Jessie Raymond: It’s not too late to hibernate
If you live in Vermont, you know better than to talk about how much you hate the cold weather, especially if, like me, you chose to move here from somewhere further south.
But this winter has been a little colder, for a little longer, than I remember in recent years and it is messing with my head. I just can’t seem to get warm.
Every day, I dress in a bewildering layer of tights, socks, long underwear, camisole, turtleneck, roll of pink insulation, sweater, fleece vest and scarf — and that’s just for sitting at my desk. There are some days I have so much on I have to plan 15 minutes ahead for bathroom breaks. My mobility is so compromised by the layers that, if I fall, I only give myself 1-in-5 odds of being able to get back up unassisted.
It doesn’t matter how much I’m wearing. The winter has got me psyched out to the point that just hearing the words “Polar Vortex” makes my teeth chatter.
I’ve always had pretty sketchy circulation in my extremities, but this winter my toes go preemptively numb when I so much as contemplate spending more than 3 minutes in the great outdoors. Instead of offering to keep me warm, my husband has instituted an overnight winter parking ban on my icy feet, prohibiting them from crossing over to his side of the bed until April 1.
Rationally, I know it’s important to stay active and get fresh air in spite of the weather. Part of the reason I started a flock of chickens and turkeys, in fact, was because I knew it would force me to get outside in the winter, something I’d otherwise never do between Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day.
Unfortunately, five minutes of chores twice a day isn’t enough to make me break a sweat. The only outdoor exercise I’ve had all winter was when the hill heading down to the coop iced over and I inadvertently set a Vermont speed skating record with a 50-pound bag of chicken feed thrown over my shoulder.
During the first round of sub-zero temperatures this winter, I told myself, “Hey, this is Vermont,” and carried on. But as the weeks went by, my interior monologue changed to “Hey, this is a frozen hell.”
I’m tired of being cold. I dread bringing in the mail, putting out the recycling or running errands that can’t be handled at a drive-up window. I can barely bring myself to open the refrigerator. And — in spite of the derision of hardy Vermonters and the disbelief of snow-happy flatlanders — I don’t want to engage in winter pastimes that involve being outside.
While rosy-cheeked Gore-Tex aficionados hit the slopes as soon as conditions allow, I enjoy my winter sports vicariously, through television. It’s not as exhilarating, but at least in my living room it’s unlikely that I’ll get frostbite or hit a snow fence at 60 miles an hour.
On Sunday morning, friends invited us to go sledding in Lincoln. They said it would be “great family fun.” Maybe, but because it involved (a) being out in the bitter wind for several hours and (b) possibly hitting a snow fence at 60 miles an hour, I had to pass. My daughter went, but only because she’s young and doesn’t know any better.
Instead, I spent the entire day wrapped up in a comforter by the fire, reading, knitting, working on a jigsaw puzzle, watching bad TV and drifting in and out of consciousness, grateful to be snuggled up indoors and not careening down the Lincoln Gap with snow flying down the back of my neck. (For the record, my daughter had a blast, but that’s youthful ignorance for you.) For a few precious hours, I was warm and content.
The day was a revelation. I now know that the key to surviving winter — both mentally and physically — is to use a coping strategy invented by Mother Nature herself: Enter a state of woodchuck-level torpor.
I didn’t clean the bathrooms. I didn’t vacuum. I didn’t work on taxes. I didn’t fold laundry. I was, in short, a slug (not in the gross, slimy way, but in the laid-back, slow-moving, unsalted way).
The hardy Vermonters and snow-happy flatlanders will cringe when I say this, but Sunday was the most fun I’ve had all winter.
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