Archive for January 17th, 2009

The Beauty of Cold

The last two weeks have been intensely cold by Maine standards. By Minnesota and South Dakota standards (where I lived most of my life before Maine) it’s just typical winter weather. Having a nice taste of constant, cold weather reminds me that I love winter, and I love cold. Back when I was a child/teen I’d make a point to bundle up and go for long walks whenever the temperature dipped below minus 30 (it hardly ever gets that cold in Maine, unfortunately).

Cold is beautiful on a variety of levels. First, from inside a nice cozy house, one feels especially warm and comfortable knowing that outside there are harsh conditions. The hot cocoa tastes better, the sofa softer, and the atmosphere cozier when it’s below zero outside. From that comfort, the outside appears simply fantastic. Deep blue skies, white snow covering the yard, the stark winter landscape. Out in the winter there is little as beautiful as cross country ski trails twisting through the woods. Sure, in summer you have trees, flowers, and streams, but there is something supremely beautiful about starkness of winter.

Downhill skiing is as close to a religious experience as one can have doing sports, in my opinion. Moving in control yet with speed, surrounded by beauty on a mountain, hearing the skis glide on the snow is exhilarating. Yet while winter landscapes offer an unparalleled beauty, I mean it when I say cold is beautiful. For my entire life, I’ve had an aversion to hats and gloves. Sure, while skiing, shoveling, or spending long times in the cold one has to wear them, but I’ve always liked feeling that cold on my face and my head, I even enjoy feeling my hands chill to a point where it nears painful (growing up in this kind of climate, I know when the cold actually becomes dangerous — none of what I’m saying refers to conditions that threaten frost bite). The Bud Grant quote (he was the coach of the Minnesota Vikings back when they played outdoors) “cold is a state of mind” comes to me a lot. You can be in the cold and let it take you over, feeling miserable, wanting desperately to get inside, or you can embrace the experience of cold, and how it makes you feel.

Cold is a painless way to really feel alive and connected to nature. Cold is a sensation that seems to bring clarity to thought and vision, the world feels different. More than anything else, though, cold is a metaphor for life. Cold can be taken as dangerous (and indeed it can be), something to be avoided, something causing discomfort, something one flees. One can look at cold as limiting, making cars harder to start, requiring more effort to go out, and potentially freezing pipes and creating ice dams on roofs which can do damage. There are many reasons one can look at cold as a pain, something nature gives us out of ill will, which we have to tolerate.

But if one simply accepts that there are tasks, risks, and problems with every aspect of life and deals with them as they come, one can truly embrace and enjoy cold. Oh, the beauty and experience one would lose if one were to get so encumbered by the problems cold weather brings that they can’t experience it joyfully! And that is true about almost all of life; one can let the problems and difficulties of daily tasks, stressful changes, the dull routine, or sudden crises and problems bring one down. And, of course, sometimes tragedy strikes and sadness is inevitable. But most of the time we hold ourselves back from a truly joyful experience with life by being so taken by all the little difficulties and inconveniences, or the precautions and tasks, that we lose sight of the joy of everyday life. Learning to love cold is learning to live.