Friday, January 23, 2009

for the love of cold

Time for the weather report. It's cold out folks. Bonecrushing cold. The kind of cold which will wrench the spirit out of a young man, or forge it into steel.

(Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure: Lost and Found, 1992

There’s something exhilarating about cold, real cold, the kind of cold that freezes your nostrils and forms tiny icicles on your eyelids, that nips at your flesh, penetrating the layers of fleece and polyester and Smartwool. It is at once energizing and humbling: it reminds us that nature is both a blessing and a force.

Last weekend, my friend Pete and I set out for the DeDominicis trail in Cheshire at 8:00 am, when the thermometer said the temperature was minus-five. Before we had even reached the trailhead, which is about a mile and a quarter from my house, the wisps of hair that had made their way outside the balaclava I was sporting had become white and hard, and my teeth were so cold that conversation was nearly impossible. My feet, still warm thanks to the miracles of Gore-tex and merino wool, seemed to stick to the ground with each step, and my breath came in short, sharp gasps.

I admit that none of this sounds especially enjoyable or pleasurable. Yet, as we trudged up and down (mostly up, or so it felt!) the snow-covered hills, less packed down than we had hoped, our quads burning from the effort, I felt alive, really and truly alive. Having lived, albeit briefly, in the cold climes of Anchorage, Alaska and Burlington, Vermont, I had come to think of Connecticut as mild, disappointingly so. My heavy thermals rarely have occasion to leave the bin of cold weather clothing under my bed. My down jacket comes out two or three times a year. As a result, I felt my own spirit had become domesticated. I would shiver when the temperature dipped below forty. I would lament my “tame” geographic location (much to the irritation of friends and family, who have had more than enough of my complaining, and of my nostalgia). Now here was Mother Nature in her essence, showing us that she could flex her biceps even here in southern New England. And while I embraced the challenge of working my muscles in the arctic air, I also bowed to the power of Nature.

Such a deranged view of cold is probably a result of my obsession with Alaska, a place to which I still feel drawn. Alaska, for me, was a personal challenge, a test of physical and emotional will. While my time there was too short, I emerged a more complete person, more confident, more awake, more aware. This is the gift of adversity, be it in the form of weather, exercise, tragedy, distress, illness, or emotional duress.

Blow, blow thou winter wind;
Thou art not so unkind. . . .
(William Shakespeare)

1 comment:

e-e baby said...

Last weekend I had to deliver a waffle iron to my church... it was howling a gale, but not that cold so I decided to walk over. I love to walk when there is a destination! It was sunny-gorgeous anyway. I love being outside in the wind and the cold too.

London was beautiful in its own way, but REAL WINTER is true and hardy. It kills the mosquitoes but it also kills off the lazy melancholies of summer. Snow on through!