Freezing cold air numbs my fingers, and I finally donned some soft gloves today. I thought the bright sun beckoned me outdoors, but the cheery skies laughed at the shock I felt when winter’s winds buffeted me while I stood outside in just my sweatpants and sweatshirt. My cat braved the bright cold to watch the deer as they made their way down to the partially frozen creek, but my cat wears fur. Since fur isn’t “in” these days, I decided to wander back inside. I stood on the back deck long enough to feel my lungs and throat seared by the frigid air. I gave up far more quickly than my heat-loving cat.
Winter’s cold has a way of ushering me indoors. I’m thrilled to find myself at the end of the day next to a roaring fire and yelling out wrong answers to Jeopardy, or binge watching a show. Which isn’t truly a binge, since my husband can sit for two episodes at most. Then we listen to vintage music or shove our noses in books. I’d like to think I pair a glass of wine with the wending way of words in my pile of novels, but the reality of wasted calories factors in. Chocolate and cream in my coffee matter more.
How do those of us who dwell within reach of winter’s embrace find happiness in the endless sullen clouds, the snows that fall and must be shoveled again, and where a run outdoors is almost considered dangerous? Look to the Swedes. They live in months of darkness, with cold seeping into their veins, and they’re happy. Swedes commit to the cold and practice a form of coziness, hygge. It’s the latest in loving winter, but they’re truly onto something.
When I lived in upstate New York the snows sometimes came up over my head, and we shoveled down our cereal just to be out in the glittering sunlight to build a fort. When my parents moved back there during my university years, I bought some skis and went skiing. My family decided to join me on these forays into powder and moguls, where all we worried about was shoving off of the ski lift without falling down. I went cross country skiing with a friend, and when we figured out that we had taken the wrong trail, or maybe it wasn’t a trail at all, we laughed so hard at our novice skiing efforts on the nonexistent trail.
We had to ford a swollen creek in those long skis. My friend and I finally abandoned our skis and hoofed it back to the chalet to hand in our rented equipment. My boyfriend (now husband) took the cross country skis out one dark night where the shy stars peeked out between the clouds as they passed. Looking up we marveled at the wonder of dark skies, bright new snow, and quiet, almost holy moments.
Winter is jolly, rushed, and full of celebrations in December, so the real test of our mettle comes in the long months that follow. My inclinations these days is to stay tucked up in a cocoon of soft blankets, with scalding hot coffee at hand, and burrow in deep as I sit by the fire. But winter has a magic that begs to be discovered by us. The Swedes make a point of going outdoors to collect items from nature such as rocks, feathers, sticks or moss to bring inside and use as decor. They also light up the darkness with bright white lights in windows and in the house.
If we took a cue from the people who enjoy winter and remain happy despite the cold and dark, we can hold onto ribbons of bliss.
Tonight I read about a challenge where a person commits to hiking at least one mile fifty-two times in one year. I have to ask my husband if he’d like to join my on a hike every week, and we’d have to start this week since we’re behind already, but what a unique way to get people out of their homes on dull winter days. Soon enough we’ll be posting about walks in the rain and hikes in the steamy hot days that refuse to release their heat. For now, though, this hiking challenge sounds like something the Swedes would try, and I’ll throw in searching for a beautiful pine cone.
Our bodies were made to move. After a day or night of work the last thing most of us want to do is head out for a walk. Plus the older you are, the easier it is to fall into the habit of hibernating. There are no kid’s basketball games to see, no swimming lessons to attend, and no book club due to covid. Listlessness is easy. Complacency looks alluring, but playing cribbage while drinking herbal tea or a wee dram of whiskey is better than relentless, mindless shows on tv.
I think we’ll feel better if we do commit to braving the cold and embracing it.
When I lived in very cold Wisconsin, I watched the frost crawl up my bedroom wall in horror. The temperature hovered at -25 degrees. That cold welcomed us in our first year of Wisconsin living, but we adapted to the frozen months and accepted them.
My husband and I both took up running, since we were too poor to join a gym, and we’d run in almost any weather. I did take a nice four-miler in a blizzard, and my husband would run in every cold possible. Nothing daunted him, though -10 stared my in the face, and I backed down. The main point is changing our perspective and our position. Join in and skate outdoors, make snow angels, shovel a neighbor’s driveway. Find a leaf or feather to bring indoors to your winter collection.
The people I met when I lived in Wisconsin were friendly and hardy. One soul-chilling Saturday evening when the thermometer hovered at another night of -25, I asked my roommates what we were going to do since walking over a mile to the bars wasn’t going to happen. They looked at me as if I had sprung antlers out of the sides of my head! They were going to walk downtown fortified by some strong liquor and heavy coats; staying in would never be an option, so I dressed cute (no heels, because it was too cold for that at least) like Madonna, guzzled some scorching liquor that drew heat into my chest and head out for a long walk in the gloom of yet another dreary night with no starlight.
Just being out in that awful penetrating cold with my funny friends made me realize attitude is everything. We laughed our way downtown and made our way into our bar, since most students had a certain bar they hung out in for most of the night. We chucked our parkas at the door and sure enough the place was packed with all our friends. Nobody in Wisconsin is afraid of the cold, and they celebrate almost anything to bring light and laughter to a long season of frozen days.
I’m not advocating swilling down shots of booze as a way to lighten your mood. Those days are behind me, and I didn’t guzzle, even when my roomies did. I usually ordered a dry martini and nursed the drink for an hour or so, hoping some guy would buy the next one. Hey, I didn’t have much spending money!
The point is we can choose to like winter or hate every single day of this season, but what good is that? My friend laments the cold here, which isn’t honestly that cold, and she talks about moving to Fiji. I just discovered she wears a battery-operated coat that heats her coat up nicely, so in my eyes she is set. I could have used that heater in my coat when I’d leave the school library at midnight, but there’s something about bravery that lifts the spirits.
Staring down the dark and cold take courage of a certain sort. If we balanced our weeks to include hikes on a trail or around our city, if we huddle under our softest blanket, if we sip hot tea and read the words of a book that delights us, then we’ll be happy. Make your home, your space, a place of warmth, even if it is from a space heater. Place a pile of magazines or books next to your sofa or bed and luxuriate in words.
I know this is crazy long, but this is one last tidbit I wanted to share with you. In Germany one day I stayed in my hotel room, because I wasn’t feeling so great. I placed a Do Not Disturb hanger on my doorknob, and the cleaners still came in. They cleaned around me in my bed, and they opened up a window even though the day was brisk. Germans like to open up the windows in their houses and apartments once a month, no matter what, to freshen up their homes. I understand that. Even winter air is fresh and clean with a scent no other season possesses. Open your window. Just a crack or so. Grow used to fresh air, and don’t be afraid of the cold. Enjoy it.
I hope you look up and memorize one constellation that isn’t the Big Dipper or Orion. Winter brings very dark nights just ripe for spotting planets and stars. I’ll be looking up. I hope you do, too.
I’m wishing you all the happiness your heart can hold.
Until next time