It’s winter in Michigan, where I live. It’s been winter for some time now. It seems it’s been winter for longer than it’s ever been winter before at this time of year. I’ve been cold. I’ve been cranky. I walk stooped over, trying to cup my meager body heat toward my exposed nose and cheeks. Granted, I’m living with less insulation these days. Without extra body fat, with extra age, I’ve been leaking tolerance for the cold, for the snow, for winter.
I used to have enough northern-girl stamina to hold on until at least mid-March, but this year, my cold tolerance gave out by the third week of January. My warm weather fantasies have wandered much farther than Florida. They involve equatorial expatriation. A new language. A new identity. A new name. Meanwhile I’m more introverted, holed-up, irritable than usual.
Feeling as hollow-eyed and slime-pastey as Gollum, I whine to a friend of mine who rolls her eyes and suggests something really stupid: “You have to go out and play in the snow.”
Yeah, right. A silly non-sequitur. Clearly she hadn’t been listening. I repeated the problem. “See, I’m COLD. I’m CHAPPED. I can’t STAND BEING COLD ANYMORE,” I repeat, slowly, with emphasis because clearly she hadn’t been paying attention the first time.
“Yeah,” she says, just as patiently, “You need to PLAY in the SNOW. You definitely should try ski skating.”
I smiled at the youngster, shook my head, and backed slowly away. Some people you just can’t talk to.
And then one day I was snowed in (don’t get me started on my husband’s insistence on hand-shoveling the driveway when there are people around who have actual plows mounted on actual trucks and know how to use them), and trading email with a friend (probably with a plow service) who was stuck in a meeting. He suggested I head out cross-country skiing, that the trails near me were great, the powder would be perfect.
Now, this wasn’t some insane kid suggesting this. Here was a friend approaching his sixth decade, a survivor, and notoriously fit person, among my more sane-ish friends. No, I explained that my skis were broken, or my boots were torn, or something was wrong with my equipment. There must have been something wrong with my equipment, because I haven’t been skiing in 15 years or so.
But I hadn’t moved in days and needed to do something. The snow was coming down heavily, but the temperature was reasonable. I went to the garage to find out just what state my equipment was in.
Other than being ancient, cobwebby, mildewy and maybe one boot a little mouse-inhabited, there really wasn’t anything wrong with my gear. I cleaned it up, bundled up, and headed out. After a quarter of an hour fussing with goggles and mittens, gators and layers, I began to move. Though a bit wobbly at first, I remained upright. And my old fish-scale-bottomed skiis from the late 70s wouldn’t run away from me or force me to go faster than my brain and body could manage.
I cut a half mile of trail starting from my house to a little wooded park, then tottered around the perfectly silent woods for a spell before heading back. The snow fell heavily and quietly, and I had the park and its low-bowing branches, its birds and deer to myself. All in all I was outside in the heavy quiet snow for 45 minutes, moving the whole time, but not killing myself. Peeling layers as I went, removing head gear, finally. I wasn’t freezing. I was more than warm. Much toastier than when I’ve tried to walk in the winter. Much happier gliding above the snow than trying to walk through it.
At home, I peeled off clothes that were soaked and heavy with sweat. And for the next four hours, for the first time all winter, I was warm enough. I was plenty warm. I didn’t require two wool sweaters, long underwear, woolly slippers, hot tea, a fire and a comforter to comfort me. I could just sit around, normally clothed, feeling fine.
I reported back to my girlfriend. “Yeah, but you really need to try ski-skating,” says she.
Another buddy bequeathed her old snow shoes to me, and a pair for hubby too. We used them last weekend to make the dogs jealous as we walked above the banks along a stream while they slogged, chest-deep behind us. We finally had to give them a break, go back home. This is a good sport for us, one where slowness and awkwardness are masked by the naturally slow and awkward gait that snowshoes enforce on people. We were made for this sport. And we were warm. We came back in and let the fire die out.
“Yeah but you’d really like ski-skating,” says my young friend.
I’m starting to think she’s may just have a point. I’m starting to think I may survive this winter after all. See, what you have to do is go out and PLAY in the SNOW.