Know When to Doldrum

Let’s face it: February is exhausting. Every year I seem to hear people joking that this is the shortest month because if it was any longer we’d go crazy. In fact, people seem to have felt that way about February for almost as long as the month has existed.

Snow Mountain Right now the town where I live and work is smothered in piles of snow that keep growing and won’t melt away. Woveling snow off my driveway is my new part-time job. Our cars are coated with ice and snow, their climate controls left constantly turned to high heat and defrost; black, crusty chunks of road spray freeze into wedges in the wheelwells that we kick off into parking lots and driveways, only to see them reappear like a snow fungus with each drive we take.

All day and night, an endless mass of freezing air and wind sits upon us like an invisible, empty sea. We don’t walk as much as scurry from building to building, inhaling deeply to brace ourselves before we exit, then plunging into it with our armor of hats and scarves and gloves and puffy coats. Each arrival back in the warmth of a destination is announced with a short dance of stomping boots and exhaled huffs of relief.

By mid-February, a day above 35F degrees is a joy. You feel confined by the elements, your movements limited, and efforts doubled. You may have a primal urge to stay indoors and burrow deep into a soft nest, envious of all the small mammals you sense curled into a state of torpor or hibernation somewhere in the dark. Everything seems to slow down, stagnate, as if Mother Nature has hit the pause button at the worst time, leaving us in a snowy limbo until she decides to let the seasons advance once more and set us free.

Welcome to The Doldrums.

Continue reading →

Coat. Hat. Gloves. Repeat.

Being really cold in winter is nothing new to me. I’ve lived in the Northeast of the U.S. of all my life, and January to February of every year seems to have at least one solid week of single-digit to below-zero temperatures we must endure, intermingled by “mild” days where it may get up to 40 degrees. Good times.

The challenge of winter then is in trying to be prepared on any given day for not just how cold or wet it is when I leave the house, but also how that may change during the day.

I’ve lived in Ithaca, NY for more than a decade, where the topography of steep hills carved by gorges overlooking a lake makes for some stunning scenery, but also creates a microclimate that can change our weather dramatically from one hour to the next depending where you are. It’s not uncommon to see it snowing ferociously over the campus where I work on the slope of South Hill, while only a light flurry falls on the flats of downtown half a mile below. Weather forecasts really are more of a guideline, which means taking precautions.

In winter, I’ve learned that there are only three important items I need in to be warm and comfortable no matter how cold it gets: the right coat, a warm hat, and warm gloves. I’ve also learned over the years that a warm hat and gloves are two of the easiest things to misplace or forget in the hubbub of getting to and from home and work.

But that’s not a problem any more because I’ve got a nearly foolproof method to be sure I’m never without the accessories I need to stay warm in any situation… Continue reading →