Seasons and spirals


(Getting out between cold snaps. Jackson isn’t impressed.)

(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reprinted by permission.)

They say that you can acclimatize to cooler weather.

If you keep wearing fewer clothes even as the temps dip, your body will eventually normalize, accepting the feelings as normal, and you won’t be cold. It makes sense: otherwise, we wouldn’t know those people who walk around in shorts and flip-flops in the February Sewanee fog and drizzle.

This is the time of year when I wonder, though, just how long that process takes. When the first cold snap hits, my physiology is not, not ready. I root through my closet for vests and sweaters to deal with the kind of weather that, come spring, will make me peel them off in relief.

Make no mistake, this is the dangerous time. The marvel of the earth’s axial tilt, that one-two combo of colder and darker, conspires to turn us into the hibernating creatures we may at one time have been. We want to snuggle up, eat rich food, and sleep.

(And of course, we have ritualized those desires into those cold-weather occasions known as Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

If I go strictly by how it feels to be outside – during these weeks when I pull wool hat and gloves on, walk outside, and the outdoor thermometer assures me that it’s in the fifties – my instinct is to avoid the discomfort. I’ll wait until it warms up later today/this week/this month, I say…or at least until tomorrow.

There is, as you may have guessed, only one way to deal with the danger of the season.

Get out, get active, ignore those instincts. As I forget almost every time, the coldest you’ll feel is when you begin walking, cycling, or running; if you overdress (as I so often do), you’ll be shedding layers.

I tend to think about the choices I face in terms of two spirals – I can be spiraling up or down. I can stay active, which makes me eat and sleep better, which gives me more energy and enthusiasm for everything I want to do (including getting outside). Or I can succumb to the dangerous season, reveling in the starchy, carby winter diet, telling myself that I’m in recovery mode (from what, I’m not quite sure), all of which leads to less activity.

It’s not as though the spirals are strictly a seasonal thing; in summer the little voice says “eat ice cream, hit the hammock.” In late fall, though, the starkness of the choice seems as sharp as the leafless trees and the biting wind.

Maybe this year I’ll try to acclimatize, shivering through the weeks ahead. Or maybe I won’t.

But I’m pretty sure I’ll be out there. It’s just too much fun: watching the leaves swirl around, seeing my breath for the first time, feeling the crunch of frosty leaves on the path.  Knowing I’m doing my best to stay on the upward spiral.

Plus, all that exercise means I can have an extra bowl of Susan’s awesome white-bean chili.