the long month of february

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Contrary to the simplistic assertions of the calendar, February is, in fact, the longest month of the year. Ask any Michigander.

The cold, the snow, and the dearth of sunshine conspire to thwart our typical notion of time. Where once life carried on with abandon, now the terrain is silent, stark, and foreboding. The snow is piled up into formidable mountains under heavy, grey skies. The short days of winter are long and wearying.

Rarely does the sun emerge from behind those walls of gray clouds to beckon us to venture forth. It’s cold. Really cold. All the time.

Precious few dare a walk or run. It’s a lonely endeavor. Still, for some of us, there’s an instinct that compels us get out, to move one’s limbs, to feel the whole arc of our selves.

Sidewalks are generally a thing of the past, of course. Where folks made the effort and actually did clear their sidewalks, those turn out to be the most treacherous stretches for walking anyway – they have turned into unmaintainable ice sheets.

As a result, one walks or runs in the road, and at their peril. The roads themselves leave little space for a pedestrian. The snow and the ice encroach on the traveled portion of the pavement, forcing one to be wary and nimble, always prepared to negotiate oncoming traffic. It’s a sketchy endeavor.

It’s actually not strange to be forced to stop now and then just to figure out how to get from one point to another, like across a street. There may be such an amalgamation of dicey ice and snow mountains and traffic that it demands to be puzzled out in advance. Sometimes, the best course of action is actually to turn around and go back.

Nevertheless, those of us committed to walking or running persist. It remains, always, uplifting to get out into the air, if frigid. To see the trees, to hear the birds and be amazed by them. To spy the squirrels, still about their business somehow. To observe the dark river push its way through the stark landscape, sometimes carrying icy chunks. To feel the freedom of movement in space. To simply allow one’s mind to relax and expand beyond the confines of indoors.

I admit to feeling restricted to walking. The roadways are just too unpredictable and hazardous for me to feel safe running. And I am anxious to run. I need to run. I have considered an indoor track, but I yearn for the outdoor one. It’s how I feel whole.

Regardless of my petty needs, the reality is that February just carries on. And on, and on, and on.

I know, however, how these long, bleak days finally transform, making the wait somehow worth it. The little clues begin to show themselves before spring arrives and revives all of the life of this strange, harsh, sleeping world. Then, the long month of February becomes a fleeting illusion, a dream half-forgotten on waking.

It won’t be long. The calendar is proof of that.

winter challenges: food and running

veru12_7_18-e1544183475255.jpgAll summer long, salad sat at the center of my eating patterns. I mean, you can pretty much throw anything in a salad, after all, and it works. It’s nutritious and tastes great.

Summer did not involve a whole lot of effort going into cooking anything, except for pasta, grains, and the occasional veggie burger.

Then, snow and ice arrived, and it seemed that my whole palate changed.

When I came in from outside, all bundled up and still cold, the thought of making a salad made me shiver. I just wanted to warm up.

The greens began to wither in the fridge as my food thoughts ranged to all things warm, like the vegan meatloaf  I wrote about here – the perfect winter comfort fix.

Chili quickly became a go-to meal. Vegan mac and cheese became an imperative. Lasagne became compelling.

Comforting, filling food took center stage. I wanted stuff I could cook ahead, too, since all I wanted to do at the close of the shockingly short daylight hours was curl up in a blanket.

That whole shorter day thing turned out to be problematic in other ways, too. Along with the snow and ice, it quickly became harder to make myself get out there for my runs. After breaking my shoulder a couple of years ago, I found myself very reluctant to run in the dark, and it’s pretty hard to find time during the day.

veru12_7_18bSo I was into this winter mode of operation – slowing down and filling up – just long enough to notice how it makes me feel different. I don’t like it, either.

I’ve been feeling kind of sluggish and full and sleepy and uncomfortable and like being a couch potato. This is not my style.

Worse, this whole winter thing is just barely getting started. We’ve got months to go.

As I sat and listened to an acquaintance the other day discussing his two heart attacks, diabetes, and various hospitalizations, it occurred to me that I need to be proactive about my unhealthy winter stagnation and feeding tendencies.

The first thing I did was bring salad back. I need my salads. I missed my salads. Comfort food is great in small doses, but salad has to be the main dish for me.

I also did a reset on my hydration, which I realized had become reduced to pretty much anything warm – coffee, tea. I’m back to drinking water in more summerish quantities.

Running is more problematic. I am an outside runner – that is how I get zen. Nevertheless, I may have to resort to using the local indoor track if it’s too frickin’ cold or messy or dark out. This is hard for me to do.

On the weekends, I can make my outdoor runs work – or at least walks or hikes, which is fine if that’s all I manage. The point is to keep moving all through the winter.

I’d like to remain on the move at least five days a week, even if it’s shorter distances than I’m used to.

Since my running is hampered, I can give more love to core and strength exercises. Something to shoot for anyway. Maybe even break down and return to yoga.

Given my current couch potato frame of mind, this is actually a pretty challenging agenda. It’s so important, though, for my physical as well as my mental/emotional well-being.

Wish me luck. Brrrr.

storm warnings

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After our balmy weekend temperatures in the 40’s, the snow had all but disappeared.

Mother Nature has taken care of that overnight, laying a blanket of snow on everything. Still, as I peer out into the early morning darkness, it doesn’t quite amount to what I would call a full-blown winter storm – at least not right where I am.

I thought about that yesterday, when I started noticing all the warnings about the impending weather. I wondered if there would really be any snow at all in my neck of the woods. Experience has shown there’s a heckuva lot of hand-wringing hype when it comes to weather. 

Same thing used to happen when I was in Florida – all the ballyhoo around the developing storms out in the Atlantic and all their various possible tracks, and, oh my, what they might become and do.

All the fearful advance reporting treats weather as a mythic, angry god before whom we cower and fight.

Weather is certainly important, much to be respected, and requires response, but the type of hype to which we are subjected mainly works to maintain the stress, worry, and fear that is so characteristic of our society.

It’s not as if people for thousands of years did not manage without weather reports ad infinitum.

I’m guessing the ancients were better about weather than we are. They would have been much more tuned into Nature, and would have noticed subtle signs and changes, and respected them. They would have planned ahead for winter based on experience, and without benefit of plows or snow blowers.

And they weren’t exactly pillaging the planet, either.

Even with all of our technology and science and advance warnings, we still have power outages, blocked roads, closings, flight delays, and plenty of destruction whether it’s snow or hurricanes, floods or fires. In fact, there’s more and more of them all the time.

And despite the avalanche of advance warnings, we basically do nothing anyway to take the steps we can to, say, ease climate change.

Just in the last few days, the US government released its Fourth National Climate Assessment. Now, there’s a storm warning! Among its dire findings, it reached this rather understated conclusion:

While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.

Hmm. Substantial damages. 

There is another approach. Maybe we could try trust and respect when it comes to earth and its atmosphere. Maybe we could be amazed by Nature, amazed by our interdependence – and try working with that. Maybe instead of wringing our hands, we could finally join hands with our planet. Maybe instead of hype, we could take heart.

And somehow weather the storm.

hibernation

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There’s a lovely darkness surrounding me right now. It’s still moon and stars time as I sit comfortably and cozy, this Saturday morning needing to get ready to go nowhere in the cold and snowy world outside my windows.

I love this kind of time. It’s a time to appreciate the warmth of my home space, the other being in it, and the simple things that sustain us.

There’s something to that whole hibernation thing some of our fellow animals have going. We’re supposed to be the ones with all that brain power, but sometimes you have to wonder.

Just the other day, as I headed homeward about quarter to six, I marveled at the icy conditions and helter-skelter “rush hour” traffic. Cars were creeping and sliding along on the dangerous roadways in what was already fully night.

It occurred to me just how nuts it is. Rather than coordinate with and respect the very real difficulties of winter conditions, we just go full bore on our capitalist economy driven schedules – even to the point of imperiling life and limb. No one gives it a second thought.

Oh sure, the time will come when there is simply too much snow on the roads, and things will close down for maybe a day. For the most part, however, everyone just continues the daily grind for all the dark months of winter come hell or high water.

There is something to respect in that, I suppose: a sort of gritty determination that teaches people to have battery cables in their trunks, and decent wipers on their windshields. People adjust to simply coping with the conditions, bundling themselves up, shoveling, salting.

Almost all of those activities happen literally in darkness for so many working people, too. In order to get to work on time, they’ll get up early to do all the work of clearing their steps, sidewalks, driveways, cars. They leave extra time to make a slow drive in treacherous conditions.

The daylight hours then are spent at the toil of jobs that may or may not be meaningful for workers. As darkness falls, the exercise of combatting the elements resumes.

What if we approached the season a little differently, say, cutting back working hours during winter – acknowledging the realities of all the extra prep time for the commute and the very real dangers often experienced? What if winter working shifts were more like, I dunno, six hours, instead of eight? Imagine if corporations raised pay or offered premiums during winter to accommodate all the expense, difficulty, and danger of just showing up.

Just a thought, and I don’t really know where it goes. I know it’s crazy in our current context, but I maintain the context is not immutable.

I just can’t help wondering what a world that sought less to combat nature and more to be in sync with it would look like. I imagine that up here in the north, at any rate, during the winter that would involve slowing down, staying home more, and spending more time with family and home activities – a little hibernation, if you will.

chilly run

veru11_10_18cI admit it. I really kind of had to fight with myself today to get outside and run. But, hey, it was so worth it!

At issue was the temperature. It was below freezing.

Even though I fully expect to run through at least most of the winter with lower temperatures than this, I looked at the temp this morning and was just. not. feeling. it.

I put my running gear on anyway. Laced up.

Then, I proceeded to mill around my place, finding a variety of tasks to facilitate my procrastination.

I eventually noticed it, bucked up, and headed out.

Even though we had quite a snow yesterday, the sidewalks and streets were clear. Yay! 

My gear was just right, and I didn’t even go through that awful frozen-at-the-start phase. I felt pretty good.

First thing I noticed was a snow fort. Haven’t seen one of those in years, and it was awesome to see that some kids were inspired by the snow to build one yesterday. Totally cool.

As I passed the snow fort and headed along, a man approached me rather deliberately. He wanted to know how to find the soup kitchen.

Made me thoughtful about other folks’ struggles, especially in this cold season.

Even though the sidewalks seemed clear, I studied the pavement as I trotted along, checking for ice or slippery patches where the leaves were still piled up. I broke my shoulder a couple of years ago, and really don’t want to repeat that experience!

For all my resistance, the weather actually felt good. It went from cloudy to flurries to sunshine and back to cloudy while I ran. The cold made me keep on at a decent clip. It was invigorating.

I was having so much fun that I spontaneously broke out into song. Funny part was that it was my count I was singing. One thousand one, one thousand two, etc. up and down and all around the scale. Go figure.

Four miles down and I headed for home, feeling awesome.

Chilly? Bah!

hibernation

winterchairYes. I realize I am hibernating. It’s not exactly by choice, but it is by nature. Here in Michigan, we forge ahead every winter as if nothing’s any different. But, dammit, it’s cold and it’s dark. That’s just a fact. A good percentage of time, the roads just really shouldn’t be driven. We do it anyway. We do everything – anyway. We get up in the dark, go to work in the dark, and leave for home in the dark. I’ve really had it up to here. It’s the dark more than the cold that bothers me, but the whole cold thing cannot be ignored either.

I just checked, and they’re getting about 1.5 hours more daylight at the tip of Florida right now. Not that I’d like to move to Florida. But really.

Okay so this whole dark thing actually does have an effect on me. It makes me pull inward, and, yes, I just want to hibernate. So, I’m acknowledging it instead of trying to pretend it’s not happening. In that spirit, I spent the day nestled within the walls of my abode – packing to leave.  And it was very productive.

It’s not so much packing, as getting ready to pack up. I have to sort through my stuff and toss, donate, or prepare to take with. I made very good progress in this effort today. It’s getting less and less difficult to realize that I can part with most of the stuff I’ve been keeping around for, like, ever. And it feels great to simplify.

I have now galvanized in my determination to leave this place. If the dark winters and my own personal experience weren’t enough motivation, the Michigan legislature has sent a clear message to me that they neither value my opinion or existence, nor do they care if I or anyone else is able to get a job that can pay the bills. After their $1.7 billion gift to business, followed up nicely with Right to Work, and tax changes now taking effect, the regular working joe here in the state this year is paying more taxes and working longer and harder for less – if, indeed there is a job to be had. And if you’re a woman, they’ve spelled it out that you just don’t count, because they’ve taken away options for dominion over your own body – as if that was ever any of their business.  Education is being profitized, to what end we may all imagine. And, as for a simple little thing like the idea of a republic, the Michigan legislature made it clear during the wild ride of their lame duck session that they have nothing but utter contempt for the will of the voters. If anyone had any doubts about that, the reinstatement of the ‘tweaked’ Emergency Manager law after the voters specifically nixed it on referendum should have made that crystal clear.

So much for reinventing Michigan and bringing the economy back. It’s reinvented alright. Pure Michigan and all that. As far as I’m concerned, with this Neanderthal approach to governance, they may as well put up a dead end sign at the state line, or at least a warning for poor innocents to stay away. Certainly career-minded women anyway. Or students. Or seniors. Or just people who want a decent job and a career path.

So, I don’t mean to be all crabby about this, but there it is. I’d like to be all hopeful about it, but, you know, it is winter here. Like I mentioned.

Actually, I’m pretty happy right now despite it all. Sorting and packing is giving me some peace after a long struggle. Now that I’ve made up my mind, I’m going to try to expedite. It’s a big job, but it’s worth it. Indeed, it’s become imperative.

Oh, in other matters, had a great run yesterday with my crew. We covered about 6.5 miles, most of which was merely wet instead of out and out icy. It was a gift. The ice is back tomorrow.