I made the mistake of going outside without a coat.
I was running late, talking on my cell phone and jumped in the car. I didn’t think I needed a coat – it was about 30 degrees and the sun was out. That’s practically tropical in this part of New England.
Part of leaving my coat home was wishful thinking. We’re at that point in winter that defines doldrums. Christmas is long since gone, but it’s still January. Gardens are dormant, golf clubs are in storage and it’s too cold to run outside with conviction. Whose bright idea was it to make January so long?
Going without a coat is akin to guys wearing shorts with parkas. I saw this odd fashion statement several times in a college town where anything goes. Shorts and a ski jacket are a contradiction in terms. So are Birkenstock sandals with socks, but plenty of college kids were wearing those too.
These fashion choices are a statement of our collective psyches this time of year. We’re desperate for signs of spring, and we’ll do what it takes to get there. Like someone forcing a forsythia branch for mid-winter color, we force spring with clothing choices. We know it’s not as good as the real thing, but we’ll take it.
I usually look forward to the Super Bowl, but I may skip it this year. I don’t like the New England Patriots, though Tom Brady is sort of softening me with his new Facebook series Tom Vs. Time. I admire the fact that he works hard to perfect his game, that it doesn’t all come naturally. It’s heartening to know that his Super Bowl losses still sting after all these years. Score one for honesty.
I like the Philadelphia Eagles even less than the Patriots. My team, the New York Giants, has been out since the season started. I have no interest in watching a game where I want both teams to lose.
With the Super Bowl off my radar, I’m facing the worst of winter with few distractions. The days are blessedly getting longer, but the landscape is mostly muted browns, grays and beiges. The days without sun are the hardest: battleship gray skies that make your brain foggy, and make you want to crawl into bed and sleep until March 21st.
The Curmudgeon rubbed salt in the wound when he booked a weekend trip three hours north in Williamstown, MA. I generally avoid going north in winter because it feels like I’m heading into the abyss, but I didn’t argue. I’m glad. The mountains are beautiful in the winter, and residents embrace it.
They can’t walk on water, but they love walking on ice. They head to frozen lakes to ice fish, relax on lounge chairs, crack a few frosty cold ones and ride their ATVs and snowmobiles. Some people even put little sheds on the ice where they can hang out for hours waiting for the fish to bite. It takes a lot of confidence to put a structure on ice. I’m not sure I have that level of confidence about anything.
These are the people who make us southern New Englanders feel like amateurs. They’re the ones who shovel snow off the roof, put chains on tires, and spikes on the soles of their hiking shoes. They’re the ones with snowshoes used more than once, cross country skis that make it out of the garage, and mountain bikes used to climb actual mountains.
These are the folks people are talking about when they speak of hearty Yankees. They have no patience for winter wimps who go outside without a coat and then complain of being freezing. They look at you like, “Well, what did you expect Einstein?”
I asked The Curmudgeon if he’d like to try walking on the frozen lake and he shook me off with a story about one of his friends falling through the ice on a small pond in grammar school. We opted for a sensible hike.
There was no snow at the inn, but we failed to account for the rise in elevation and shaded trails. We went to a state forest just over the New York border where every trail was covered in frozen snow. The Curmudgeon wore hiking boots. I wore running shoes with no treads.
Undeterred, we hiked up frozen trails and riverbeds in hopes of getting views and photos that reflected the beauty and majesty of the setting. Every time we thought we were reaching the summit, it was just a small clearing, or the view was obscured by trees. So we kept at it, pausing a disconcerting number of times to catch our breath and for me to remark on how much I was sweating.
It was one of those hikes where you’re just hoping you don’t slip and break your neck, or worse. The kind where you’re on edge the entire time, stirring up more anxiety and angst that you had when you started out. It required watching every step because making the wrong one could send you sliding down the trail. The kind of hike where you’re consumed with your descent even as you continue to scale.
Of course, what goes up must go down. I’m glad no one else was around because we looked like two fools clutching trees and branches, sidestepping as if on skis, crawling on all fours and sliding on our backsides.
At one point, The Curmudgeon remarked that I looked like I was on the luge – that tiny sled where people lay flat on their backs. I didn’t have a luge or a brake, both of which would have been nice. I had no idea a protruding stick could hurt so much until I ran over it with my right thigh. I had to stop to make sure I wasn’t stabbed because it sure felt like I was.
I had no idea The Curmudgeon could be such a gentleman, tossing me his gloves to get me to shut up about my frozen hands. I had no idea my jeans would become soaked in an instant, yet take hours to dry. I had no idea that you shouldn’t celebrate until you navigate the ice-covered parking lot and get in your car.
We didn’t get any magnificent photos at the summit. And upon returning to our car, we realized the best views were from the parking lot and the road.