It’s been a long winter.
Our first snowfall came just in time for Halloween, and has stuck around until spring. Throw in some -40 windchills around Christmas and a few 8-foot blizzards in February and we had ourselves a good old-fashioned winter, the kind I remember as a little girl, with no 50 degree weeks in January or February rain. Just snow, and cold, and quiet.
I love winter: the silence, the clean feeling of a fresh snow. I love strapping on my snowshoes and having whole sections of the Superior Hiking Trail to myself, and snuggling up by the woodstove with a book after. I love stacking and bringing in firewood: the wholesome act of exerting energy and having it be for something. There’s something deeply satisfying about having activity being naturally integrated into other necessities of life, like staying warm.
I love how people in Cook County love winter: I suppose if you live this far north you have to. When I lived in Wisconsin, though, I sort of dreaded winter. Complaining about winter seemed to be some sort of state pastime, like between the months of December and March everyone got this free pass to be as vocally ornery as they pleased. In my opinion, if you live in the Midwest, you should make the most out of winter or move…but that’s just me.
But along the North Shore, where we love our snowshoeing, skiing, dog sledding, ice climbing, skijoring, curling, hockey, winter camping (yes, you read that right), and basically any activity you can fathom that uses snow or ice, winter becomes fun. And to be honest, being around people who approach winter positively has made all the difference in how I see this season.
Positivity has been on my mind lately, not as a luxury or an ideal, but as a necessity. Somehow in these last few months my health has taken an unexplained nosedive, limiting my ability to work, write, hike, or really do anything more strenuous than sleep for half the day. I haven’t been able to keep up with most anything I’d like to do (including contribute to this blog), but being housebound has given me time to think, albeit foggy, fragmented thoughts. But even scattered thoughts have shown me how, when you’re sick long-term like this, thinking positively is sometimes the only thing you can do to make your days bearable, let alone enjoyable.
As I was leaving the doctor’s the other day, I ended up behind a car with one of those stickers that says “Wag more, bark less.” Normally I don’t take life advice from bumper sticker tropes, but maybe because I was in need of a happy thought (or because I recently adopted a dog), this one stood out like it were in flashing neon letters. Our world is so full of barking–from the bloodbaths of Facebook and Twitter to the seeming inability of adults to discuss a nuanced topic without it becoming a partisan anger fest. We all fancy ourselves as vigilantes with the one correct view that will save the world…if only we can scream or snark our opinions into other people’s heads. But what is it all good for?
I believe in being kind to people. I believe in standing with the hurting, the abused. I believe in generosity and love and noticing when someone is sad. I believe in looking up even if everyone else is looking down. I believe that acts of kindness within a community, within relationships, are what will change people, and that moments spent online, on concepts and problems that I will never change, are moments wasted. Moments that could be spent calling a family member, engaging with the person sitting across from me, snuggling with my dog, even thinking of the things I’m thankful for. Wagging more, barking less.
After school got out the other day, I ventured onto Artist’s Point. The sun shone warm on my skin, and sent the retreating snow piles cascading down the rocks in newly made streams. The waves rolled in happily from a sea of imperial blue. I could smell the rocks and lake again. And as I sat there next to that mammoth lake, under the endless sky, I saw once again the reassuring truth of how small and insignificant I was. One small piece of the big, big picture.
I’m not big enough to change the big, or even medium-sized picture. Heck, if you’re into the whole ranting-about-politics-on-Facebook-thing I don’t think this post will change your thoughts on the habit. But I can change me. I can change my thoughts, change my habits of kindness, change how I spend my limited energy. I can wag more and bark less or live and let live or whatever catchphrase fits the picture.
Spring is lovely, but winter is beautiful too, made even more so by seeing it positively. I suppose the same can be said about life.