips open the top and offers sandwiches to us. Premade and encased in hard plastic clamshells. She insists I take a couple back home for my husband. The salon owner has assured her that he is a lovely man. He’ll love the tuna on whole wheat. Finished with the sandwich distribution, she settles into the last empty chair around the table.

Now a baby, draped over Lisa’s shoulder, emerges from the room behind the louvred doors at the back of the salon. Max is three weeks old, the third child of the owner. And Lisa’s grandson. He is presented to us around the table. His perfect cherub face and bright eyes non-plussed by our deranged tangle of foiled hair and masked cooing. He is breastfed and burped before his mother hands him off so she can do a haircut. The talk morphs into childbirth, sleep deprivation, and midwives. The sandwich lady turns out to be a retired teacher. She remembers the names, temperaments, and talents of the now-grown children of the new assistant, Sheila. Everyone has a story. Everyone has time.

The socializing on the ski hill, the adrenalin rush of the steep pitch, the science of the pole plant and turn, create a surge of joyful energy. There is an undercurrent of speed and urgency. This is my familiar, my community, my sport.

The energy flow in the salon grants me a welcome and necessary shift. We are our undone selves, seated in black capes, masked, with our hair tortured and askew. Stripped of external facades, we chat spontaneously. There is a current of connection as we rejoice in our return to the salon. Compliments are plentiful as the scissors work their magic and soft volumes of style emerge from the round brush wielded with expertise. We exit the sacred space with confidence, flair, and new friendships. And sandwiches. It is regenerative.

                                               At least, that is my experience.