Surviving and Thriving in Winter

Surviving WinterMy wife and I currently make our home in northern New York, minutes from Lake Ontario.  Our region is known for what may be charitably called robust winters.  I did not grow up here but my better half did.  This winter reminds her of the winters she remembered as normal, growing up in the 70’s and 80’s.

Winter can be a very challenging time for people.  It’s not just that the cold climes cost more (fuel bills), but the combination of low temps, lack of sunlight due to shorter days, and midwinter doldra tend to really take it out of people.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real physiological and psychological condition.  The shorter days combined with the lack of sunshine due to precipitation (particularly acute if you live near a large body of water) issue in lower amounts of Vitamin D and lack of endorphin and dopamine that we derive from sunlight.  It’s a tough time for lots of people.

I have zero patience for those who say “just get over it” (or other useless crappy platitudes like this) regarding mid-winter blues.  Zero patience.  This stuff is real.  Medical and mental health professionals are well aware of it.  Those who make light of it are fools, pure and simple.

I’ve lived in this region that experiences long and, at times, difficult winters.  And I’ve learned a few things about surviving and thriving in the cold and snowy portions of our year.  Here are a few:

  • Supplement your diet with Vitamin D.  We get this naturally from sunlight, but when sunlight is rare, you must make up for what the sun cannot give you.
  • Pay particular attention to those around you.  My wife is very positive and for that I am very thankful.  But my routine can bring me into contact with people who are not as positive.  Cynicism, sarcasm, trash-talk, etc. are all unedifying as a rule.  But it presents us with larger challenges during difficult seasons.  Avoid negative human beings as much as humanly possible.  Period.  It’s about surviving and you cannot thrive if you listen to those who want to sink your boat.
  • Eat well.  It’s easy when feeling down to indulge your sweet tooth with stuff loaded with sugar or cheap carbs.  Avoid.  You feel good…for about an hour.  Then you’ll feel worse.  Winter is the best time to make sure you eat healthy.
  • Listen to stuff that gives you energy and an uplift.  I have loved film scores for years.  But in times like these, it’s jazz and rock and roll that help keep me sane.  Stuff that feeds melancholy not only does not work; it’s counter-productive.  Same goes for learning and input.  I value people like Brian Tracy, Seth Godin, Tony Robbins and pastor Bill Johnson immensely in times like these.
  • Remember, winter is limited.  It has a terminus.  We’re only 33 days from spring.  This season will end—just a matter of time.
  • The heavy precipitation is important, though a pain.  It helps keep the water table high (you have to live near friends whose wells run dry to appreciate this).

What kinds of winter survival tips can you share?  We’re all ears!

Image Credit

The Spell of the Yukon

Spell of the YukonThere is snow on all the trees in my hamlet this evening.  The ground is insulated with over a foot of new, white powder.  Winter has finally arrived.  There is something about the cold that is at once frightening and peaceful. There are few things that invigorate the soul like walking at night with the chill, Arctic air in your face.  You move forward, face to the wind, keeping the pace.

This poem by Robert Service describes both the pursuit of gold that drew men into the cold to seek their fortunes, and the rugged Yukon.  Somehow the seeking and struggle ended up being more valuable to these sturdy men than the precious metal.  Stillness, chill, perspective, and peace.

The Law of the Yukon

I wanted the gold, and I sought it,
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy — I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it –
Came out with a fortune last fall, –
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth — and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer — no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness –
O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ‘em good-by — but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight — and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell! — but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite –
So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

Image Credit

Perspective and Its Healing Properties

“Life is difficult.”

Really?

Thus begins M. Scott Peck’s excellent book, The Road Less Traveled.  Peck then makes the strong point that a good deal of our unhappiness is rooted in an unrealistic expectation—namely, that life should be Heaven on Earth.  Utopia.  Grey Havens.  Shangri-la.  We tend to expect life to be problem-free and then are upended when life poses challenges.  Lots of them.

A wrong perspective about life in a fallen world is a setup for disillusionment and unhappiness.  Unrealistically, we expect life to be trouble-free.  But it need not be that way.

One of the things I love about flying is sitting 30,000 feet above the ground, looking out the window and realizing just how small we all are and how big the world is.  It puts things in perspective.  In the valley you don’t see the lay of the land the way you do from the mountain top.

I’m learning that a proper perspective about anything has a healing quality about it.  As a Christian, I believe we live in a world that was marred when man first chose to disobey his Creator.  A fallen world.  God essentially told Adam that, as a result of his disobedience, “life is going to be difficult from now on.”  You can read about that in Genesis 3.  But even in the difficulty, God promised meaning and His presence.

Perspective: Working in a sometimes tedious job may try your patience and sanity, but not having a job is far worse.  Just ask the millions of Americans out of work.

Perspective: Winter snow and cold may be inconvenient here in northern New York, but it does help insulate the ground and homes as well as replenish the water table.  That’s more important than you know.  Just ask people in states and countries ravaged by drought.

Perspective: Teenage drama may drive you at times to distraction but you at least have teenagers to drive you there.  Just ask the parents of an 18-year-old princess who died in a tragic car accident just miles from here a few months ago.  Her family and friends—my two daughters among them—grieve a beautiful, promising life cut short almost before it began.

In a few weeks, I will again get that sense of perspective as I will be on a plane headed west to see my youngest daughter.  I look forward to seeing once again how small we are.  It has a way of putting to bed things that won’t matter four months–or four years–from now.

The next time you’re tempted to despair and frustration, remember that life is difficult.  But it’s these difficulties that teach us to solve problems and have something really valuable to give to a world in pain.

Image Credit

The Spell Of The Yukon

There is ice on all the trees in my hamlet this evening.  Winter has finally arrived.  Well, sort of.  There’s something about the cold that is at once frightening and peaceful.  Walking at night with the Arctic wind in your face.  But you move forward, keeping the pace.

This poem by Robert Service describes both the pursuit of gold that drew men into the cold to seek their fortune and the rugged Yukon.  Somehow the seeking and struggle ended up being more valuable to these sturdy men than the precious metal.  Stillness, chill, perspective and peace.

I wanted the gold, and I sought it,
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy — I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it —
Came out with a fortune last fall, —
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth — and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer — no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness —
O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ’em good-by — but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight — and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell! — but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite —
So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

Winter Solstice

It’s the Winter solstice.  The shortest day of the year.  The longest night.  The beginning of Winter.

The days now start getting longer.

Spring is only 89 days away.

Santa gets here in 3 days.

Christmas brings an extra day or two off from work.

Added bonus: It is unseasonably warm and green here in the Northern Hemisphere on the St. Lawrence River.  (Did I mention Spring is coming?)

Time to set goals!  What are yours for the next year? Five years? Ten years?

Winter Nights On Foot

I like to take walks in the country, preferably after dark.  I live in a country village and can set out in any one of half a dozen different directions and be out past houses and street lights rapidly.  I prefer it that way.

I usually walk about two miles, sometimes more.  I never carry a flashlight.  There are few houses, so virtually no other light but the light of the moon.  Or the snow, which has a way of lighting up the air on a really dark night.

My wife thinks I’m brave and a little crazy.  I go out without a cellphone or a weapon.  Out where the wildlife is—deer, rabbits, coyotes and unchained dogs.  I usually bring a walking stick, the same one I’ve had since 1986.  I keep time like a drummer.

I’m especially fond of walking in winter.  The bitter cold is a challenge.  And the stillness touches something deep inside me.  No crickets, few cars and no iPod.  One can stop for long periods of time and listen to the wind.  It’s my time to think, air out and pray.  Get some exercise.  And perspective

This is one of my favorite poems, penned by Robert Frost.  It reminds me of such winter nights.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.