Preparing for Winter

8 09 2011

In the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which begins with Game of Thrones, the northern Stark clan has a saying: winter is coming. In the series, summers can be short or decades-long. But the Starks know that winter will surely follow, no matter the duration of milder weather. Their mantra, “Winter is coming”, serves as a sobering reminder to be prepared.

Here in the midwest, a rash of perfect weather has brought the happy realization that fall is almost upon us. Deep blue skies, fresh apples, pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks…early autumn is celebrated for many reasons. But this year, and not only because I have just started reading the George R.R. Martin series, I can’t help but say softly to myself, “Winter is coming.”  And I am feeling ambivalent about it.

Last Thanksgiving, I spent the long weekend in Minneapolis with my friend Mike. An ice storm was coming, so I left earlier than anticipated and arrived in the city only 30 minutes before the storm. Mike’s studio apartment, in an old home in a neighborhood that has seen better days, was without heat. We kept warm wearing layers and blankets, leaving the gas oven lit with the door open. And I cooked, the first night making a pot of chicken noodle soup.

On Friday, Mike worked. I prepared dinner in the crockpot, then I wrapped myself up in a soft, knit infinity scarf (a beautiful shade of teal). I put on my new winter activity boots, and hiked a couple of blocks to the nearest coffeeshop. It was packed with Somali men, and I only stood out a little as I sat in the back reading a book of essays about winter. The cold, the snow, the steamy coffeeshop resounding with animated discussions in a language I didn’t speak- these all converged into a sensory experience I can’t describe. That moment, though, planted a romantic’s view of winter in my psyche which held on for most of the season. I couldn’t get enough of ice crystals and deep cold and shoveling.

That was then. This is now. Perhaps my current ambivalence about winter comes from having just had the second almost-perfect summer of my adult life. I used to think that summer in Iowa was the best recruitment tool other states could use to lure people away from here. Now, I’ve discovered that weighing less and doing more actually counteracts the effects of corn-sweat-induced humidity. Summer in Iowa isn’t so bad.

Maybe I am on the fence about winter because I can’t even remember what I own in the line of closed-toe shoes. Or is it that secretly, I am afraid I’ve lost that romanticism that carried me through last winter? The sense that each day contained an incipience, that things were on the cusp of happening. That the cold and hard wind were scouring away extraneous stuff in order to give me a clear path to the life and person I was becoming. I liked feeling that way.

But years and moods pass. If I am unable to recreate the epic fantasy tale in my head and heart that carried me through last winter, how will I keep moving forward? By preparing. I need to use this time to winterize myself – not just my car and my house. Get back into the routine of morning workouts now, before it is so cold I give in to that as an excuse not to leave my bed. Stock up on reading material full of interesting ideas to engage myself on cold, dark December nights. Plan and execute the annual clearing of my craft room, so I can access the materials to create. Reacquaint myself with the many delicious, hearty soup recipes I’ve collected over the years. And remind myself of this simple truth: a life fully lived requires more than hunkering down in a warm corner and hoping the season passes over. It requires choosing to act, to laugh, to love and to seize the moment we’re given – rather than pine for the one we’re not.

Recently, I have learned to love summer. All my life, I’ve eagerly awaited fall. I have (and I will) enjoy them as fully as possible each year. But winter is coming, and I plan to be ready for it.

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