Sunset Season

There’s a certain time of year when the sun stops staging its setting and instead slips away between the flatness of late afternoon light and evening commute darkness. Those summer and fall evenings, when lovers and families and friends drink wine out of plastic cups while sitting on porches or park benches, have slipped away as well. Coats, scarves, hats and gloves diminish the intimacy of strappy dresses, t-shirts or cotton pajamas. Sunset watching falls into the past season’s memory book and onto the a distant season’s to-do list.

Timers bring holiday lights to life, a small gift to ease the lost hours of sun. Walking home from the bus stop or a friend’s house, we step in and out of the circles of sparkling white or bright color bulbs.  Dark and light, dark and light. The city people walk in the perpetual comfort of the street lights as long as they stay on public walkways and out of the darkness of undefined areas. Lights from stores, cars, homes suggest places where the people share time. At the right slice between dusk and dark, the interiors of houses and offices are as clearly lit as big screen televisions. In suburbs and small towns walkers might depend on those window views or harsh garage lights before the moon and stars accept responsibility to illuminate a path.

So we hurry from the dark, almost as much as from the cold, to the places of light where we belong, have control, feel safe. Another winter begins. Wishing you a season of good holiday experiences and memories.



Usually I’m philosophical about the below zero temperatures and snow we have every winter in Minnesota. The deep freeze is a time to stay indoors, be less social, and avoid unnecessary errands. Mother Nature pushes me to slow down, maybe be more introspective, read more. It can also be a time of creative planning (gardens, vacations, workouts), organizing or clearing out (closets, photos, files) and tackling household projects I wouldn’t bother with when the weather is nice.

For a little while that feels OK, maybe even good, as if I’m in tune with a natural rhythm, akin to a Circadian rhythm. This is what I’m supposed to be doing now. It feels good to wear wooly socks, make soups and stews, and settle in to watch movies or stream new TV series.

But with the persistent, longer-than-usual spell of extreme cold weather this winter, I feel as if I’ve shifted from slowing down in a pleasant, restorative way to being dormant. On pause. Hiding, like a tulip bulb buried deep in the ground. Waiting for enough time to pass so I can come back to life again. Hunkered down. I’ve been getting restless with so much reading and TV, and I’m trying hard not to register the waiting, which makes it worse.

I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough to know this spell will pass. The temperatures are already moderating. The days are getting longer. The torpor of these frozen days will dim so much that by August I’ll wonder if I imagined the feeling. But I didn’t.

The Daily Slide

November 27 was a hectic day filled with appointments, work, weekend cleanup and errands. Near sixty degree temperatures lured me into thinking the gentle fall weather would last. When darkness began I apologized to the dog for missing our daily walk and promised him a long one the next day.

Within twenty-four hours drizzle, falling temperatures, freezing rain and snow changed the scene. Ice turned the roadway into a glossy slip and slide that the UPS truck found difficult to navigate. Dog and I found footing dangerous at the end of the driveway and turned back to the house.

Winter is not my friend. Warm sweaters and cozy evenings are great, but aside from occasional beautiful days I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the package deal. I prefer green grass and gardens filled with flowers to brown sticks poking through white and hothouse daisies purchased with the groceries. I’d rather open the office window for fresh air than fill a humidifier.

What I dread most is ice. Nothing undermines free exercise faster than the possibility of losing traction at any moment. If the mail vehicle, a neighbor’s SUV and the UPS truck are having trouble, the dog and I are not heading out. Even walking like a penguin can’t make everything enjoyable and safe.

The penguin walk instructions offered in the lobby of a family member’s condo building, is one of the personal affronts of the icy season. With feet apart and turned slightly outward, lower your center of gravity over one leg, and waddle around the sidewalks. Pretend others don’t notice your strange effort to stay upright.

Being resigned to months of dressing in layers of black outdoor clothing with leather boots is enough. The indignity of a daily slide or penguin walking is undeserved punishment.


Steering Out of the Doldrums

For the last two weeks, I’ve struggled with the late winter doldrums. I’m ready for spring, but Winter. Just. Won’t. Go. In sailing usage, “doldrums” refer to a low-pressure area around the equator where the winds disappear and sailing vessels could be trapped for days or weeks. That sums up my feeling: I’m becalmed, waiting for spring’s energy to blow my life back on course.

I’ve been listless and had trouble mustering enthusiasm for new projects. Consequently, I’ve elevated my knack for wasting time to new heights (that should probably be “new lows”)—

  • Sleeping longer than normal (my body resists getting up in the dark again)
  • Reading mysteries (my go-to escapist read) instead of more challenging literature
  • Researching facial moisturizers (Seriously?!? That might deserve half an hour of my time, not the two hours I actually gave it.)

This is familiar territory, so I go easy on myself when I recognize the pattern. In fact, that’s part of the cure—recognizing and accepting that I’m in the doldrums.

Dissatisfaction and restlessness prod me to analyze where my time actually goes (this is pretty geeky, but it works for me). At first, I neutrally list how I’ve spent my time recently.

That brings to mind a few things I ought to do (wash the kitchen floor, clean the bathrooms). I cross out those—they’re definitely not mood-lifters!

Soon, my mind shifts from chores to daydreaming about what would be fun to do. A fresh little breeze of possibilities stirs. I begin a new list.

For years, I’ve recalibrated my priorities by regularly asking myself: Am I living the life I want to lead? How can I tinker with my free time or refocus my efforts to be sure my work and family commitments are satisfying?

I’m taking a new tack and moving forward again.

Why I Don’t Hate Minnesota Winters

There are lots of reasons to hate Minnesota winters: endless discussions of windchill (Really, people?!? I’m already wearing all the clothes I’ve got. There isn’t more I can do. Stop talking about it. Please!) Crusty black snow clumps on my tires. Slippery-road roulette. Trudging with shoulders hunched and body braced to withstand the wind, to name a few. But I don’t hate our winters. To me, they’re refreshing. Seriously.

Very few aspects of modern life make us aware of our animal nature. The change of seasons pulls us back, reminds us that we’re participating in a cycle that’s bigger and more enduring than the words and images scrolling across our screens or appearing under our clicking fingers.

I’m not some cheery winter sports enthusiast who can’t wait to ski, skate, ice fish, or snowmobile. I don’t do any of those things. I might snowshoe if the sun’s out, the wind’s down, and it isn’t too cold, but otherwise, forget it. I’ll spend as little time outside as possible.

What’s winter’s big attraction?

To me, it’s a time to slow down, renew, and turn back toward health. After the excess of the holidays—too much good food and drink, too many incomplete To Do lists, and general year-end bizzyness, it feels good to do very little. To pull on thick wool socks and silk long johns. Make chili. Binge on Netflix.chili

I feel virtuous exercising. Eating crisp salads and savory vegetable soups have their ascetic charms. I’m restoring my body’s balance.

Winter is also a time to turn inward and refocus. I’m an optimist and like the idea of starting fresh every year. What do I want to do and be? How can I shuck off the stupid stuff I do and spend more time doing what I care about?

Recentering leads to other improvements—reading the books I never get around to (burrowing under an afghan with hot tea . . . or a hot toddy to make a dent in The Brothers Karamazov). Making sense of my sweater shelves.

Winter is also home improvement season. Better to paint the living room in the dead of winter than to waste a sunny June weekend on that. This year, I’m researching landscaping options since our shabby deck may get turned into a patio come spring. Winter is also a good time to tackle big projects like making a quilt. Weeks go by as I complete the many steps.

I do like winter, but by mid-March, my strategies are wearing thin.

Although the sun rises at 6:30 a.m. (at least it does before Daylight Savings Time toys with the clocks), the alley’s nothing but rutted ice. Crusty gray snow piles line the sidewalks and roads. I’m sick of keeping track of gloves and clumping around in boots. Tired of brushing salt dust off my coat. Hot cocoa and crackling fires hold no allure. If I never see a shovel again, it will be too soon.

I’m. Just. Done. But winter isn’t.

Then it’s time to escape. I consider spending ridiculous sums I can’t afford to just see the sun and walk outside without my down coat. Escape to Puerto Vallarta for just $759? SURE!

When reason reasserts itself, I go to the Como Park Conservatory instead. Inside, the air is humid and HOT. Birds are chirping. It smells like dirt and growing. Like life. Tulips, hyacinths, Asiatic lilies, and azaleas are blooming in glorious profusion. The whole world isn’t dead.Como Park

There’s hope. By late March melting icicles begin their steady drip. Water rushes under skim ice on sidewalks, begging to be crunched. Winter will actually end. Maybe by April 1st. April 15th for sure.