Winter is tough. Last week when we received our first grass-covering snowfall, I was reminded of the season’s complications.
It was a heavy, wet snow that laid its sodden burdens on anything that wasn’t indoors or under cover. My car, for instance, was smothered from grille to bumper in the frozen mass. I scraped it off with a hedonistic stoicism that ultimately led to numb fingers, wet socks and soaked jacket cuffs. Inside, my seats, seized in rigor mortis, were unresponsive to my body’s most vigorous warming wiggles.
Pulling away from my apartment in my car, I assessed the road conditions: Humped and jagged snow slush grooves stretched along the asphalt like a topographic map. I ended up being late to my appointment. The snow (ignoring, for the time being, my poor time management) was to blame. I comforted myself by believing I got better gas mileage on the icy roads, since their frictional properties were reduced.
This is not an easy season to love. Winter, generally speaking, is anything but convenient. The season makes our lives colder, less-efficient and is the source of Seasonal Affective Disorder, with the unfortunate acronym of SAD. Winter is hard, yes, but there is no season that makes me feel more alive.
Winter assaults the senses. While this fact might make some hate winter, it is the quality that makes me love it. I feel this love most when I’m exercising my body: skiing, hiking, running or biking. So, with last week’s first snow, I pulled on my thick wool socks and ran through Victory Park.
My mustache wore a speckled layer of frost. My fingertips went cold and tingly. After a few miles, when my pumping heart made my core and brain safe and warm, there was a painful thawing out as blood finally reached my extremities. I imagined my body’s inner workings on the run. The capillaries widen and swell as fat, red blood cells bum-rush to the muscles. I imagined my tendons stretching like a wad of taffy at a county fair getting stretched long, thin and loose.
I run to feel what my body does best: pump blood, stride forward, convert oxygen into sugar. When that fails, produce a drug that makes me feel happy to keep me coming back, again and again, a junkie holding out for more.
I breathed in cold air, and I like to imagine it froze any cold germs living in my airways. Winter breath sanitizes. Like a scrubber on a coal-fired power plant, the snow seemed to have cleansed the air of at least some of its impurities, leaving it sweet, as if the snow had somehow made more room for oxygen in the air. Puffs of breath became quick-dispersing clouds of water vapor. Maybe if it were colder, the puffs would freeze into snow, filling in my footsteps as I ran.
The snow padded the landscape, bringing everything in a little closer. I recognized new shades of color and flashes of movement against the snow’s reflected opulence. Cedar waxwings flashed their yellow-tipped tails. Snowy tracks showed a crime scene. A fox squirrel’s scampering steps, the wing-swept snow of a red-tailed hawk and the spot of blood telling me who won.
In some ways, all of this is nothing too special. The body’s contrasting sensations of warmth and cold, the sweet and sanitizing air, the accentuation of colors—it’s a fairly mundane set of experiences. These mundane experiences, though, are qualities we all have access to. They supply us with some of the most available forms of beauty and vitality. They are, I think, essential to who we are.
Henry David Thoreau said in Walden that he went to his cabin at Walden Pond to “front only the most essential facts of life.”
Good for him. For those of us who don’t have two years and a log cabin on a private lake to devote to self-realization, perhaps there is another way we can “front only the most essential facts of life.” You need not leave your home. You might just need to step outside. Snow helps.
Do not only endure winter. Embrace it. Instagram the crap out of this snowy world. Feel the pain of cold and the relief of warmth. Enjoy the winter, you special snowflake you.